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Original bands - how do you make money?

Discussion in 'Band Management [BG]' started by Reascot, Dec 16, 2018.

  1. Reascot


    Jun 19, 2017
    I play in an original band. We play as much as possible but are essentially weekend warriors. We don't get paid, or when we do it's very low.
    We are recording some songs over winter. We will record the drums in a studio then i will do the rest at home.
    So i hope to have a couple of songs available by February.
    I'm wondering how we can make money from this situation. We made CDs years ago but we still haven't sold all of them. Plus we don't play those songs anymore. So the cost of making CDs is not worth it for us.
    What options do i have to make money?
  2. Bunk McNulty

    Bunk McNulty It is not easy to do simple things correctly. Supporting Member

    Dec 11, 2012
    Northampton, MA
    Funny, I was talking about this last night with the guitarist I work with, who was in an all-originals band in Los Angeles years ago. He said they put every dime they made gigging back into the band--a tour bus, roadies, the whole nine yards. And this was a successful band. I've posted elsewhere about how they had signed with Capitol, and had Roy Thomas Baker lined up to produce...and the guy at Capitol who was advocating for them had the bad taste to die suddenly, and that was the end of that. I briefly led my own band a decade ago. We gigged a lot, recorded an EP, got reviewed in the local press, and still got exactly nowhere. I got tired of playing to five people for five dollars, and shut it down.

    I wish I had any kind of good advice, but I don't. I hear people in the biz say things like "If you feel you got it, don't ever give up." What does that really mean? It is good to have talent, it is great to be lucky, but the real essential, as I see it, is hard-core ambition--putting a musical career before everything else in your life. I found out I was not built that way. These days, I gig a lot, playing the hits on weekends. I'm good with that.

    Best of luck!
  3. buldog5151bass

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

    Oct 22, 2003
    Same as any other band (or any enterprise) - build a following of people who want to pay for your product. People will line up to buy an In and Out burger. For Liver R Us, not so much. It's never been easy, it's tougher than ever today.

    One thing I used to do when I did original music was to find a town hall theater VFW hall or some other venue, and rent it on an off night. Get several other bands so you can share the expenses. Put together a shared backline so changeover is fast. Sell your own tickets and sell your own merch.
  4. Reascot


    Jun 19, 2017
    What merch do you sell?
  5. micguy


    May 17, 2011
    If you study the stories of bands who eventually became big, I’m afraid you’re asking the wrong question.

    The real question is: How did you keep the band together through all those years when you didn’t make money?

    Bands playing their own music that make it are typically a bunch of kids that’ll do anything to chase their dreams, and stick together regardless of how tough it is, or how long it takes.
  6. knumbskull


    Jul 28, 2007
    T-shirts, mainly
    CDs - you always end up with overstock, so try to find a good biting point for realistic sales vs unit cost vs pricing.
    DIY gigs
    eJake, osv, cataract and 2 others like this.
  7. buldog5151bass

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

    Oct 22, 2003
    Others can chime in better than I as far as what sells, but just take a look at the tables when you go see the bands you like. But t shirts, hats, CDs/downloads, etc. The fact that you don't play those songs anymore doesnmean the CDs can't sell - people are still buying Abbey Road. However, why AREN'T you playing some of your older tunes? The Stones still play JJ Flash. Why? People know and like it.
    eJake and richntiff like this.
  8. Paulabass

    Paulabass Supporting Member

    Sep 18, 2017
    I was chatting after the show the other night with a world famous blues artist. He's major label, tours the world, and has won every award out there. We were talking about this very thing. CD sales at retail are down 95% over twenty years ago. Spotify and similar pays absolutely squat, and itunes only sells singles (make a 13 song record, and people pay 99 cents for the one song they hear on the radio)
    He sells more CD's at festivals than he does thru retail stores.
    Where's the money? Tour, tour, tour, tour.......and sell merch. Years ago we toured to sell recorded product. It's bass akward now, and we tour to make money, and sell Cd's n stuff to get more people to see the tour.
    Unless your record company is based out of Nashville, and you are pandering to their crowd, record/CD/downloads are DEAD.
  9. Bunk McNulty

    Bunk McNulty It is not easy to do simple things correctly. Supporting Member

    Dec 11, 2012
    Northampton, MA
    AND they have talent, AND they are intelligent about making the most of their opportunities, etc. I remember a story from years ago about a friend finding himself sitting in a first class seat on a flight to New York next to Gene Simmons. He was answering fan mail. My friend asked him why he was doing it, didn't he have secretaries and whatnot for that? And Gene said "Do you know what the difference is between Kiss and ten thousand other garage bands?" He paused for a beat: "Nothing! That's why."
  10. five7

    five7 Supporting Member

    Dec 5, 2009
    We have day jobs.
    Atshen, Joma3, renobassman and 20 others like this.
  11. are there blogs or websites dedicated to the genre you are in? see if they will review and share your material? we've found most sites to be quite receptive. make sure to have a bandcamp page that the blogs can link to.

