Being in a band is expensive. Really expensive. There’s the gear, the van, the rehearsal space, the recording time, the CD duplication, the Web site, the lead singer’s hair products, the T-shirt manufacturing, etc. Things add up quickly, and rarely does a band make enough money to cover it all. Some bands resolve the issue by sharing the rehearsal space, touring in mom’s minivan, or recording the album at an audio-engineering school, but eventually somebody’s got to pay for something. So why not revamp the live act into a DIY profit machine?
In this current state of the music industry, the major label practically doesn’t exist for the working band. That elusive record contract, that fantasy we’ve all dreamt about, for the most part is a pipe dream. There’s still some money to be made in this business and there are many streams of revenue to tap, but it’s pretty much entirely up to the musician to figure out how to stay afloat. The live show offers a great situation to make money, and if you’re smart about it, your band might one day earn enough for you to purchase your very own panini maker!
Of course there are the usual methods of making money: playing gigs, album sales, raffling off dates with the bashful bassist — but there’s more to maximizing potential profits than just showing up and playing. The basic sources can always use a tune-up, and a new vein of potential gold dust is just a few good whacks of the pick away. If you haven’t already, it’s time to get smart about the band, treat it like a business (and no, that’s not selling out), make some money, and pay your uncle back for that loan on the band van. While the following strategies won’t spontaneously yield any cushy retirement funds, their combined efforts can greatly impact any band’s financial infrastructure in a positive way.
As mentioned, perhaps the most common method of making a little dough is to play out live. For the sake of this article, let’s assume there are two types of shows: club dates and private events, and they are fundamentally different in both their pay structure and their supply-and-demand assembly.
The payout from private events like weddings and corporate parties is almost entirely based on contracts, and because they change little with any other variables (a call-back for the next gig, however, is another story), it’s all about the haggle. When negotiating with someone looking to hire the band, assess the situation. Have they booked any bands before? What’s the expected attendance of the shindig? Do they or their company have a lot of money to spend? Are they specifically looking to hire your band because it’s a unique original act and they are diehard fans or is it because they’ve been delegated the task of finding a top-40 band that will get their despised boss on the dance floor? How much money is being pumped into the event? Is it a Lamborghini convention or a breast cancer awareness summit? Where is it — a snazzy country club or somebody’s backyard BBQ in the burbs?
In order to adapt effectively, the details of the gig and the people behind it are essential in determining what price to quote. Although they won’t always reveal the true budget of an event, they can shepherd that initial estimate to a higher figure with less chance of overshooting. For instance, if a successful tech firm is looking to book a band at a venue they had to spend $15,000 to reserve, they’ll probably sport more than $600 for the entertainment. Contrastingly, if coal-miner Jack and fry-cook Jill want to have some live music for their bowling alley wedding where they reserved four lanes, they probably won’t appreciate a $4,000 price quote. Of course, there’s always the option of having a fixed price and being done with it, but every gig is different and the flexibility of on-the-fly price quoting allows bands to adapt to more budgets, play out more often, and theoretically make more money.
Amidst all the clues that might suggest a big payout, there will always be those private events that don’t pay. In online forums the infamous freebie is the drop of blood in the piranha tank, and many musicians can’t help but feel polarized about it. Maybe it’s the billionaire tech firm, or the number-one ad agency in the country, but regardless of their monetary abilities, the gig doesn’t pay. Instead, they offer exposure, and eventually some band always takes the bait. Pick them wisely, don’t expect any direct returns, and remember that if you play for exposure, you are indeed exposing yourself.
In the nightclub scene, everything’s different, especially for unknown original bands. There are various types of clubs out there and some have differing preferences for payment, but the most common method is the door deal. At the most basic level, the club will give a percentage of the ticket sales to the bands — usually around 65 percent — but again, that changes with each venue. Some venues offer a small percentage of whatever the bar makes, either in addition to the ticket sales or instead of ticket sales if there’s no cover charge. Since the majority of original-act nightclubs have little built-in foot traffic, it’s up to the entertainment to bring the people, and the more tickets sold means more money for the band.