Economics of an originals band

Discussion in 'Band Management [BG]' started by Bassist4Eris, Dec 4, 2012.


  1. Bassist4Eris

    Bassist4Eris Non Serviam Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Aug 11, 2012
    Location:
    Scotia NY
    The idea behind this thread is a place where we can discuss the difficulties of the financial part of playing originals, and share some strategies. It is expressly NOT intended as a place for a flame war between originals and covers guys, please and thank you. :)

    Some relevant background info: I am based out of the Albany, NY area. Albany is not NYC, nor is it a tiny town in the middle of nowhere: it's a small-to-medium sized city. I am 39. In my main band, the guitarist is 29 and the drummer is 54. So we are not kids just starting out. Both of the other guys make at least part of their living through music. I currently do not, but have in the past.

    Writing original music is the primary factor that got me into playing, and the one closest to my heart. To give up originals entirely would take a significant amount of the joy out of it. The other guys feel that way too.

    But here's the math. When I was last in a cover band, I got paid $100 to play four hours. In my originals band, I would guess I average about $25 to play for an hour. The pay is a lot less consistent, sometimes much higher, sometimes, frankly, non-existent. But on average, about the same hourly rate, right? Not so fast. Every originals band wants to record. I've never been in a band that so much as broke even on the recording part. It's just a freakin' money pit!

    So, I'm currently in two originals projects, both have CDs in the works, and I recently got an offer to join a third. I have the time (not married, no kids), but the shocking realization I came to was, I actually can't AFFORD to join another originals band!

    I also got an offer to join a reggae covers band. It's an upstart, but the players are not. The drummer (also in my originals band) was the drummer for two successful reggae bands for the past 10 years. The guitarist is a well-established blues guy looking to do something a little different. This is an offer I'm taking seriously. I don't expect to make the money that the Jenny 867-5309 guys do, but I've made clear that I need at least $75 per show, and would prefer $100 or more. The others are 100% on the same page. My only fear is that it may take too much time away from the originals projects.

    I swear I still don't care about the money. But I need to offset the costs of playing originals somehow. It's also a little embarrassing that what for some people is a business, for me is an expensive hobby.

    Anyone out there making originals pay?
  2. Oneirogenic

    Oneirogenic

    Joined:
    Nov 10, 2009
    We make enough money to break even on costs and take home small amounts of cash. We funded our full length album recording costs off of gigs. We are not a typical experience. I know very few guys in originals groups that have been able to operate in the black.
  3. deshi00

    deshi00

    Joined:
    Mar 26, 2010
    Location:
    columbus ohio
    Im on the same page as Oneirogenic, We make money on our shows, I cannot say it was always that way though. From splitting money we have made enough to cover equipment cost, gas, a full length album, and promotions. Every now and then we have played a few cover shows for some extra income.
  4. bluewine

    bluewine

    Joined:
    Sep 4, 2008
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    WI
    You might want to edit the Jenny 867-5309 reference. We don't play that anymore.

    Blue
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  6. Oneirogenic

    Oneirogenic

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    Nov 10, 2009
    I should also point out our "success" has a lot to do with who we know. Drummer was a part of a signed national band that even got airplay on MTV in the 90's. Guitarist also had his solo instrumental act signed on Indie labels. So they both know the biz well enough to give us an edge not to mention opportunities not every band could get. We got to play venues only cover acts get to play typically. It helps that if we have a crowd they are dancing and buying drinks. We pass our success down to other bands whenever we can by giving good references to venues who wouldn't even bother looking and putting bands on our bills when we play tougher to get into venues.
  7. Kmonk

    Kmonk

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    Oct 18, 2012
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    South Shore, Massachusetts
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    I was in an original blues band for several years. We did a lot of touring and made some good money but we also had to throw in some covers in order to fill three sets. The least I was ever paid was $250 for a gig. I also had gigs where I made several thousand dollars. There was one venue which was out of state that we played at one weekend every month. We would play Friday night, Saturday afternoon, Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. On those weekends I made enough money to cover the cost of gas, food, hotel and still have enough money to pay my mortgage for two months.

    Being in an original band can be difficult. Most people want to hear songs that the already know. We took the approach of starting out as a cover band that did some originals. As we developed a strong following we eventually did more originals than covers.
  8. Bassist4Eris

    Bassist4Eris Non Serviam Supporting Member

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    Aug 11, 2012
    Location:
    Scotia NY
    Blue, I'm not sure how to take the way you've quoted me, combining my stated desire to not start a flame war with my Jenny reference. But it looks like I may have offended you, in which case I apologize. No disrespect to anyone was intended.

    Pop-rock cover bands definitely still treat that one as a "standard" in my hometown. My cover band friends complain about playing it more than they complain about Mustang Sally. (I personally love Mustang Sally: Wilson Pickett + Booker T and the MGs = awesome!)

    Anyhow, don't you play blues/classic rock? Why would you be playing anything like Jenny? Truth is, I'd probably like your set list, cuz I dig that music. If the reggae thing hadn't fallen into my lap, I'd probably be looking for some blues guys myself.
  9. bluewine

    bluewine

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    Sep 4, 2008
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    WI
    You do understand your ages are not a plus, right?

    Blue
  10. bluewine

    bluewine

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    I'm not offended but some would be. I just didn't think it was the best reference.

    I'm not a blues/ rock guy. I joined the band because they were established ( 6 years) and were making money.

    I had done the pop rock originals thing and got tired of gigging and coming home empty handed.

