Income for original bands – an oxymoron?

It’s a bit of an understatement to say that original bands have a tough time making income for their performances – much more so than cover bands.  When a band plays covers, they understand their singular purpose: to entertain the masses.  The venue has employed them to make sure the crowd has a good time.  People should be dancing, drinking, eating, drinking some more, reminiscing about songs from their youth, ordering birthday shots, singing along, hooking up and you know…perhaps a little more drinking.

In exchange for playing the role of the human jukebox, cover bands are rewarded with something called…payment.  In Denver these days, payment is typically $400-$800 a night (for the whole group) when performing at most local bars.  And so a typical four-piece ensemble might make $100-200/man for 4+ hours of work (more like 6+ when you take into account load-in and out).

  Cover bands often have to lug their own PA system as well.  Apart from obvious liability issues, they will need to employ a sound man, maybe to take an equal cut of the pie, or maybe even a flat $100-$200 rate out of the total gross proceeds, thus cutting individual band member income even further.

Original bands are usually not even welcome in the haunts of cover bands.  Thankfully, there are venues dedicated to original music and many of these are more desirable to play than the bar circuit.  There are formal stages, decent sound systems in place and maybe even lighting and more; a far cry better than scooting a pool table out of the way to make room for the band at the local bar.

But because these original music venues typically have less walk-in traffic or “regulars,” a large part of the onus falls on the bands to supply the people.  Original bands usually play multi-band lineups with short sets (45 minutes to an hour) to bring fans out in decent numbers and not fatigue their ears.  If your band can clear $150 for a set (30 fans @ $5 each), you’re actually starting to approach the hourly income of a cover band.  But you can surpass the hourly wage mentality altogether if you’re willing to be an entrepreneur…

Here are some suggestions to optimize income for original bands:

  • Play with bands you like (aka partner bands).  If you like their music, there is a good possibility that your fans will also like their music and their fans will like yours.
  • Partner on every aspect of the show.  Consider designing show flyers that jointly feature all bands.  This saves money, time and energy.  Make sure every band is an active part of the street team.  Share the drum kit as this saves time and energy.
  • Supply your own door guy, or have a friend available to tally the door, right next to the venue’s door guy.  You’d be surprised how much more income materializes when you are in control of the door.
  • Make sure you have a formal and organized band merch kiosk and consider partnering with the other bands (that you trust) to run the kiosk competently.  Pretty merch girls are always helpful.
  • Don’t forget the tip jar!  It may seem sad and desperate, but tip jars are still good vehicles for collecting fan appreciation, especially when passed around by those same pretty girls.
  • At the event, actively promote other opportunities to support the band, such as kick starter.  Pleas for support can be made right from the stage.
  • Consider setting up shop at a location that doesn’t normally feature bands but has walk-in traffic.  This is the best way to stay in control and income is typically maximized.  In exchange for dragging PA and sound guy, you can often control the door, the sound quality and many other features of the environment.

In short, don’t fret about the fact that you will need to mobilize your people in order to get paid these days.  This is a fact of life in the new millennium.  To make decent income you will need to stay in control of the environment, collaborate whenever possible and, oh yeah, produce the best possible music and live show you can.

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