Contracts for Music Videos

Contracts are important for any production. They help your talent and crew understand what's expected from them and they help you keep your business secure. To help you with your contracts, we'll be looking at talent and location releases, employee contracts, and client agreements so that you can stay out of court.

Video Transcript

Contracts are important for any production. They help your talent and crew understand what's expected from them and they help you keep your business secure. That's why we'll look at what to include in your music video contracts to keep you out of court.

For many, the very word conjures up images of hard work and even harder language to read. However, contracts don't have to be burdensome. With a little knowledge of  the details to include in contracts for clients, talent, locations, and staff, you can rest assured that everyone in your production is on the same page.

Of all the contracts you'll prepare before shooting a music video, the client contract is the most important. This is the agreement which states the expectations that you and the company have about the video. This document should state such important assumptions as how much you'll be paid, who owns the rights to the video, and if you can use all or parts of the video for your own demo reel. For obvious reasons, most companies will want to reserve some portion of payment until the video is complete. A standard method of payment is to give half the money up front in order to hire crew and talent, 25-percent when the rough cut is finished, and the final 25-percent once the video is approved. Most music labels will hire the director as a work-for-hire so that the record label still owns the video and its copyright. However they'll still allow directors to use the video on their demo reels. You'll also want to make sure there's no confusion as to how the video should be delivered. Some clients prefer getting a physical copy of the master on film or an optical disc, while other clients are satisfied with just having a digital file online. If this is the case, you'll have to agree on the file format that you'll use. An uncompressed codec placed in a common video container like (dot) M-O-V and (dot) A-V-I usually work best. Of course, after you've put all of this down on paper, make sure to have a lawyer look over the contracts. Though it may cost a bit of money up front, it can save you from having to pay a lot of money in legal fees later.

One of the most common contracts is the talent release. They're so common in fact, that a quick web search can generate hundreds of results for pre-made talent release forms. What you'll typically find is a brief statement showing the amount of money you've agreed to pay the talent, which is usually sufficient for them to appear in your video and that they can't demand more after the project is done. This document also includes a statement in which the talent gives consent for you to use their likeness and performance in any creative way that you choose. This way the talent can't challenge your creative vision after the video is underway. Also, if your talent is below the age of 18, you'll want to make sure that both they and their legal guardians sign the release  Due to this document's importance, you'll want to make sure that everyone appearing in your video signs a contract before shooting begins. Otherwise you may have to hunt them down to sign after the shoot wraps or go through the pain of cutting or blurring out their images from your production.

Another important and useful contract is a location release. These are signed documents that state that the production assumes the owner or agent has legal rights to the property and that the production has been given access to use the images taken at the property in accordance with the contract. These contracts often also include location time limitations and the cost of using the location. Though you don't have to, you may want to include the time and locations of the shoot as well as a brief description of what will be captured. Doing so might help the owner feel at ease.

If you're hiring people to help you on your shoot, using staff contracts can demonstrate your expectations and help avoid confrontations after the shoot is done. A good contract should state the base fee that you're willing to pay crew members, how they'll get paid, and how much they'll get for overtime, if any. Since every position in the crew takes different skill levels, you should negotiate and agree on separate deals individually. Each state holds different work-for-hire rules, but in most cases, if a crew member isn't an independent contractor, they might be viewed as a part-time employee and will need  to keep a timecard, and provide W-4 and I-9 forms, along with a copy of a valid form of ID so you can withhold and pay taxes from their paychecks.

As you can see, there's a decent amount of paperwork and thought that goes into the start of any production, however, you'll probably find that every moment spent covering loopholes and getting signatures in advance will not only keep you out of court, but will put your mind at ease as well.