The Van Halen Contract

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The Van Halen Contract

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It was the 1985 and Sammy Hagar had replaced David Lee Roth as the singer in Van Halen. Their tour started in the Midwest, and the hype was starting. I was assigned to photograph them at the second date of the tour, in suburban Chicago, for Rolling Stone Magazine. A friend of mine flew in to photograph the opening date in southern Wisconsin. He called me at about 9PM the night of the first show to tell me that he had refused to shoot, as the contract was pretty horrible. This was ironic because Van Halen never had a contract, and neither did Sammy Hagar!
The next evening, I arrived at the venue and was presented with a 4 page contract, that basically said that I could shoot the show (no flash), and sell one photo to Rolling Stone. I then had to turn all the photos over to the band’s management, who could then use them in any way they wanted with no compensation to me whatsoever (They also didn’t even have to give me a photo credit!).
I walked into the venue and asked to see the road manager. When he arrived, I handed him back the photo pass and the unsigned contract. I told him that I couldn’t sign it, and would call Rolling Stone the next day and ask them to cancel the story. I turned around and walked out to my car, put my equipment in the trunk, and was about to start the engine when he came running out, telling me that the band’s manager wanted to see me.
I walked back inside and was escorted back to the production office, where I sat down across the desk form the band’s manager. He asked me why I wouldn’t sign the contract and I told him (pretty obvious reasons). He told me to scratch out all the points I objected to, one by one, and initial them. He then read what I had done (Pretty much scratching out the whole contract) and got to the last item- the no flash provision. Now- I am not a fan of flash photography, but most of the metal magazines would only accept flash images, so I always tried to shoot a couple of rolls with a flash to satisfy them. He remarked that the band hated flash photography. I responded with “I have photographed Van Halen many times, and Sammy Hagar many times and always used a flash at times during the show, and no one ever questioned it.” I then added, “Why don’t we ask Eddie what he thinks?”
So we walked down to Eddie Van Halen’s practice room, and the manager asked Eddie what he thought of flash photography during the performance. Eddie’s reply was, “I don’t pay attention to that stuff when I am on stage- they can do whatever they want.”
The manager walked out of the room, ripped up the contract into little pieces, and said, “You win, do whatever you want.”
I ended up shooting three shows on that tour, including a shoot with the band for the cover of Guitar Player, and in the ultimate irony, the band ended up asking me if they could use some of my photos for a tour end ad in Billboard!