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thoughts on retaining a 'satellite band' for far-flung gigs?

Discussion in 'Band Management [BG]' started by sleeplessknight, Mar 20, 2013.

  1. sleeplessknight

    sleeplessknight Supporting Member

    Mar 8, 2002
    Disclaimer - this post is partially the result of some INTENSELY frustrating conversations with band members over gig frequency, gig pay, and travel-time to gigs. A good chunk of this is just me venting. I personally am a performance whore - I'll drive 4+ hours to do a $60 gig if I think it'll lead to a $100 or more gig down the road, ESPECIALLY if there's a big crowd. I might not take a REGULAR gig like that, but a one-off? I'm there! Some (most?) of my bandmates... not so much.

    Back-story - I'm the bandleader of an 8-piece funk cover band that is FINALLY starting to get some traction after two years of just barely scratching it out. There's been massive turnover at least twice in the band due to infrequency of gigs, and the current crop of folks have been making noises along the lines of "we don't gig enough for the amount we rehearse" (one 3-hour rehearsal every other week, tops. Every 3 weeks has been the average for the past 4-5 months. I'd personally like to have a weekly 2-3 hour rehearsal until everyone's committed the book to memory, but that one floated like a lead balloon...)

    So, to help with the gig-frequency situation I was able to find an agent (after MUCH searching) who actually seems to be doing pretty good. We're on track to double our gigging from MAYBE 1x/mo to a solid 2x/mo and more, and wouldn't you know it the loudest complainers about 'we don't gig enough' (lead vox and keys) promptly said "whoa, you're too busy for us, we quit because we want to spend more time with our families". So, that sucks. To their credit, they've committed to keeping things 'business as usual' with gigs and rehearsals and such until we can find replacements, so it's not as bad as it COULD be.

    Today, I got an email out of the blue from a club owner in Laconia, NH, who heard about us from some ex band member, and could we please play Laconia Bike Week in June for $700. It's a three hour drive for me, but I would SO be there (remember: sloppy. shameless. gig. whore.) For those not familiar with the event, Laconia Motorcycle Week is one of the bigger festivals in middle-New Hampshire. Something like 10,000 motorcycle-loving party animals filter through the town over the course of a week, and they are looking to PAR-TAY. The band members, who all live closer to Laconia by 60-90 minutes or more, immediately start a fuss. "$87/person? That won't even cover gas! I don't wanna play all day and not even make gas money. It's such a long drive! I wouldn't take that gig for twice as much" etc etc ad nauseam. In the meantime, we're fighting tooth and nail for $500-$600 gigs in Cambridge where it's a 'big night' when 150 people show up. Plus, in Cambridge, we have to pay out the nose for parking, food, drinks, etc.

    ALSO today, the agent emails me with a gig offer at a place even FARTHER north in New Hampshire (four hours drive for me). $60/man plus food and lodging as a 'paid audition', with a promise of it going up to $100/man or more if the club REALLY likes us. I haven't even bothered breaking it to the band yet, because I can already hear the wailing and gnashing of teeth now.

    Needless to say, I want to do both gigs. Finding local work (Boston area inside the 95 belt) is incredibly difficult because we're not a Top 40 3-4 piece rock band. There's also some serious market saturation because, hey, it's Boston. We can get gigs flung farther north or south where we're bigger fish in smaller ponds, AND I have a hunch those will lead to SIGNIFICANTLY better GB gigs in fairly short order. We can get even more ski-lodge/casino gigs in the wintertime where we'd be landing $1500 or more for a night (really, more like $3k for two nights) plus lodging. Trying to book ski lodges myself these past two years, everyone wants to know "well, you're a Boston band, how do you know you can do well here in New Hampshire/Rhode Island?" If we have a solid summer of NH/RI-based gigs under our belt, I can point to that and say, "SEE! Book us, baby!"

