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The Music Contractor - Definition

Updated: May 24, 2020

For a number of years, I’ve been led to put some thoughts on paper to share. I only share when things start to come easily to me . . . it’s like, “I need to say this NOW.” I will most definitely hold back on some things until after I retire! But one of my life’s missions is to elevate the ethics and profession of the freelance music contractor.

So, here I go. Whether you think I’m qualified to say these things is for you to judge. It’ll likely be a series as topics come to me. I’d love the feedback of other established and aspiring contractors, as I’m sure there are many more things that I have not personally experienced. Freelancers also have much to offer in the way of information. My knowledge is based on my experiences in the Dallas-Fort Worth area with some experience working nationwide. Other areas of the country may handle things very differently.

After nine years in the career-development field, the need to educate students and young professionals on this topic has never been greater. There are many landmines to avoid.

The thoughts presented are my opinions only, starting with . . .


For purposes of this discussion, this does not apply to non-profit organizations, booking agents, personnel managers, and leaders of small ensembles. I’m referring to those that hire many different types of musicians for lots of individual jobs, hence the word “freelance.” There are no guarantees that another job will come, for either the contractor or the musician.

These are the general types of music contractor. The categories below are mostly decided by how the money is handled.


This person can sustain a lifestyle only on the contracting with no performing or anything else. if they choose. They have IRS-designated companies (LLC, S-Corp, etc.) that can run federal payroll when the budget is large enough that the IRS requires it. These are few in number.


This person may run payroll from their personal checking account or a DBA account, since there’s not enough work to justify the cost of a separate company and the costs that go with it. They may also have the church or client pay the musicians directly in order to avoid running payroll for any variety of reasons. The workforce is contract-labor-only.


Your friends or family call you when there’s a wedding, funeral, or other family event. This usually arises out of some personal relationship to the client. And usually this means that you work special deals with them to keep costs low for the client. Musicians may be paid in cash for their services. This type of contractor is how the majority of contractors start their businesses.

Technically, you can contract for one event and call yourself a contractor, but there’s so much more to it than that. If you don’t understand the skill set required and the ethics of the field, then tread lightly until you figure this out.

There are many subtypes of contractor, which I’ll save for another post.

Thank you for reading! I’d love your comments.


173 views5 comments


So glad you have started this!


Debbie Brooks
Debbie Brooks
Jan 21, 2019

Dear Info, to answer your question, yes, there's a difference in how one contracts for union versus non-union work. Even though Texas is a right-to-work state (some say that means the right to work for less), union contractors fill out the appropriate paperwork and file with the union in advance of the job. By doing this, there are protections for the contractor and musicians. They withdraw work dues (2% in DFW) and pay pension for the job according to the percentage required for that job. They will hire union musicians. As I told my college students, the highest level of job (and pay) and musicians are in the union. The main benefit is having your name and instruments listed …


In DFW, do union gigs, agreements, or union bylaws define or dictate the role of the contractor? If so, are there differences between how one contracts for union versus non-union work?


This is terrific!


Great info! Looking forward to the next one.

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