Avoiding liabilities in live sound is like walking through a field of legal land minds, and only carefully mapped paths to tread will avoid setting one off. Today’s audio companies must be fully insured, and prepared to handle any situation that could arise before it happens. No one stresses this more than Julee Milham, Esquire, and well-known local attorney to the Tampa Bay Area who has been in practice since 1986. Milham was kind enough to grant an interview to an aspiring entrepreneur and the information she provided is invaluable to any business plan. Along with the many risks of any business that must be considered, there's several that in live audio, we must be ever conscious of.
Operating with safety first and foremost is, according to Milham, the biggest item and risk to consider. She states, “the risk of injury to third parties; whether by improperly secured, improperly installed, or improperly operated equipment, including transit vehicles,” is the number one “red flag” that must be addressed, then continually monitored through out the planning, set up, and execution of any event. We have seen the results in the last decade from negligence in all areas of production, with the loss of life and injury to those third parties unacceptable. No one wants to find him or herself on the wrong end of a situation that could have been prevented. The old saying, an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure, really hits home in the live audio world. During planning, asking all the right questions, brainstorming any possible scenarios along with a fully planned out risk assessment will be just as vital as the gear, crew and call times themselves.
Other ways of minimizing risks are by using properly written contracts and securing the best insurance for your company. According to Milham, “You can provide in your written agreements under what circumstances you can pull equipment, in your own judgment.” By writing in the amount of control you have over the use of your equipment and clearly stating what circumstances will warrant the suspension of use, will help your company have a final say for when the show goes on, and when it doesn’t. Other safety issues can also be addressed in contractual mandates requiring written proof of current inspection reports along with all staging and roofing specifications be submitted for review prior to the arrival of your equipment on-site. Being able to verify what the physical structure of the stage is comprised of and that it meets all state and local regulations will prevent any issues with damaged equipment and safety hazards. For outdoor gigs, in all areas of the country, weather conditions must be watched, typical weather patterns observed for each location leading up to the show, and then heavily monitored for the duration of the event. Taking into account the factor of the type of staging and roofing, if it is a permanent install, if wings are being added, and the composition of the roofing material are all necessary prior to any outdoor stage use.
Insurance, good insurance, is another key to minimizing losses. Spending the extra funds to guarantee that your company has the best coverage possible for a general policy is a smart investment while providing for any unforeseen future problems helps to reduce headaches later. Check around your area, analyze your risks thoroughly, and then be prepared to take out extra coverage for day of show on large festivals. Even though concert promoters are required to have insurance to cover, according to Milham, “all types of losses,” it is still better to be safe than sorry later. A claim of injury in which your company is named could cost in the tens of thousands to litigate or settle, and be the undoing of all the hard work to date. Be certain when dealing with a festival that you not only are aware of the touring company’s insurance coverage, subrogation and waivers but also the venue’s themselves. Many instances will require the subcontractors to sign waivers of subrogation limiting the chain of responsibility. Inquiring if your company can be named to the promoter and or the touring company’s policy, as an additional insured, will provide another layer of protection.
Other issues that could arise are within sound ordinances and performance rights. Knowing what the rules of the area are, how loud you can run, and at what time to pull the plug is important avoid being charged with disturbing the peace or any other local laws that could compound the problem. When dealing with performance rights, Milham confirms that operating as only a live audio company, you are not subject to any kind of infringement. However, she cautions that one must be certain “you aren’t participating in the unauthorized audio or audiovisual recording of copyrighted material.” This includes allowing hook-ups to your soundboard to record the performance in any way. Always be mindful of artists performance rights, and when in doubt, don’t. As an example, a designated representative of an unsigned, local artist that wishes to record visually or run audio to their camera is fine to do so if the artist is only performing their material. If it is any kind of a karaoke style performance, it could be seen as infringement, leaving the audio company open to a liability it could have avoided.
As many, including Milham stress, the importance of limiting legal risks will only ensure and improve the health of all involved, from the guy unloading the gear, the fan who is lucky enough to be next to the stage, to the company itself, safety is not merely a component of the business plan, but rather the basis of the plan to work from.