    All of this ranting and back-story leads me to this question: how sh*tty of me would it be to just start working with a 'satellite band' (or collection of satellite bands...) under my regular band's flag? I've got three 'true believers' (myself, drums, trumpet, and MAYBE this new guitar player...) in the current crop, and one hell of a tight ship on the back-end if I do say so myself - full charts and MP3s in Dropbox, various recordings of the band doing ALL the tunes from beginnings, endings, segues, etc. Onboarding new musicians is a matter of saying 'click this link and watch everything download to this folder on your desktop. Here's your setlist, here's your cheater-notes per tune, rehearsal is X, gig is Y. See ya there'. The cats who do their homework and show up to rehearsal fit in like they've been playing with us since the beginning. The kittens who don't... still suck and require oodles of handholding. :p

    I'm thinking that if I've got a string of $60-$100/man gigs in middle-to-northern New Hampshire that the 'committed' believers want to do but the 'contributing' realists wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole, I could assemble a satellite band of regulars in middle-to-northern New Hampshire that would require little if any rehearsal. It'd be a pretty significant chunk of folks - lead vox, keys, trombone, sax, possibly guitar. We'd do a single rehearsal just before the one-off or string, hit the gigs, get paid, and everyone's happy. The local cats get work they wouldn't normally get, the true-believers get gigs they wouldn't normally get, and the contributing-realists get to stay safely home on a Saturday night, unburdened by such things as 'driving' or 'performing'.

    Heck, if this somehow worked and I could make it scale... I've got a couple of club connections down in Florida, Jersey, etc. I could start logging some serious travel time and spread the good word to all points South and lord knows where else from there!

    Anyway, thanks for listening TB. tl; dr - satellite bands: Good idea? Bad idea?
  2. jive1

    jive1 Commercial User

    Jan 16, 2003
    Owner/Retailer: Jive Sound
    There's lots of larger acts who do this. Some guys may have a touring band, a band that tours just certain legs of the tour, or pick up a different band for each city they perform in. They may call up the union or agency to see if there's a player available. This business is all about referrals, and some will be more than happy to give you one.

    IMO, if you have a paid gig and some material available for people to jump in with little rehearsal, there's no reason not to do it. I'm sure there would be a local musician that would be happy to get the work.
  3. sleeplessknight

    sleeplessknight Supporting Member

    Mar 8, 2002
    My main concerns are: will I offend my 'regular' players (who would've already had a chance to turn down the gig), and will I raise eyebrows at clubs by rolling in there with not just one or two, but AT LEAST four subs?

    Regarding the former, I'm trying to put myself in their shoes. I personally wouldn't be offended if a bandleader I worked with regularly offered me a gig, I turned it down, and they went with another player. I wouldn't THINK it would be a place for contention, but I also wouldn't have thought I'd lose two good players in two days over 'too many gigs', nor would I have thought that playing a massive motorcycle festival would've been anything other than a "oh HELL yes!" from my band...

    With the latter, I don't REALLY think they'd care if the band was killin' it all night. We've had a different lead singer than the dude pictured on the website for almost a year now, and only one club has brought it up - the club that rebooks us most frequently!
  4. Marginal Tom

    Marginal Tom

    Apr 28, 2010
    O'Fallon, IL
    I see two potential problems you need to think about in advance:

    1. You're having your one and only practice the day before the gig, and one or more members of your sattelite band either doesn't show up or hasn't prepared for the show. You have 24 hours to find a competent sub, and you're a long way from home.

    2. Everything goes extremely well at the gig, and you're invited back the following year for $200 per man. Who plays, the satellite band members or the regular members who stayed home this time?
  5. sleeplessknight

    sleeplessknight Supporting Member

    Mar 8, 2002
    For #1, I'd try to do the one-and-only rehearsal at least a few days before the gig, but I see your point. As it is, I already have about 3 Boston cats on the sub list for every 1 member of my band. I figure I'd have to do the same for the satellite crew, but getting good referrals three cats deep when I don't live in the area would be... challenging.

    For #2, whoever made the first gig gets the big bucks, hands down. Letting some local cat do the grunt work only to bring in the 'can't be bothered' Boston member when the dollars start flowing is a poor way to do business.
  6. two fingers

    two fingers Opinionated blowhard. But not mad about it. Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 7, 2005
    Eastern NC USA
    Go for it. You should probably at least run it by the rest of the band to make sure they won't "tighten up" if threatened with replacements.

