Being a musician seems glamorous to the outsider. The truth is, there is paperwork to be done and legal precautions to take, just like in any other business—whether you're selling millions of tracks on iTunes every week, or you're losing money.
Here are five forms and contracts that every musician needs; some you should have ready and printed, on hand around the office (or studio or bedroom...) and others aren't used so frequently but you should have a document ready to be printed and put into use.
1. Licensing Agreement
While licensing in general is one of the business practices prevalent in the industry that is actually quite profitable for artists, what I'm talking about here is not necessarily about licensing you or your band's material to others. For that, you want to perform negotiations with professionals involved.
Band members and collaborators come and go all the time, so when your guitarist decides it's time cross the country, it's a good idea to have an agreement that will license from that individual the right to negotiate and make decisions for the intellectual property on behalf of that person.
The only other option is to demand they assign you their rights in full, and that's the kind of chicanery that should be left to the rotting mainstream music industry.
2. Non-disclosure Agreement
Non-disclosure agreements give you the freedom to share your plans with others without fear of that information getting out to the public. While it could still happen, at least with an NDA in place you can get some monetary compensation from the individual through legal channels.
You don't need to have people sign an NDA just to hear your demos, unless you're fighting Axl Rose for the World's Most Paranoid Artist title, but when it comes to topics like your campaign strategy, it's certainly important if there's something unique about your campaign. Also, if you're making a deal with another party, you may want to consider their wishes for confidentiality before informing someone without an NDA.
3. Assignment of Copyright
You won't usually need the Assignment of Copyright to assign music into or out of your name, but mostly for paramusical elements such as your band logo. When you get that baby designed, you don't want to take any risks and rely on the subtleties of work-for-hire law; you want to make sure that you own the rights to your logo in black and white.
If you have a copyright foul-up with a song, that's not so bad. That's one album or digital release to worry about. Your logo, on the other hand, will be on all your albums, all your posters, t-shirts, mugs and beer holders, and if retroactive royalties are charged, you're screwed. Get an Assignment of Copyright ready and use it!
4. Live Performance Contract
When you or your booking agent secures a gig, whether it's at a big venue or just the local bar where they never clean the toilets, always ensure a live performance contract is signed, and make sure that you or your agent can whip out your form before the venue produces one out that favors them.
Freelancers use contractor agreements to ensure they get paid since so many clients will try and get out of it by using lousy excuses like, "We don't like it." In freelancing, the agreement ensures you can say tough luck, you ordered it, we made it, pay for it. Since musicians working multiple venues are essentially freelancers, it's the same thing; make sure venues can't weasel out of paying you with the old, "we just weren't into it" line.
5. Band Partnership Agreement
This doesn't apply to solo artists, but if you're in a band where all members are stakeholders (rather than a Nine Inch Nails style band-for-hire situation), the band partnership agreement is an essential part of your operation.
The agreement sorts out essential details that can avoid big fights and collapsing bands down the road, such as who has authority and over what, what the band rules are and grounds for dismissal are. It includes information about the rights and responsibilities of each band member, or legally speaking, each partner ( though you can have members who don't have an interest in the business aspect of the band and essentially serve as contractors), the division of revenue, and the way decisions are made (usually through a voting process).
If you don't have all the above documents at the ready, set aside an afternoon sometime this week and get your hands on them. You can often find standard forms for free on the Internet, or you can pay for packages that include just about every legal agreement you need to run a band. Make sure you run your forms by a lawyer before betting your life on them, of course.