    our biggest revenue stream is vinyl sales. we'll usually have the recording and pressing paid for and we break even within a couple of months once we start selling the records. after that it all goes towards the next recording
    blip and Rock Salad like this.
  12. MattZilla


    Jun 26, 2013
    The last time I was involved with an originals band that toured we:

    -worked as a four star sushi chef
    -worked as a bartender
    -worked in a commercial cabinet shop
    -worked in web design
    -worked in concierge pharmacy

    Shirts, CDs, tickets/door, bar cut paying for gas in a Ford E-350... and then lining our pockets with much more than a couple twenties and a few ones?

    We were not camera friendly, had abrasive, unrefined songs- we were not on a path to be on a main stage at Coachella except maybe as roadies/techs.

    Be the opposite of what we were.
  13. bolophonic


    Dec 10, 2009
    Durham, NC
    I recommend just changing your priorities to anything besides making money.
  14. LBS-bass

    LBS-bass Supporting Member

    Nov 22, 2017
    I'm a bit cynical about this. I have noticed that, in many cases, the people who "make it" come from backgrounds that make that easier. They have wealthy families. Or they have relatives in the industry. I started saying this a long time ago. If you dig deeply enough into the backgrounds of a lot of those people, you find rich daddies or uncles who are orchestra conductors, lawyers, or otherwise well connected.

    That's not always the case, of course. Tom Petty is a great example of someone who chased his dream from a modest background and made it work. But Petty was very smart and the way he did things ran contrary to what a lot of people were telling him to do. He knew his worth and was willing to risk it all in order to make it happen. The music industry was built on the idea that it is easy to fleece dreamers, and Petty wasn't that stupid. But for every Petty out there you'll find 100 people ready to sign away their rights in order to "get signed." So, generally, the people who have made money on original music have always been the record companies.

    Nowadays, it's really rare to make any money at all with originals. As someone else said above, the best shot is to work hard at developing a following and sell merchandise at shows. Recordings are not product nowadays, they are advertisements, and you need to take advantage of online opportunities to get people familiar with your music. Record songs, and promote them, but have a live show that makes people want to get off their butts and leave the house when they hear you're in town.
  15. TWolf


    Jan 20, 2011
    I just heard where BestBuy will no longer be selling Cd's. End of an era.
  16. micguy


    May 17, 2011
    I work at a place where there are a lot of musicians. One of them is in a metal band that’s apparently fairly popular in Europe. Not top level, but somewhere up there.

    He goes and Tours Europe every couple of years, and then, when the tour is over, he (along with the other guys in the band) goes back to work. They can’t support themselves on music. VERY few can.
  17. Kro

    Kro Supporting Member

    May 7, 2003
    New Jersey
    Sadly, this is probably the most realistic and accurate answer that can be given in this day and age.
    bbh, Charlzm, Nevada Pete and 6 others like this.
  18. jallenbass

    jallenbass Supporting Member Commercial User

    May 17, 2005
    Bend, Oregon
    The original band I'm in always gets paid unless we are playing for a charity event which is rare. It's usually between $200 and $400 a night. Not great but it works for us. We all have day jobs. The not getting paid thing might just be customary in your area.
  19. Seanto


    Dec 29, 2005
    Develop a draw and play live. Have a really good live show that is undeniable. Merch plays on top of that. CD's are a dying breed, so i wouldn't bank on selling any. What is the public reaction to your music? Are you developing a following and fan base from all those low paying gigs? Public support is what will give you the leverage to charge more to venues and bookers.

    I think that also having a strong online presence is huge. Start a youtube channel and vlog some of your gigs and share your music. Create a personality and brand around the band through this. I am certain this is an important strategy these days and can serve a band well.

    I'll be honest, most original acts in my area fail unless they have some sort of redeeming quality in their live show that excites people or moves them in some way. Even the ones that don't fail outright are not making very much money either, just enough to cover expenses for the most part.
    getbent, Mastermold and LBS-bass like this.
  20. birminghambass

    birminghambass Supporting Member

    Sep 18, 2002
    Birmingham, AL
    I stopped playing originals 15 years ago. Guess what all these gigs have in common:
    Playing on the same bill as Kenny Wayne Sheppard
    Festival gig opening for Molly Hatchet
    Festival gig sharing a venue with 311, Sum and Good Charlotte
    Select regional gigs on the 2001 Warped Tour
    None of these gigs paid a single dime after expenses were paid.

    Most guys I know trying to make it in original music have to play in a cover band to pay the bills.
    dannydabiker, Mastermold and five7 like this.

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