    That being said, I wouldn't do a $60 "paid audition" with the "promise" of $100 per man later that is four hours away. No way no how. In fact, I wouldn't do it if the guy had STARTED at the $100. That's just not enough money to spend ALL DAY doing a gig. Let's look at it realistically. Gig starts at (let's just say) 9pm. No doubt the place requires that the band set up early and get out of the way, but I won't even throw that in as a consideration for this math. Let's keep it simple and say that you need an hour to set up and an hour to be out of the way when they open the doors. You need 4 hours to drive. You need (minimum) an hour to tear down. And you need four more hours to get home. And (lest we forget) 4 hours to play the dang show. Using my really fancy TI-84 Plus Silver Edition scientific calculator, that got me to FIFTEEN HOURS minimum to do the gig. That is FOUR BUCKS AN HOUR. (Isn't that illegal?????) Not to mention, those guys with families are staying away from them over night. They left home mid-afternoon one day, and will probably get home around the same time the next. AND they have to eat on the way, probably eat after the show, eat breakfast before they leave, and eat lunch on the way home. Then there's gas. Even if they eat cheap, and drive a 2014 Honda Hybrid Special Planet Loving Edition Greenmobile EX they aren't making a dime.

    Take this in slowly. They will be LOSING MONEY to do this show. They would be LOSING MONEY even if it paid $100 per man.

    So if everyone in the band would lose money even at the higher rate, what's the point? You just want to funk out in NH? You are asking them to invest a metric TON of time and money into a HOPE of bigger things to come.

    I just don't think they are really into this band as much as you are. But, then again, you are an extreme case to me. (I'm not knocking you or putting you down for wanting to play. But you seem to REEEEEEEALLY want to play, even at a loss.) You even seem willing to drive up north for PRACTICE with your satellite band. (If they have charts and recordings, why can't they just show up at the gig and do the dang thing? What's the practice for? Just curious.)

    Either way, you're on the right track. You need two groups of guys. Best of luck with it.

    By the way, again, I am NOT knocking you for being that into playing. I don't get it, but I'm not putting you down for it. But you should try to understand people who aren't "gig whores" as you put it. I wouldn't touch any of those gigs you brought up either. I know a drummer up there. He told me that Boston is a tough nut to crack as well. Really funny music scene up there.
  7. sleeplessknight

    sleeplessknight Supporting Member

    Mar 8, 2002
    No worries man, no offense taken. I certainly wouldn't take the gig if it were 'for a percentage of the door', it's flat-rate only for me, so even I have my limits :)

    The impetus for me, besides the money, is collecting email addresses for the newsletter and having a proven audience (even if it's tiny) to show the big venues (ski lodges, casinos) in the area that yes, the local boys love us. I see the smaller poopiee-gigs as an investment that will pay off down the road. We're probably going to start selling merch later this year - there's an income stream. Some of the guys want to write originals at some point and do up a proper CD - there's another income stream. All of this gig-whoring, in my eyes, is planting the seeds for the BIG stuff coming down the line in a year or two. I'm trying to play a long-game here - I can't make a living doing this if I stay local. Hell, I can't do it if I limit myself to 'regional'. I've GOT to get roots, no matter how tenuous, in other cities. Once I have a product to sell BESIDES tickets to a show, be it a witty slogan on a band tshirt at $20/pop ("Soulphonic! We put the F U in Funk!") or a CD of originals, or who the hell knows what else, the people attached to those email addresses will know us as 'that really great band we saw one time who sends us a monthly email with really cool youtube videos....' I don't see it as 'losing money' if I walk out of the club having made a small pile of money for the bar AND collected six dozen email addresses. It's not just the money in my pocket I gain, it's the slight rep boost from the club to other venues in the area. It's the new friends who might want to buy more stuff from me at a later date. The mileage, the meals, even the hotel stay (if not comped) are all tax-deductible, and you better bet your bottom bass string I itemize the SH*T out of my deductions year after year! :-D

