Monday, May 24, 2010

Fun with Contracts: Backstage Riders

Summer is the peak season for music festivals and concert tours, which means that promoters across the country are currently combing through visiting artists’ backstage concert riders. "Riders," defined by Black’s Law Dictionary as an “attachment to some document […] that amends or supplements the document,” are frequently used by musicians to clarify technical needs and specifications for the concert, and just as often are used to specify minutiae like dressing room d├ęcor, dietary preferences, and personal needs (towels, private bathrooms, and even condoms are frequent requests).

The Smoking Gun's "Backstage Pass" archive reprints or excerpts more than 250 riders from a wide variety of touring acts, both classic and contemporary. From Van Halen’s infamous 1982 demand that all brown M&Ms be picked out of their candy bowl, to Jennifer Lopez’s request for expensive French candles in her dressing room at a recent charity event, to megawatt pop star Lady Gaga’s surprisingly polite and low-key catering preferences, the contracts can tell you a lot more about your favorite recording artists than just their beverages of choice (though for what it's worth, rap mogul Jay-Z requests more than $1,000 worth of alcohol in his dressing room at every concert).

So would a venue's failure to provide Keith Richards with his $45 "medium white Casablanca lilly arrangement with weeping eucalyptus" result in the last-minute cancellation of a Rolling Stones gig? The hypothetical might make interesting law school exam fodder, but in reality concert promoters simply strike out unfeasible, unreasonable, or impossible provisions (see a marked-up example for The Bloodhound Gang, rejecting their admittedly non-serious request for "one small rhesus monkey skeleton" and other demands). Many artists claim that the more outrageous demands are simply a test, to ensure that the more serious sound, lighting, security and other technical concerns had also been carefully read and handled. Others take a more light-hearted approach to handling the mundane details, such as Iggy Pop’s hilarious send-up of typical rock star riders.

While backstage riders are essentially contracts, you’re more likely to find information and analysis on them in entertainment law publications. If the representation of recording artists sounds like the legal career path for you, take a look at some treatises and handbooks in the library and online.