Contract or Agreement, Deposit or Retainer?

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DJ Intelligence

ProDJ Sponsor
Nothing can be more fun than trying to decipher legal terms. In the DJ Intelligence boardroom, we recently had a major discussion regarding legal jargon.

What terms do YOU use and why? My personal DJ business uses "Contract" and "Deposit" and all of our documents were written by our attorney. Our "Deposit" is non-refundable for any reason. Ever run into any problems using the terms you do?

The reason this subject came up is because previously our online booking system was called the "Contract Booking System" and created documents titled "Contract for Disc Jockey Services" with a "Deposit" amount. At the request of DJs using our online booking system, we've upgraded the system to now allow for entry of your own terminology. The system is now called the "Booking System" and you can set the title of the document (i.e. "Contract" or "Agreement", etc.) and the down payment terminology (i.e. "Deposit" or "Retainer" or "Reservation Fee").

This is my DJ company's contract (through DJ Intelligence system):

Feel free to post your contract along with the legal terms you use and why!

Chris Wagner

School Dance Moderator

I refer to my contract at the "Reservation Form" and refer to the deposit as a "Reservation Fee". I haven't had any problems with this and call the non-refundable deposit a "Reservation Fee" based on the conversations here at

From what people indicate here, if you call it a deposit, it implies it IS refundable... whether you say so or not. I haven't had to be challenged on this to date, however.


New Member
Hi Scott,

We use the term "service agreement". It sounds better than "contract". :)

As far as the "deposit" vs. "retainer" debate, there is indeed a difference. Here in Delaware, a deposit is legally refundable; a retainer is not. If it's referred to as a "deposit" in writing, it is refundable upon demand no matter what the contract states.

I would strongly recommend that anyone who has questions or doubts about the wording in his/her contract seek legal counsel regarding this. It could save your bacon in the long run.

Just my thoughts.


New Member
Wolfie, you beat me to it! Damn you! LOL!

I have to agree with Wolfie on this one. I have used "Agreement", and it comes across nicer to clients, and it is also seen as equal protection for both parties. In my agreement, I have terms for the client if they cancel, and terms for me if I can't hold up my end of the deal. It's a "win-win" situation.

As is in many states, "retainer" by definition alone is non-refundable. A "deposit" IS refundable, sometimes even if you put "non refundable" in writing.

I would recommend using these terms for a number of reasons:

1) See above
2) All of the other DJ's use contract, deposit, and this may set you apart.
3) TECHNICALLY, these are the actual words that will help you win a case if it needs to go to court.
Here's another comment.

Instead of disc jockey services, how about entertainment services?

We, the entertainers, can emcee, karaoke, video jockeying, run sound, line dance instruct, run games for the kids, run trivia contests for the adults, etc. Some can even do the one-man band thing! Chuck at Classified Events is a trumpeter, my wife is a pianist.

Disc jockey is too limiting, entertainer is all-emcompassing.

Just some thoughts.

Scott McKinney

Active Member
Service Agreement and Retainer. In Colo. Deposit is refundable regardless of what your agreement form says. Retainer is not.


New Member
I use the word Contract, Entertainment and above all - RETAINER FEE instead of DEPOSIT.


Retired and Lurking
blugold said:
A "deposit" IS refundable, sometimes even if you put "non refundable" in writing.
This depends on the laws of the state you are in. At a regional DJ Idea Sharing conference in Connecticut, we had a lawyer from Massachusetts come down to speak about contracts. One of the questions posed to her was the differentiation between deposit and retainer. She said that the court system in Massachusetts sees the term as interchangeable. If you say a "non-refundable" deposit in your contract, it is non-refundable, at least in Masscahusetts. She also stressed that the laws differ from state to state, so it's best you check with a lawyer from your own state.


New Member
Per my attorney I use Entertainment Agreement and Retainer.

The reason for retainer is they are utilizing my entertainment and event consultation service...My attorney explained ALL attorneys and judges have a extensive knowledge of non-refundable retainers of service... This is a story in progress so that's all I can say ;o)

It’s also important to verify your contract falls within the legal guidelines of your state. What may work here in Florida may not is Iowa...

Bryan Foley

Political Forum Moderator
Ditto what JAM said.