    Edit: the practice, if the cats are good enough, is probably extraneous. The problem is, are the cats good enough? I'd prefer to find out a dude sold me a line of BS in a rehearsal room rather than onstage. It takes YEARS to build a good reputation, and seconds to ruin it. If I've got to run an extra tank of gas and an extra couple hundred miles through my Toyota to vet a group of guys, that seems like cheap insurance to me.
  8. two fingers

    two fingers Opinionated blowhard. But not mad about it. Gold Supporting Member

    Feb 7, 2005
    Eastern NC USA
    Cool. Then, yep, you need a group of guys to kick off your well-thought-out plan in the outer regions. Hope you find them! Good luck with it.
  9. Munjibunga

    Munjibunga Total Hyper-Elite Member Gold Supporting Member

    May 6, 2000
    San Diego (when not at Groom Lake)
    Independent Contractor to Bass San Diego
    Sorry, but I wouldn't drive three hours for a $100 gig, and I don't blame your members for not wanting to. That's a big ask on your part. I wouldn't expect the other members to dig the satellite band concept, either. Prepare for more turnover.
  10. sleeplessknight

    sleeplessknight Supporting Member

    Mar 8, 2002
    So, fair point, but how else is a group supposed to get traction outside of a 60-90 minute radius if A. half the band doesn't want to take those gigs, and B. are threatened enough by a satellite band to quit? What's a better solution to the "I want to play more gigs even if they're a bit of a drive" problem?
  11. lowfreq33


    Jan 27, 2010
    Endorsing Artist: Genz Benz Amplification
    Your numbers are pretty low. Running a band requires a financial outlay. You should be providing transportation. You should guarantee a minimum rate. The problem is you're in a "middling zone" where you don't have full time work, but you need pro players. I really don't know what to tell you here. Hiring subs and temps is part if what you're trying to build. Just be aware that occasionally one or two of those blind hires is going to show up and be awful.
  12. jive1

    jive1 Commercial User

    Jan 16, 2003
    Owner/Retailer: Jive Sound
    As the owner of the business, it's not uncommon to operate at a loss until you can stabilize your income stream. It's understandable. But, the employess shouldn't take a loss as well for someone else's ownership. If I were in your band, I'd totally understand if you subbed me out. $100 isn't worth it for me to travel 4 hours each way, but it would be to someone who is a few miles away. I'd want your band to do well, because in the long run, it will help me out with doing better gigs locally as the band grows.

    I would give your local/main band the right of first refusal, and if they don't want the gig, you call in a sub. It's no different than if you called in a sub for a local gig.

    One of the things I've been noticing is to get any type of volume of good paying gigs, a band will need to travel. If you're looking to do this at a more professional level, it makes sense for you to figure out a way to make it work, and make it economical.
  13. Factor88


    Jun 21, 2011

    I'm not sure there is a good solution. You need to have a band where pretty much all the members are of a like mind set......possible when you have a band of 4-5 people, gets more difficult the larger the band becomes.

    I'm also not sure I totally agree with your premise....do Casinos and ski lodges really care about how many names are on your email list or if you played a bike week? If you want to expand into GB then I'm not sure that having gigs like bike weeks are great pads to a resume...unless of course the same agent that is hooking you up for the bike week regularly books his/her stable of other bands into these types of gigs...is that the case?

    You are correct that gigs breed gigs, but they have to be the same kind of gigs. If some rich dude is looking to hire a band for his daughter's June wedding down in Newport, I don't think an agent telling him "these guys are great, they played Laconia Bike week and really crushed it!" is going to seal the deal.
  14. ShoeManiac

    ShoeManiac Supporting Member

    Jan 19, 2006
    New Jersey
    I've got to agree, here. From a time standpoint, I can see why your guys might recoil at the prospect of $100 for a gig plus 3 hrs travel time (one way, correct?). If your set is 3 hours, and you have 3 hours of travel time each way, you're looking at a good 10 hours total (if you keep the schedule tight). That's barely $10/hr for each of your guys, not including travel expenses. Simply put, the travel time and expense are dilluting the value of that gig pay.

