Four reasons why artists resist contracts - And how to get past them
Do artists and creative professionals use contracts? While the answer is an obvious ‘YES’, there are a lot of artists and creators who would much rather, forego the use of contracts entirely.
Why is that?
Based on my experiences so far, here are four common (and easily overcome) reasons of resistance, that might be stopping artistic professionals like yourself, from using or insisting on contracts.
(1) Peer pressure aka "No one else is using them, so should I?"
Very often, artists and content creators would rather skip having contracts in place, because it’s just not a common enough practice. It’s not unusual for clients (big and small, private and corporate) to insist on email sign-offs, rather than actual paper work, in order to save time and bother. The same goes for artists collaborating with other artists – the idea of getting a contract between themselves can seem unnecessary, and sometimes even offensive (Where collaborators and partners are quick to dish you guilt for even considering the possibility of problems in the project or relationship).
So what do you do when getting a contract is an unpopular practice?
You go with your gut, and get one in place anyway. The fear of being singled out for being the artist or content creator that insists on having a contract to govern their work, should never outweigh the confidence you need to have in being a creative professional, who wants clarity and accountability in the work they engage in.
(2) Overwhelming jargon aka "Contracts look complicated and formal"
A lot of contracts and agreements are worded rather formally, and can sound a bit convoluted and complex, depending on what the contract is meant for. But for all the complicated contracts out there, many contracts can be framed using language that is both legally accurate and simple to understand. The key here is to find someone who understands your work, and can bridge the gap between your professional experiences and the legal obligations to be captured in a contract. So rather than getting spooked by language, what you need is to find someone who can help translate complicated jargon for you.
A jargon translator can take the form of a mentor, a trusted friend or colleague, a professional entertainment lawyer, or thorough research on the subject itself. Pretty soon, you will be able to communicate and spot a lot of those jargon words for what they really are.
(3) Breaking Bank aka "Contracts are Expensive"
As an artist, you have to invest in your craft. There will be expenses, and you will find ways to support your creative career, if it means that much to you.
Why should investing in the protection of your creative career, be any less important?
In its simplest form, a contract is basically a record of a promise that you are making with another person or company. Break the promise, and there are consequences. But what do those consequences really look like, and what qualifies as breaking the promise? Things like this need to be articulated clearly, and the higher the stakes, the clearer your terms of engagement ought to be. So going back to the question, would you risk your career because you’re unclear on investing in it’s protection?
If engaging someone to formally draft a contract for you is genuinely difficult, opt for the wide array of free templates that can be found over the internet. While you do use them at your own risk, you can always customize them after speaking with a trusted colleague.
(4) ‘Meh’ aka "What’s the point anyway?"
So you’ve heard stories where despite having a contract in place, the artist got f***ed over. And you’re aware of how the system works, and that the odds are almost always against the creators and the little guys. So why bother?
Contracts are tools that we can use to clarify obligations, assign accountability, and ultimately prevent disputes and misunderstandings. Considering the complexity and inconvenience, formal legal dispute resolution (like going to Court) often poses, it’s in our best interests to opt for preventive and clarificatory measures, like signing contracts. And trust me, there have been several instances where artists and creative professionals have been able to remedy their situations, because they had a contract in place.
So whether it’s peer pressure, jargon, expenses or a lack of faith, that’s stopping you from using or creating your own contracts, here’s hoping that this discussion might have helped you think otherwise. Are there any other reasons that stop you from using contracts? Do share your thoughts in the comments below, or over social media – your ideas are important in helping shape conversations like these.
Keep doing what you’re doing, and thank you for supporting Artistik License in its mission to provide good creative counsel to creative professionals, like you.