In the music industry, it would appear that there are the 1%-ers and then the vast, lower-middle class. The 1% is heard on the radio, is steered by very experienced managers and promoters and occasionally sell out stadiums and/or their singles go platinum.
The lower-middle class barely eke out a few hundred bucks per performance – maybe $100/man, if lucky these days. This seems to hold true across genres: from many jazz professionals to classic rock cover bands and indie touring bands alike. Often, the Sunday church gig or funeral will pay more.
If you’ve spent enough time in a “working cover band,” you’ll realize that these musicians are ultimately paid to move PA gear. And if they start calculating the hourly wage, most would make twice the income working for a real moving company. But it’s not about the money, right? Wrong.
It’s about valuing yourself, whether measured in dollars, pesos or French fries. If you don’t value yourself, you can bet that pretty much everyone else won’t either. And this may be the reason that the average wage for a “working musician” has probably declined and certainly hasn’t risen in the past two decades. Now really, how is that possible unless the average musician is mired in self-deprecation?
Supply and Demand
One reason might be a simple law of economics – in the context of original music for the greater Denver Metro area, there are roughly 100-500 times as many bands as there are established music venues. Odds of 500:1. Is it starting to sound like the race track? But that’s what it’s like for any company in the business world too.
Your band is going to be a bottom-feeder if you cannot demonstrate expertise at your craft, significant entertainment value, and/or some other unique selling proposition.
Now before you start getting all strung out or depressed, consider another way that you might be able to secure more value for your art, and for your band mates…
From the beginning of civilization, there has always existed a certain class of citizenry known as Patrons of the Arts. These were often the fat cats that appreciated good tunes, sexy drawings, or a quality, clinical study. The patron was the change-maker and had the ability to turn a $9/hour musician into a middle class wage earner, and maybe even into a wealthy celebrity.
The patrons of the arts are still among us today. But you’ll need to do some homework if you expect this kind of support. One form of patronage comes from crowd funding (Kickstarter, etc.) – you’ll need to be creative for this to really pay off. Another form is making the patron feel like a celebrity.
One local songstress recently created House Party Packages, where the host(ess) pays a more generous fee to have the house filled with live entertainment. Any number of details might go into one of these packages – free autographed CDs for the guests, maybe a few t-shirts, maybe an enhanced wine and cheese spread? A couple $1500 packages per month and you are well on your way to the middle class.
Is there a mission?
Many previous articles here have referred to having a purpose or supplying unique content. Have you thought lately about why your band is together or why you write certain types of songs? Is there a common thread or a reason for being?
Finding a patron might become even easier if your music/lyrics lend themselves to a cause or a specific mission. Counting down to a major event (like a national election) might lead to a series of shows funded by collective patrons. Can you imagine the Dirty Trumpettes, or a Hillary “Burning Woman” (effigy) party? Sounds like fun…
Rising to the musical middle class is certainly a challenge in this new digital age. But again, the patrons of the arts have always been among us and they are merely waiting for the most creative artists to present some novel proposals. And isn’t that brainstorming effort more exciting than just moving PA gear?