1. Please take 30 seconds to register your free account to remove most ads, post topics, make friends, earn reward points at our store, and more!  
  2. Welcome Back!  Please see this thread for more info about the site outage.  Thank you for your patience as we work out bugs and tweak server configs.

Horn Band Management

Discussion in 'Band Management [BG]' started by juancaminos, May 30, 2018.

  1. juancaminos

    juancaminos Supporting Member

    I've always wanted to start a full band with horns and back up singers. The problem is that I can't imagine being able to keep all of these performers busy and in the black. So the question is how does a 7 to 9 pc band play bar gigs? Are there horn players and back up singers who will perform for a fraction of what a bar bands get paid? When and how does it become feasable?
    Jimmy4string likes this.
  2. Stumbo

    Stumbo Guest

    Feb 11, 2008
    It becomes feasible when you start regularly playing $5-$10k gigs like weddings.

    FUNCTION band frontperson qualities?
  3. There are a few things to consider for horn bands.
    • Horn players have little interest in attending endless rehearsals whilst the guitarists sort their parts, so have written books with well written charts, and bring them in on the last two rehearsals at most.
    • Get college jazz band players. They can sightread your book, and may only need one rehearsal.
    • Get a real good arranger to write the horn arrangements. They need to be complete, accurate, and cool too.
    • Don’t try to micromanage horn players. They will almost certainly know more about their horn than you do. If they need to try something again, they will likely do this on their own.
    Also, have your band (4 or 5 piece) for one price, and a higher price for the band plus horns. That way, you include horns if you can. Since they can sightread, if one or a few arent available, then hire subs just for the gig.
    IamGroot, mrcbass, 12BitSlab and 12 others like this.
  4. darkwasthenight


    Oct 17, 2010
    For horns we have always subscribed to the 'get a real good arranger in the lineup then hire the rest in' ethos and I love it. No arguing about arrangements, no arguing about cuts, no arguing about rehearsal nights - shut up and play the dots! Because I said so and I'm paying, that's why...

    Jokes aside, I found most horn players who are regularly playing out are perfectly capable of sight-reading a gig with maybe a quick top/tails run through in soundcheck; they also tend to know a whole bunch of other horns players who are happy to sub for them if they can't do a show. Unfortunately they're also totally baffled at the culture of playing for free or constant rehearsing that, coming from my background of rock originals, I was quite used to.

    We had the advantage of a poopie-hot sax player and arranger/transcriber who was in the group full time and sorted out all the dots as part of her role - we just needed to get a pool of subs together. If we had any ideas that we wanted her to incorporate I'd put together scratch demos with terrible MIDI sounds over a live recording and she would turn them into something a horn player could realistically perform, which was a massive help. As a guitarist or keyboardist you don't always understand the mechanical limitations of another instrument, so having someone at least familiar with that technical side is a massive help.
  5. buldog5151bass

    buldog5151bass Kibble, milkbones, and P Basses. And redheads.

    Oct 22, 2003
    It's tough feeding more than 4-5 mouths on bar gig money. But as others have said, a decent horn layer will get bored at most rehearsals. They can sight read the parts, and frankly, other than soloing, most of those parts are very simple to play - about the equivalent of you playing 1-5-1-5-1-5-1all night.
  6. elgecko


    Apr 30, 2007
    Anasleim, CA
    Every horn player I've ever played with made the same as everyone else. The idea of paying horn players less is completely foreign and baffling to me.
    12BitSlab, Pbassmanca and Frank77 like this.
  7. Seanto


    Dec 29, 2005
    I dont think that was the question. I think it was more of, is a bar band split enough for a horn player or do they generally get hired for higher fees.
  8. Some great observations from those who have obviously been there @darkwasthenight @dreamadream99

    I started my band three years ago, and I was intent upon having a horn section. I read, but my chart skills are slow at best. I would be hard-pressed to be the MD with the other musicians and vocals plus manage the horns. Just too much work. I quickly realized I needed a horn section leader.

    My problem was, out of the many horn players we auditioned and offered the gig to, none of them wanted the section leader tag. They were more than happy to show, blow, and get paid, but no one wanted that additional responsibility. I even spent around $600.00 purchasing charts, many of which were note-for-note accurate to the recorded versions we play. But a good number would have required some edits for our chosen arrangement.

    I finally gave up and sequenced the horn parts. We were gig-ready, I wanted to go out and entertain and make money, and I couldn't wait around for a horn section to magically form and a leader to step up. We always bring in one of our favorite horn players who can play right along with the tracked horn section and solo his ass off when called.

    Having played in a couple of horn bands, I can tell you that bar band pay alone probably won't keep 8-12 people interested for long. Most of the good horn players in my neighborhood expect to be paid better than that in the aggregate. So you had best be able to book some lucrative private events (upscale, corporate, weddings, etc.) to offset the bars. You might get more good players to try and be available and take your gigs seriously. The horn players I know can easily clear well over $125.00 a night playing with a jazz trio, so in those terms, splitting a $600.00 payday 9 ways is not the most attractive proposition.

