Business Savvy: Avoiding Dodgy Contracts


I want to talk about something today that has taken me a long time to write about. I have wanted to write this post for a while, but I just wasn't sure where to start or how to phrase it, or even if it was safe for me to do so. But this is something I really want other people to be aware of. Firstly, I want to share my story.

Over a year ago I was a touring singer. I know, sounds so over-dramatic and really how many people can utter that phrase. I was never a big league singer or anything, but we were on tour around Australia and spent some time in the recording studio. I won't mention the name of the group or the people involved but basically due to a dodgy contract, they did not pay me for weeks of work, leaving me a few thousand short. It wasn't just about the money, it was the fact that the stress it was putting me under was making me sick. The whole thing started feeling really wrong, really quickly. I engaged a friend's Mum who happened to be a solicitor and she drafted a letter demanding my payment but it never came. Instead, the only thing I received was an abusive message from the group manager and a shunning from the rest of the singers who were too blind to see their fate was like my own. The solicitor pointed out all the flaws in the contract - and there were a lot! It had typos, missing information and incorrect labelling of clauses. Of course, I felt pretty stupid for not picking up on this, but more than anything I felt cheated. My solicitor gave me the option to pursue it further but I decided to let it go, for the sake of my health and wellbeing. Even though I knew I would win, I had to just let it go and learn from it.

So here are a few things I have learnt about contracts and how to spot a dodgy one!

  • Employ a professional. My first and foremost tip is to get a professional to look over the contract. I know it can cost a bit but honestly it's worth it if you avoid the emotional and financial costs of a dodgy contract blowing up in your face. If you really are strapped for cash, perhaps you have a friend studying law or at least ask someone with some business knowledge. There is always someone you can ask for help, and this would be a situation where it is wise to get some guidance.
  • Check the clause numbers. Make sure that all the clauses are numbered properly and when a clause makes reference to another clause, they need to match up. This is one of the ways people try to get you on technicality.
  • Exclusivity clauses. If there is one thing I have learnt about creatives, we can't be boxed in. I understand that these clauses are important for some companies, but as an individual you really need to consider if this is going to work for you, and speak up and negotiate if it isn't.
  • What you're actually agreeing to. In my contract I basically had zero say over anything. I was so excited at the time that this didn't bother me, but it should have! Make sure if there is travel involved that your approval and availability is sought after before your commitment is assumed. You shouldn't have to give up your life for a contract so make sure you are able to take time off when you really need it. I would recommend that any travel is negotiated on a separate contract anyway.
  • Your payment. Check that every little thing you are doing results in a payment for you. Don't agree to do anything for free, anything at a 'rate that will be discussed at a future time' or anything at a 'rate that both parties agree on'. Anything that isn't specified in that contract isn't your responsibility and anything else that they ask you to do needs to be a separate contract.
  • Research all company names and entities. Seriously, do your homework. Look into the background of any entity or company labeled in the contract and make sure that they not only exist but are also currently in operation. If you are not sure, ask questions!
  • Research the people. I actually knew other people that had been involved with the same group, and had I made a phone call or sent a Facebook message and asked about them, I may have learnt some valuable information that would have helped me. You don't need to snoop, but there is nothing wrong with making contact and asking about someone else's experience.
  • Listen to your gut instinct. The most important thing is we need to listen to our gut instincts. I had bad feelings about the situation I was getting myself into right from the start but I did it anyway. Bad move. You are the best person for the job when it comes to protecting yourself. So if it doesn't feel right, don't sign the dotted line!

One thing that my solicitor pointed out is that if a contract is deliberately misleading or unclear and you acted in good faith, the contract is void. It means that if you do find yourself in a terrible situation like I did and you want to fight it, with the help of a professional you should be successful. In my case, I had to let it go for the sake of my health. So make sure you do what's right for you! And at the end of the day never apologise for asking questions and getting the best deal for you. If you don't look after yourself, no one else will!