Part II: Contracting
Okay, so you’ve chosen your perfect music coordinator. You love her, you love her music and you feel confident that she sees your wedding the same way you do and you’re excited to get started on the fun stuff! Hold it just a minute!!! First things first; you need to have a contract in place before moving on. It seems very straightforward, and in most cases it’s merely a formality, but there are some things that you need to know in order to ensure that everything goes as planned. I want to go through a checklist of nuts and bolts things that you need to think about before you sign on the dotted line so that you can enter into your contract with a complete understanding between the two of you.
Questions to ask:
Do you have liability insurance?
Most venues require all vendors doing business on their property to carry a liability policy that includes a $1,000,000 per incident and $2,000,000 aggregate claim stipulation. You might think “there’s no way I’ll find a little music company willing to have all that!”, but the fact is, a policy of that size for a music company isn’t prohibitively expensive and any company doing any serious business knows this and has already taken care of it. If your venue requires it and your music coordinator either doesn’t know about it or is unwilling to comply, walk away politely and know that you dodged a potential problem later on. If you sign an uninsured company against the venue’s directive, they may find you in breach of contract and you could lose your deposit and access to your favorite venue on your wedding day!
What is your payment schedule?
Expect to pay a deposit at the contract signing. Vendors vary on how much they require, but it will be anywhere from $100 to half of the total contract. Some or all of the deposit may be non-refundable. This is to cover administrative expenses should you change your mind after signing the contract.
What is your cancellation policy?
All contracts have terms for cancellation built in. It’s not something that anyone wants to think about, but from time to time, weddings are cancelled for a number of reasons and you want to make sure that you understand the terms set forth in the contract before signing. In my contract there is a schedule so that at various points in time you can expect to only forfeit your deposit, pay half the total contract or pay in full depending on how close to the wedding date you are cancelling. This schedule is to protect the musician’s livelihood because if you cancel your wedding a month out, chances are about 100% that she won’t be able to find another job (considering most brides contract with their vendors between 6 months and a year in advance).
How many pages long is your contract?
A really well-written contract is generally one page, front and back at most. You need certain information including who is playing, where, on what date at what time, terms of payment and contact information for both parties. The back side often contains other terms including circumstances under which the contract can be voided with no penalty (standard “act of God” clause), cancellation policy and other terms such as rain/extreme heat and cold policies. If the contract with which you are presented is very long with a lot of legalese and fine print, be sure to read EVERY WORD before signing so that you don’t find yourself in a difficult position down the road.
When is the final payment due?
At one time, all vendors expected to receive their final payment on the day of the wedding. Some still operate this way and it’s fine, but don’t be surprised if your music coordinator requires final payment before the wedding (mine are due two weeks before the wedding date). There are a number of reasons for this, mainly so that you don’t have to be carrying around a packet of envelopes on your wedding day (I mean, really: where are you going to put them anyway?). Also, no matter who you designate to pass them out, it will be difficult because chances are that person will have other things on her mind (enjoying herself if she’s a guest, or making sure the day goes smoothly if she’s the coordinator).
I have been questioned about this from time to time by nervous clients who are afraid I won’t show up after having been paid. I can understand the impulse to feel this way but the fact is that I would be out of business in about 5 minutes if I made a habit of not showing up. You are always welcome to check references and find out how other people have felt about her. Trust me, no one will keep quiet if the musicians don’t show up to play a wedding!
The pre-payment also protects the musicians’ payday. Most people are trustworthy and pay their bills, but in the early days of my business I had a number of problems getting paid, either late or not at all. On several occasions, the bride simply forgot (understandable considering everything else she has to think about that day!), promised to put the check in the mail the next day and then forgot again because she was leaving for her honeymoon! By the time she returned a week or two later paying me was ancient history in her mind and I had to track her down and basically hound her for my check. I hate doing that and decided that payment in advance was the best way to protect my business while offering convenience and a care-free wedding day to my bride.
Once you have the answers to these questions, and you have read the contract carefully you are ready to sign! One more thing checked off of your endless wedding “to do” list, congratulations!!!
The final installment of this trilogy will be concerned with the fun stuff: choosing your music to set the right tone for your entire wedding day. Stay tuned!