Also remember some states are states and some are Commonwealths so check with your States or Commonwealths Attorney and you should be able to find out all the specifics. I do believe most of the AG's have a FAQ Line for these type ?'s


New Member
Seeing how I just did this event last Friday, I can talk about it now.... I had a client that is governed by the state of Florida contact me a month ago in dire need of a Disc Jockey... I do many events yearly for this organization, however not for this particular department....

They had contracted with a company called the Pro's reserved the date however issues arose with the contract. The Pro's are not a Florida based company and the legal department of this company requested the contract be changed to meet Florida statute... They refused.... In desperation the planner within the organization for help in finding a replacement and they were told about me...

She called, I sent an Entertainment Agreement and later when I picked up the signed copy she told me when she walked my contract over to legal, the lawyer looked at it, scanned over it to verify it’s the same he signs off on for the other events and said.... This guy is fine I'm familiar with him....

I really recommend paying a contract attorney to review your documents... Your goal is to never have to go to court....However, if you must it's important to have solid ground to stand on...... This one event paid for the consultation I had with the attorney....

When I first started doing events for this organization I went rounds with there legal department a


Mark Peace Thomas
I use "initial payment"

I believe the law also takes into account what is "common practice" and in the event business, a non-refundable deposit, retainer, payment is common due to the nature of our business.

Most importantly, clients accept, understand and sign our agreements and ultimately they usually end up adhering to our policies. They naturally ask for their money back even when they no it is non-refundable...

Wouldn't you?

Bob Dietrich

Active Member
As has already been written...if you currently use the term "deposit" in your agreement/contract, in many states it matters little that you have it PLAINLY spelled out in all caps that it's a non-refundable deposit! Taken to court, you will end up giving their deposit back along with any costs they incurred collecting this deposit...and attorney fees ain't cheap friends!

As Jam notes...have a professional law firm familiar with contracts as well as entertainment look over your agreement/contract/whatever and follow their might save you thousands of dollars down the road!

Bryan Foley

Political Forum Moderator
Hey JAM,

One question, how did you get them to pay your price from the price we all know "the pros" charge. That would be like a 500% increase minimum.

Desmond Thomas

New Member
is anyone in here a lawyer?....i live with one.....she told me that what's spelled out in the contract does indeed matter.....if it says that the deposit is non-refundable then IT IS NON-REFUNDABLE!!!! the client agreed to those terms and it's binding!'s the same thing as "earnest money" in real estate, your "security deposit" in a rental contract, the "retainer fee" in the legal profession or the deposit on a venue.....

if the client doesn't perform in the contract, the deposit money is non-refundable.....and it doesn't matter whether you call it a contract or an agreement because by definition a contract is simply a binding agreement.

no matter what state you live in, contract law has been the same since before medieval times


New Member

If you live with an attorney I'm sure they will explain with great detail how contracts have changed since the medieval times....

It's not always what a contract says that decides judgments and judges decisions... Interpretation of the law is a strange thing.... All is takes is "ONE" misplaced or used word to void out the clause...

During the day I have fox news on as I work and from time-to-time I also watch the variety of "Court Room" shows on TV...... I have seen brides win judgments from vendors that were for "NON-REFUNDABLE" deposits.... I can't remember per-item what the reasons for judgment were but it was based on their paying a deposit for services and never using the service.. It is sound advice to seek legal guidance with issues that could save you if ever needed...


I was over 100% more in rate and I only did the Friday evening event for $850.... Without telling them I did donate $100 to the fundraiser that night... I challenged later in the evening to match $100 towards an individual who would match me.... Six individuals took the challenge and it resulted in $700 additionally added to the cause that was not planned... The individuals who matched the challenge was the President, the invited speaker, a couple doctors and other groups present...It was a very nice event however, a very diverse crowd.... I worked them all night and if they had received a less seasoned entertainer it would have been very interesting.

Scott McKinney

Active Member
In the state of Colorado...Deposit=refund...Regardless of whether you have NON REFUNDABLE or not. Period. That's the way it's written. Basically the word "deposit" negates and over-rides the word NON-Refundable.
That's why we saved ourselve the headaches and misunderstandings by changing it to "Retainer"
As for "Service Agreement", it just sounds friendlier. but in all honesty, it IS still a contract.
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