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Sympathetic Vibrations | Setting the Record Straight The Female Rocker Bill of Rights

a female rocker on the scales of justice (Illustration: Amanda Krenos | KCPT)
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5 minute read

For many musicians, writing and performing music for the public is a privilege. And though artists rights typically don’t factor into the general perception of being a kick-ass rocker, that doesn’t mean those rights should be ignored.

But safeguarding those rights can often be more difficult for female artists. In my time as a practicing entertainment attorney and contributor for this column, I have been able to speak with some amazing female musicians. And I’ve learned that they are sometimes forced to endure a different set of potential infringements than those typically experienced by male musicians.

As a precursor, it is not lost on this columnist that the optics of this piece is of a lawyer-bro mansplaining legal rights to a population of female artists. I openly admit that I have no direct experience with the type of abhorrent discriminatory conduct women face — my only goal here is to reinforce the general knowledge about the rights at play and hopefully provide some resources to those who may need them.

Without further ado, Flatland has compiled a short list of rights that female artists need to keep in mind as they continue blessing us with their powerful art.

You Have a Right To Contract

With most live musical performances, bands or musicians are independent contractors — they agree with a venue, promoter or manager to perform in exchange for some form of compensation. And in that relationship, musicians aren’t afforded the same types of legal protections you might see under a typical employer/employee arrangement.

While that means that venues and promoters won’t be required to follow a set of policies when dealing with bands, an independent contractor arrangement has its own benefits — with the main one being the ability to negotiate.

(Illustration: Amanda Krenos | KCPT)

Follow the Entire Series | Turning the Tables: KC Edition

This article is part of a larger series, Turning the Tables: KC Edition, from our sister station, 90.9 The Bridge, that examines the roles, contributions and perceptions of women in the Kansas City music scene.

Turning the Tables: KC Edition is inspired by NPR’s national series on women in music.

A lot of performance contracts are boilerplate, so wiggle room may be difficult to come by. But if your band is in demand, you may be able to work some provisions into a contract rider that sets forth your requirements above and beyond the bare contract terms of “play here at this time.”

If the other party is willing to negotiate, try to ask for everything you’ll need to comfortably and safely perform. This can include making sure your friends and family can get complimentary tickets, requiring the venue to have liability insurance, providing personal security for the artists, and everyone’s favorite — lavish and outrageous backstage accommodations for the band. Obviously, your ability to negotiate extras will be dependent upon your band’s level of success. But you’ll never know unless you ask.

Regardless of whether you engage in any additional negotiations, read over the performance contract closely and only sign if it ensures you have all the rights and resources necessary to put on a good show.

You Have a Right To Be Free From Unwanted Physical Contact

Offensive contact can come in many forms, and nobody can define for you what crosses that threshold. The laws may be fairly straightforward about what constitutes sexual harassment, but just because physical contact is not sexual doesn’t mean that it is legal. That’s where the concepts of assault and battery come into play.

Assault, generally, is any intentional act by one person that makes another fearful of bodily harm or injury. One common misconception is that assault requires physical contact, but you can be the victim of assault without even being in the same room. Battery, on the other hand, is generally understood to be any intentional forceful contact with another person without their consent.

The two concepts work off one another for the purposes of civil and criminal lawsuits. If you feel that you have been assaulted or battered and you report that conduct to the police, the violator may be subject to criminal penalties, which could be prosecuted by a district attorney’s office. And unless the attacker is trying to kill or seriously injure the victim, most types of assault would fall under the category of third-degree assault, which can carry up to a 15-day sentence and $500 in fines.

But even if the DA’s office decides not to prosecute, and the unwanted contact has brought you any sort of pain or anguish, you have a right to bring a civil lawsuit against the aggressor. In that proceeding, you would be asking a judge or jury to award you civil damages to compensate you for your injuries — whether those are physical, emotional or psychological. As such, your amount of civil damages will depend upon the circumstances of the case and the nature of your injuries.

You Have a Right To Feel Safe at Your Shows

Female musicians tend to draw their share of admirers, and sometimes those admirers have problems respecting boundaries. That can make things difficult for musicians who constantly play shows in public. Usually venues will do whatever they can to make sure the talent feels safe to perform. And you can save yourself some headaches if you ensure that your performance contract gives you the right to have offending parties removed from a show in order to protect your safety and well-being.

For those fans who simply can’t take a hint, state courts offer an additional line of defense through orders of protection. The two most common ones are protection from stalking and protection from abuse.

For the purposes of these orders, abuse isn’t limited to physical harm. Under the law, any conduct that rises to the level of harassment and a perceived threat of injury are enough to establish abuse. By contrast, stalking is typically understood as any conduct or contact that happens more than once that causes fear of danger of physical harm.

It’s important to keep in mind that the laws are meant to protect the potential victims. It’s what you feel rises to the standard of stalking or abuse that’s important.

To obtain an order of protection, you will need to go to the courthouse — preferably in the county where you want the protection to be enforced. In Kansas City, that would be the Jackson County Courthouse. There are a number of circuit court clerks there who are trained to help you put together a petition for protection. Once that’s completed, you will speak with a judge about why you feel you need a protection order. And in most circumstances, you will be granted an immediate temporary order of protection that will impose criminal penalties against the offending party if they violate it.

As part of that process, the offending party will be served with the paperwork, and a hearing will be set in the court. At the hearing, the parties will present their evidence for the record, and the judge will determine whether a full order of protection is necessary. If the judge grants it, in Missouri that protection order can last between 180 days and a year. After that, you can request renewals of those orders for up to three years.

For more information, read this guide to protection orders in Jackson County Circuit Courts.

You Have a Right To Be Free From Discrimination … Sometimes

As independent contractors, musicians usually won’t have any right to sue a venue for discriminatory practices — like preferential treatment for male musicians — unless the performance contract clearly states as much.

The story changes a bit if the venue is owned by the state or if you are contracting with a state-owned entity for your performance. That’s because states like Kansas and Missouri have anti-discrimination laws that protect individuals from discriminatory acts that could be interpreted as a refusal to provide public accommodation to public services or facilities.

If you are subject to any sort of discrimination in one of these locations as the result of your gender or sexual preference, you have a right to file a claim with the appropriate state office. In Missouri, that means you have to file a complaint with the Missouri Commission on Human Rights. In Kansas, you would file the complaint with the Kansas Human Rights Commission. After filing the complaint, the MCHR or KHRC will investigate your claim and attempt to resolve it through mediation or settlement. If not, they will issue you a “right to sue” letter, which gives you a legal right to bring your own lawsuit against the offending entity.

— Dan Calderon is a Kansas City native, an attorney and contributor to Flatland. He is not, however, your attorney, and this column is not legal advice. You should consult an attorney to learn more about any of these concepts if you feel that they may apply to you. Otherwise, you can contact him by emailing, or on Twitter @dansascity.

Event poster for Turning the Tables KC: Showcase

(Illustration: Amanda Krenos | KCPT)

Lively Conversation and Live Music

On Wednesday, July 25, join 90.9 The Bridge at Mills Record Company at 4045 Broadway Blvd. for Turning the Tables: KC Showcase, a panel and showcase of women in music. Join us for lively and open discussions around gender, equality and the future of KC music, featuring live performances from Katy Guillen & the Girls and Hi-Lux. The showcase is free and open to the public, but please register in advance.

You can also submit your favorite contributions from Kansas City’s influential female musicians, vocalists and bands using this short form, telling us why this artist is significant to you.

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