    Blue
  11. Bassist4Eris

    Bassist4Eris Non Serviam Supporting Member

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    Scotia NY
    I understand that for a band to get signed, etc, we would need to be much younger. That is not our intention. We do this for the love of creativity, not out of illusions of "making it". You and I have had this conversation in other threads.

    I have found that, at the very least, we get treated better and with more respect than some of the kiddie bands around.

    I do sometimes feel self-conscious when we're put on a bill with two other bands, none of whom look old enough to drive.

    I assure you, however, that we aren't the only originals guys in town with a little "touch of grey".
  12. Asbrinkman

    Asbrinkman

    Joined:
    Dec 2, 2012
    I'm in an originals band from Denver where we get great opportunities to play some nice venues and good gigs, but most of the venues don't pay much or are turning into pay-to-play formats. We initially started as a recording project and then things progressed into a full band after we realized people don't pay for music anymore (ha!). We are on Pandora, Last FM, iTunes...blah, blah, blah... It's tough out there, but I refuse to play covers all night. I am a musician to create music not regurgitate it! I have a day job to pay the bills, but give props to those making money at it. Good for you and keep at it!
  13. ShoeManiac

    ShoeManiac Supporting Member

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    Jan 19, 2006
    Location:
    New Jersey
    The economics of original bands are perpetually difficult. The OP has definitely outlined some of those challenges. But it's definitely worthwhile to look at both your possible revenue streams as well as your costs.

    There's definitely the potential for far greater financial upside to an original act. And that's because of the varied revenue streams that simply don't exist in the cover world.
    -Gig money
    -Merch
    -Music sales (both CD's and downloads)
    -Monetizing a YouTube channel (advertising)
    -Licensing

    If you're able to build a decent fanbase the gig money can start to roll in. But the flipside is that it can take a considerable marketing investment to get people to know about you. That eats into your bottom line, but once word gets out about your act social media can start to carry you.

    Recording costs can definitely be a significant financial offset to gig income. We're dealing with that issue as well. But when you pay for your own recordings, you own them. You don't owe them to someone else. That means you're in the drivers seat if a label comes knocking with either a signing or a distribution deal. You've also got the option of licensing the music out as you want. Even indie bands can license material, and I know that there's always someone looking to license music: commercials, tv shows, video games, etc.

    Merch? Some bands can make more on merch than on anything else. It can really be all about finding the right artists to design your merch, and then finding a good deal to get it manufactured. Some venues are now demanding a cut of the artists merch because they recognized that they were making significant cash selling product on their premises, so they decided they needed to get a cut.

    All of these potential revenue streams require an investment to get them going. You have to invest in rehearsal and gear in order to play the shows. You've got to invest in recordings to sell your music. And you have to invest in the design and manufacture of your merch in order to sell that, too. At that point it comes down to keeping a close eye on your expenses and trying to balance that out with the income.
  14. Pacman

    Pacman Layin' Down Time Supporting Member

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    You may not, but plenty of people do. Every time I sing that in my cover band, it packs the floor. Sometimes I have to sing it twice a night.
  15. tycobb73

    tycobb73

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    Jul 23, 2006
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    Grand Rapids MI
    The most important thing to me is you realize it. There is nothing wrong with guys of any age saying "you know what, we're not going to be the next big thing, but we're having fun. If this breaks even it is a success." If someone plays the lotto understanding that thier odds are 50 bazillion to one there is nothing wrong with that. Its the person that thinks he is going to win every time that has the problem.
  16. bluewine

    bluewine

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    The term "fun" is used pretty loosely. We can't forget there's work involved in getting to the fun part.

    Blue
  17. bassbully

    bassbully Endorsed by The PHALEX CORN BASS..mmm...corn!

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    Location:
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    My band has been around almost 4 years. We paid for a good EP and a studio album that took about a year to complete. 95% of the money needed came thru a band fund we had all excepted and accounted for. We had a great time ,studio , food money and all and we are just a regional band...no touring Why?

    Simply for the love of writing and creating our music and the BL creative songwriting. It was a labor of love to see the songs grow and come to life. Although the album has only recovered not near half of the budget used to create it the band feels it was a worthy project and one I crossed off my bucket list.

    Covering the costs might take us time but we all work good jobs and money is not a factor. Today we all take our cut from gigs since we now know another album is not going to happen again. We play for the love and still do ok as an originals band that can do a 3 hour show like any cover band although we do add a few covers.

    Being creative is my/our drive and we are still enjoying it. I see now its where I am at maybe down the road I will do something else but for now it's good. BTW just recorded with my second originals project a few weeks ago and a EP/demo is coming out soon with them.
  18. bassbully

    bassbully Endorsed by The PHALEX CORN BASS..mmm...corn!

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    Work? Explain, if you are in a cover band (and I know you are) you don't know what work is like being in an originals band.
  19. fdeck

    fdeck Supporting Member

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    I think blue was in an originals band previously.
  20. JumboJack

    JumboJack Supporting Member

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  21. Blue_Whistle88

    Blue_Whistle88 Supporting Member

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    Location:
    Auckland, New Zealand
    Originals bands aren't supposed to be "economical". If you don't agree with that, look me dead in the eye (metaphorically speaking) and tell me that The Sex Pistols were "economical". Music is about wanting, not needing, and the sooner you can appreciate and become comfortable with the fact that it is an unnecessary part of society, the sooner you can get back to enjoying the simplicity of playing.

    If you have some kind of "higher ambition" when it comes to "making it" or "getting big" or anything like that, even if it's just hypothetical, well good luck, but don't be surprised if you end up frustrated, one way or another. "Music" and "music business" (read "busy-ness") are not the same thing.

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