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Exactly as the title says, how do you work with contracts?

Not the type that come into you, but the type that you send to other people. Do you email them a contract to sign and fax back to you, mail it for the same, use digital signatures, or use something like Tractis, DocuSign, or VeriSign to manage your contracts in a paper-free, yet legally binding, way?

What has worked for you? What hasn't? What would you do differently?

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If I am doing sound recording, I work out a deal with the producer, director, or whoever hired me. Unless there is some sort of back end, I have a rate and it is paid. I always make sure there is a letter or invoice or email that states the terms with the hiring party agreeing. That's generally enough for small claims court should they back out on payment.

For sound design, I have a standard contract that has some plug in options for pay up front, back end, etc, as well as allowing me to retain rights to any SFX that I create, rights to use any part of the film for my demo reel, and letting them know they do not have the rights to reuse any sound I deliver on any project but that one. I usually have a portion that states I get airfare, hotel, per diem, and a limo to all shows at any festival or premiere. This isn't because I expect to get it (one of these days....), but it means I won't get any push back on retaining rights. Producers, in my experience, always want to talk you down from whatever you want, so I always start with a lot of demands and then remove them until the contract is where I wanted it to start.

I keep everything in paper form with a digital copy archived. This is for my benefit, as well as having it for filing taxes.

I'd rather get the unpleasantness out of the way at the beginning and have a good working relationship than leave on a bad note.

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It's all about relationships (at least for me). My work mostly comes from word of mouth, creating a sort of trust right from the get-go. Even if it's a long project, with a big budget, I find it somewhat awkward to make them sign a contract. Personally, I find that stating in the quote exactly what my responsibilities are is a good way to make sure we're on the same page and I suppose if things escalated, I could whip out the email as proof. But even though we agree on what I'm supposed to do, it's an organic process that requires a little flexibility. Hopefully I won't be in a position where I need to get a lawyer and regret this approach :-) I'm sure I will one day get burned and have to start having a contract.

That said, most of my work is one or two day gigs that really don't require much agreement. I get the OMF, the visuals, a brief, and I start. The director comes half way, and updates me on the direction he/she wants. No need for contracts...

I'm based in South Africa, so my answer is catered to there. I'm sure other countries have different etiquette/protocols.

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  • That's what I've been doing up to this point, too.. word of mouth, and fast emails, but I'd like to get into a position where everything I do is trackable, and there's a clear account of who holds the rights to whatever music and sound design I do. – Dave Matney Sep 6 '10 at 17:55
  • @Dave you're right. It's very important to know who owns what and protect yourself if need be. So far, I haven't run into this problem, but it easily could as I'm recording a lot of SFX on demand, which might lead into ownership issues one day. – Andrew Spitz Sep 7 '10 at 3:44
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I thoroughly recommend Aaron Marks Game Audio ( http://www.amazon.co.uk/Complete-Guide-Game-Audio-Developers/dp/0240810740/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1283793647&sr=8-1 ). Although it's about the game industry, there is a significant amount of info about contracting your services and there are sample contracts on the included DVD.

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  • Right... I have it, and I'm actually looking over the contracts on the DVD right now. I'd just like to know what everyone else is doing. – Dave Matney Sep 6 '10 at 17:55
  • @Dave I've yet to do any contracted work myself, but that book and the methods within appealed to me. I guess there has to be some element of playing it by ear, but as Georgi has said, T&Cs goes a long way. – JTC Sep 6 '10 at 18:03
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having terms and conditions in writing also goes a long way, as long as the clients are aware that they agree to the t&c-s by giving you the job. it's no guarantee for anything but helps potentially clear a number of issues along the way. the downside is, clients may feel a bit threatened, but i guess the same is valid re any contract.

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  • Do you use something like this? If so, may I see a copy of your T&C? – Dave Matney Sep 6 '10 at 17:56
  • i handpicked the ones i send from spending a day reading what other people and companies have written on their sites. best i can recommend at the moment is google. individual needs vary. . – georgi Sep 6 '10 at 18:14

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