You've managed to score your first gig - a paid one at that! Your bandmates and you are excited about the event, and some of you have even bought some new equipment because of the money that's going to be coming in.
My first advice is: unless you're working with a reputable company or agent, you shouldn't get your hopes too high with regards to the money.
There Are Always Rats In Any Industry
I got burned, once. It was valentine's day, and I had to cancel all plans to play at a dinner because the organizer was more than an acquaintance of mine; we'd worked together a few times before. This time it was his own event. Renumeration was promised of course. It wasn't a very enjoyable gig because there were NO speakers - it was literally an unplugged acoustic set.
That was two years ago. Till now I haven't gotten paid for that performance.
This doesn't mean you go around being paranoid at every gig though. Below are steps you can take to make sure the organizer knows that you're not one to be bullied, and that you have evidence in case of any supposed misunderstanding.
1. Always have email confirmation
This is even if you have spoken about your terms over the phone or in person. There are no records of your conversation - make one. It can just be a polite 'Just to confirm…' email, and you'll have to ensure the organizer replies in the affirmative. In the event of ambiguities, you'll be able to pull this email out to ascertain the terms.
2. Be clear with your terms
Think of all aspects of the performance that may go wrong, and discuss the responsibility with the organizer. Many years ago there was a gig held with many bands participating. Bands had to sell a minimum number of tickets to play (if they couldn't sell them, they had to absorb the cost) - but they agreed on that upon participating so I have no qualms about that. We usually dig our own graves and fall in them, after all. Now, what I have a problem with here is that when some guitar amplifiers were damaged that night, the BANDS were made to pay for them!
Let me just inform everyone here that this is NEVER the case, unless some cuckoo representing your band signs a contract with a clause saying that the band takes responsibility for all equipment and will pay for all damages. Equipment can cost tens of thousands of dollars, so I would suggest you ditch the gig rather than play for it.
3. Payment upon delivery
Try to insist that the organizer pays you that night itself, be it before or after you play. It is always inconvenient to wait for days (or weeks) for a cheque, and possible mishaps may crop up during this waiting time. It's not 100% possible, especially with government related bodies due to processing time needed, but there is no harm trying to ask for that!
4. If you get burned, get over it.
I wish I didn't have to say this, but here goes: If you ever put in your blood and sweat for a gig, and the organizer ends up not paying you… There isn't much you can do. We have the Small Claims Tribunals to help settle monetary disputes, but they take in claims of up to $10,000, or even $20,000. You will also have to pay a fee of $50 to lodge a claim. Unless you're being owed a sum of $5,000 and above, I'd say there's almost zero chance of you getting your money with this. All you can do is to repeatedly inform the organizer that you have not been paid, and if the organizer insists you did not fulfill the criteria set, dig out that email and show it to them. If everything fails, we get on with life.