    At some point you do need to look at the economics of the situation. Laconia bike week is a once a year deal, right? It's their big event, and I daresay that everything else in that part of New Hampshire is something of a yawn in comparison. If this $700 for an 8 piece band is the BEST you're going to see from this venue on one of their busiest dates of the year, then where is the upside? I appreciate the OP's optimism and desire to build some business relationships. But at some point the economic realities have to be factored in. Frankly, I don't think you should book that gig for less than $1600 ($200 per man).

    If you're interested in pickup players, you're probably going to do okay with horn players. They generally roll with it a bit easier than others, and almost all of them can sight read.
  15. bassbully

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

    Sep 7, 2006
    Blimp City USA
    I agree here also. It starts to show that a $100-150 pay to gig is only really worth it if the gig is local to most. With gas prices today you have to stay close to make any money in this biz...that is just the truth. By adding the satellite band it could cause trouble and really for what? A few more gigs and more stress and effort?
    If we were talking some big money say 5- 10k... I could see it but we are tsalking change here really.

    I would work local and focus with the band you have. My originals band had offers to go 2-6 hours aways a few times in the last year but we just siad for what? After the pay we were broke and coming out of pocket to get home. The country band I am in wont go over an hour drive anymore due to clubs not paying enough to cover expenses to do so. We used to drive 2-3 hours (round trip) and the clubs paid well but today they cut the pay so we say no way.
    Times are tuff for bands that travel these days but nobody want to consider it or pay fairly for them.
  16. fdeck

    fdeck Supporting Member Commercial User

    Mar 20, 2004
    Madison WI
    HPF Technology LLC
    By getting traction inside that radius first. That means being busy enough that you are able to bargain for wages above subsistence. This won't happen to all bands. As I've mentioned before, moving up means being one of fewer bands.

    I know bandleaders who use local sidemen when they travel, and I do occasional sideman work for bands that come through Madison. Why should your players care? You are doing them a favor by letting them work as they prefer. I would not stand in the way of a bandleader signing up for a raw deal that doesn't involve me.

    Now, beware -- the strategy you're proposing may involve a staggering amount of leg work and organization. Also, the players who are capable of doing sideman work are good enough that they won't do a rehearsal plus gig for cheap. Prepare to dip into your pocket to get players for that paid audition.
  17. jive1

    jive1 Commercial User

    Jan 16, 2003
    Owner/Retailer: Jive Sound
    Most agencies won't put a band that they just added to their roster on their most cherry gigs. The agency has a repuation to uphold as well, so they will put a new band on lower pressure gigs for less money until they can prove that they are worth the big bucks. Most of us would rather do a $5K gig than a $500 gig if given the choice, but very rarely would an agency put a band they never worked with on a $5K gig.
  18. Factor88


    Jun 21, 2011
    I agree totally, that has been my experience as well. But perhaps the point, or maybe question, I was asking is how typical would it be for an agency that booked casinos and weddings, to also be in on providing entertainment for bike weeks? I would not think so, but I just don't know.....

    Also, do you think GB booking agencies are impressed by the size of an aspiring band's email list? My impression is that in this sector of the music scene, how many fans you can bring is a non-factor. New bands prove themselves in the manner you describe: how they actual performance at some of the lower visibility gigs (which I have always read as how happy the client was rather than actual performance).
  19. jive1

    jive1 Commercial User

    Jan 16, 2003
    Owner/Retailer: Jive Sound
    It depends on the agency. I know one that will book events, but also does clubs and festivals.

    I doubt it. Since most events are private, the size of an e-mail list wouldn't be of much use to book or evaluate a band. But, if I were travelling a distance and I have the time, I would probably try to book an evening gig in that town if the gig was during the day. In that case, a mailing list would help. But, so would telling the club that you're playing a 300 person wedding that day and that you will large a large crowd from there for an after-reception party.
  20. derrico1

    derrico1 Supporting Member

    Apr 12, 2005
    Charlottesville, VA
    If you're BL and want more gigs than your main players can cover, you need subs. But if your gigs won't pay enough to draw subs, you might instead try to expand the # of gigs on your calendar by chasing (rather than offering) sub work.

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