For the next installment of the Laptop Live Performance Series I'd like to spend a minute talking about the importance of 2 fundamental things that are in IMHO vital to ensure a successful live performance. These are not technical things but actually more about setting proper expectations for technical things. These 2 things are:
A Tech Rider
A performance contract is a written agreement between you and a promoter or booking agent that specifies a number of critical things that need to be clear to avoid misunderstanding and confusion. Common contracts include how much you are getting paid, what time you go on, what time is load in and sound check, are you allowed to sell merchandise and what if any cut does the venue get of what you sell, are they putting you up in a hotel or covering other travel expenses, are they providing transportation to and from the venue, etc... Depending on the event your playing there could be much more but that's a good set of things you'll want to cover in your contract. A festival that you travel to play for example, will have much more stuff to cover than a local show in your town. In a festival there are also clauses which cover the unlikely event you don't show up (maybe you get sick?) and they've spend money to promote your appearance.
Right after 9/11 for example, I had some shows in Europe and it was unknown at that time what international travel would even be allowed. Better to have clear expectations set, regardless of how crazy it seems at the time... it's a crazy world.
A performance contract can be a written document that is signed by both parties, or can be as simple as an email which covers all of these things with a reply chain that acknowledges a common expectation between you and the person booking you. Though an email can work fine for this, in my experience people are more likely to take an actual piece of paper seriously that they have to print and sign than a long email that they *may* actually read.
For promoters I work with all the time or even ever before, I often just email. But for someone unknown, better to have a proper contract.
A Tech Rider on the other hand, documents the technical requirements for you to perform a successful show. A tech rider is where you stipulate your expectations for the area you will physically setup in or on (i.e. a stage or DJ booth), what P.A. you will be playing through, how you would connect to it, and what equipment the promoter needs to provide to facilitate your show. For example, if you're flying out to play, are you going to try to check your keyboard stands or a table with the airline? or require the promoter has keyboard stands for you to set up on? For some performers an "Input List" is also desired which tells the sound engineer exactly how many connections you'll need to the P.A. For just a single artist with a laptop this is easily covered as part of the tech rider. For a band where you might have a guitar, a keyboardist, etc.. along with you a separate Input List document is common. You need this for EVERY show.
To get you started, I've uploaded both an example contract I have used in the past, as well as the current Tech Rider I use for synnack performances. Feel free to steal any of it and use it for your own purposes.
So then, why is this important? Maybe you're just starting out. Maybe you are not even getting paid to play or travling to the show so doesn't all this seem unnessesary? It's hard enough to get a show, wont some of this scare off some promoters? Does having this stuff make you seem like a prima donna? Let's say the promoter ignores all of it. Your rider says you need xyz and you show up and none of it is right? It's not like you're going to sue right? I mean, it would cost you more to sue than you're going to get paid to play. So then, what's the point of having any of this if no one is accountable to follow it unless you're a bigger artist?
Great questions and ones that I have had many times over the years when talking to newer bands about this.
Here's the thing, having a contract and/or tech rider is actually not at all about legal stuff. No, you're likely not going to sue anybody. Yes, you will play many shows that no matter what you say in this stuff it will get ignored. You should do this anyway for the following reasons:
It's what professionals do. Even if you're just starting out, having a good tech rider is an immediate signal to a promoter, booking agent, and sound engineer that you've done this before, and know what you're doing. It's a branding thing. You want to build your brand as a professional. You'll get more respect from the people who you count on for good sound by having this stuff than just showing up and going "um, how do i plug in?". Having at least a tech rider sends an immediate signal that you're prepared to put on a great show.
It WILL actually lead to figuring out problems ahead of time that you can easily fix by knowing them ahead of time. You may think "it's 2012, of course venues are used to Laptop-based music and have DI boxes". But I guarantee there are still clubs all over the world who cater to rock bands and have one DI box (or none), and you're screwed. Tech riders force these discussions to happen in advance and you can adjust your setup or bring your own DIs accordingly.
Assumptions are the root of all evil. It's very easy for the promoter to just assume you'll bring anything you might need, and its very easy for an artist to assume a club will have what they need. When you show up, and there's no stage or P.A. to plug into, and the sound engineer isn't even there to figure it out because they just figured "eh it's just a laptop they don't need a sound engineer" who's fault is that really? Who has the right to get upset? If you don't have a tech rider or contract, guess what, all bets are off. Don't assume anything. A tech rider and contract is not about money or legal stuff, it's about setting expectations to help ensure everyone is on the same page, or as close as it gets so if things go wack when you show up, it's obvious to everyone involved where the mistake was made. This way all the time otherwise spent arguing about fault can be applied to just fixing the situation.
In may seem unnecessary but having this things are an immediate signal that you know what you're doing. I would also add that any promoter who freaks out when you send a Tech Rider, was probably intending to screw you anyway. Better to know that in advance so at least you can plan for it.