Your band: business or hobby, or both…or neither?

When confronted with the question “is your band a business or a hobby?” let us hope that your answer is “yes.”  And you certainly will be confronted with this question on an on-going basis:  there will be negotiations with band mates, venue owners and even fans; there will be sales and marketing chores galore; licensing rights; key personnel to hire and fire.

From the moment your band is formed, whether you realize it or not, you are scribbling out the very first semblance of a business plan.  You may think that you are merely following your passion for music.  But the consequences of your planning will become more obvious as the band develops.

On the other hand, you first picked up an instrument, or sang or wrote a song and sustained your efforts because you probably felt drawn to this passion.  Music is a form of art, or a way of life; turn it into work and suddenly the enthusiasm starts to fizzle.  What is a musician to do?

Let’s take a quick look at the two propositions…

Business:  an organization engaged in the trade of goods, services, or both to consumers.  The term “business” implies the state of being busy either as an individual or group or society as a whole, doing commercially viable and profitable work.

Hobby:  an activity pursued outside one’s regular occupation and engaged in primarily for pleasure.  Hobbies are practiced for interest and enjoyment, rather than financial reward.  Amateur is another term for a person that does something for fun, without significant payment of services.

The ultimate question here, then, is: are you a professional or an amateur?  Whether they admit it or not, most original bands in Denver are amateur.  And here is a litmus test for determining your status – you are probably an amateur if:

  • You play for free.  Or worse, you pay to play.
  • You have a day job that provides your primary income.
  • You don’t report your music income on a Federal tax return, and you don’t deduct your music expenses on that form either.
  • You do not have key band personnel: a band manager, business manager, promoter or PR assistance, a lawyer, a producer, etc.

Coming to grips with the identity of amateur is the first step towards working to become a professional.  Awareness begets change.  You see, in an ideal world you will want to bring your music to life as an artist but run the band like a business as much as possible.  And here’s why:

  • Club and venue owners will take you more seriously; providing agreements and conducting yourself professionally at the venues will go a long way to providing income and respect.
  • As a band manager (the common role for most leaders of the band), paying your players will ensure that they are around for the long haul – or you can employ new players fairly quickly.
  • The basic rights and roles for each member of the band will be spelled out clearly in the beginning, thus eliminating a lot of future bickering.
  • Public performances will be examined under the context of business viability.  Unless your band is a nonprofit (which could be a good way to go), there should be a reasonable expectation for making the performance worthwhile.

Ultimately, you are setting clear expectations for the band the day you decide to run it as a business.  You are creating goals for future sustainability and growth.  Passion will always fuel the music, but operating as, or working towards operating as a business will allow the artist in you to achieve greater success.

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