    Also, once (if) you find a section leader, you can rotate players in and out pretty easy. I know a dozen horn players (sax, bone, trumpet) and they would all gig with my band if they were free.
  9. LUpton

    LUpton Supporting Member

    Oct 22, 2012
    Tampa, FL
    Probably too old for this sh--
    The answer is probably No, a bar band split, would not be enough money. I am the MD/arranger in our band (see sig) but I played trumpet for 12 yrs in high school and college, so I know the quirks of brass instruments well. We don't play bars at all, strictly retirement community organization events, and get around $100 a person for a 3 hr gig. No one in the group depends on this money for living, obviously...

    It took almost a year after the formation of the band to find the horn section personnel we have now. Area college players got bored with our stuff fast, and some other folks we brought in could solo their asses off, but looked at a printed-out chart as if it was in Sanskrit...

    Working in a large group is like herding cats. Be prepared to direct traffic like it's rush hour. But...when it comes together, it's magic.
  10. I've been in quite a few bands with a horn line. Musically satisfying, financially not so much. Very hard to keep 8,9 or 10 pieces constantly gigging. One solution is an in demand tribute band which would command enough pay and respectable venues. Easy to find yourself playing for pocket change or volunteering for community service.
  11. I once led a 9-piece ska band for about a year.

    We had four brass wind players (T-bone, sax, trumpet, sax), though generally two per gig. (Let that be a tip.)

    They were happy to do handclaps and back-up vocals and a few moves when not blasting the brass.

    We always split the money evenly between us all, and everybody got equal chance to put a name on the guest list at the door.

    Local pubs liked us and generally wanted us to come back.

    The bigger the band, the more friends show up to support the band, the more widely word can spread, and the more likely the bar manager is gonna be happy when they turn up the lights at the end of the night and the money is counted. Some server girls loved us at certain pubs.

    Sometimes, we'd only walk out with cab fare each, but smiling.
  12. juancaminos

    juancaminos Supporting Member

    Yeah when I said a fraction of what a bar band gets I mean and equal fraction so a $400 to $600 split. Before the economy crapped out we would not play for less than $100 each and there were five of us. Toward the end of our run we could gig every week end for half of that. So on hiatus we went (there were other reasons too). Still I can get $250 - $300 gigs all day. As a three pc we can do that but as a 6, 7 or more pc band that's not gonna work. So you call in the horns when the dollars are good? What do they do in the mean time? Oh and I can only imagine what it would be like to manage even more musicians geez what was I thinking.
  13. juancaminos

    juancaminos Supporting Member

    I did play with a sax guy about 20 years ago. He was a great guy but wanted to play on every song all night long, it got old after 20 or so gigs.
  14. john m

    john m Supporting Member

    Jan 15, 2006
    I've know of bands that had to pay for quality horn players and have the "regular" members take a cut for bar gigs. They made it up when they got booked for private gigs. If you have good horn charts, there are horn players that can sight read a gig without rehearsal--- check out your local symphony orchestras. There are often members who enjoy doing an occasional "rock" gig. Get it down on paper correctly and they'll read it.
    mikewalker likes this.
  15. Band Leader of a 10 piece band with horn section.

    Year 1: whoever would let us play for whatever amount. I had players not in it for the $ and assured them that if we stuck it out together, there was a light at the end of the tunnel. We sucked, had very limited repertoire, and below average singers and players including myself.

    Year 2: landed casino gigs and top live music venues. $1000 a gig and started to get a handful of weddings and Corp events. Serious upgrades to vocalists, repertoire, and level of tightness as a band.

    Year 3: when I would lose or fire a player, we were busy enough that I could hire top talent. We played about 200 gigs this year.

    Year 4: gigs came to us. Wedding planners, venues call us, etc. About 255 shows, many of which were $5k+. We still supplement with Casinos, bar gigs ($1000+). When we have turnover we can hire top talent.

    Year 5, 6, 7, steady going...

    I don’t play in the band anymore nor am I hands on any longer. My biz partner runs it and I get a nice check every time they play an event.
    Last edited: May 31, 2018
    getbent and juancaminos like this.
  16. darkwasthenight


    Oct 17, 2010
    Yeah, this was our main pitfall to be honest. It was a floating lineup, but with the hired frontline and the singers we had anywhere up to 12-14 of us at any given show. Sounded absolutely amazing but with the initial work needed to get our names out there and paying regularly, plus the accommodation needed, it became impractical to keep on the road. Everyone playing was a friend and happy to give us some leeway and we were always paying out for the subs, but as bandleaders we were having to take a fair few expenses only and loss-leader shows and it just wasn't sustainable.

    If we'd given it another 6 months I think we might have been able to get it to a stage where we could keep it running, but it became a matter of paying bills so had to knock it on the head. We continued doing the same shows with a smaller lineup minus the frontline for a bit, but it didn't leave the same impression and the cushy art festival headline slots started drying up. It was a lot of work at the time, but when the whole frontline would kick in for the big sections we'd all get ridiculous grins onstage and those were the moments it was worth it for... Got a record out of it and still have all the arrangements so there's always the option of reviving it at some point in the future.
  17. I do sound for an 11 piece horn band. It has 5 pieces of brass. They are terribly loud, any recommendations on specialty shields to reduce the SPL from them?

  18. Primary

    Primary TB Assistant

    Here are some related products that TB members are talking about. Clicking on a product will take you to TB’s partner, Primary, where you can find links to TB discussions about these products.

    Apr 13, 2021

Share This Page

  1. This site uses cookies to help personalise content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register.
    By continuing to use this site, you are consenting to our use of cookies.