Music – It is a BUSINESS

So, I have decided to write today about something that I have been talking, yelling, venting and shouting from the rooftops about now for a long time...if you are in a band, that band is your company.  If you perform, you are an employee.  If you are a musician, you are providing a service.  In some way, shape or form, you need to do your best to make money doing what you do.

Now, I am sure that you are sitting there and thinking "yeah, that is easier said than done" and in many cases I would agree with you.  As we all know, a lot of the music industry in a shambles these days.  Fans, artists and venues are all disconnected from one another and it has caused a chasm in many areas.  However, we all need to get by with what we have.

My first piece of advice I will start with pertains to shows.  Obviously that is my wheelhouse.  I have been putting on concerts now in some capacity for over five years.  My first piece of advice is that you need to be paid, or have the opportunity to be paid, at mostly any show that you perform at.  There are really two benefits to playing a show. Money or exposure.  Most shows don't pay a lot of money, a lot of touring bands are really only getting $100-$200 per show, but every little bit that you can put aside will help.  I will go more into that later.  Exposure can be anything.  Exposure to industry executives, exposure to local fans of indie music or exposure on a higher level to more people opening for a bigger band.  With all of that said, a lot of companies will make you pay a hefty price to get said exposure, whether that be with your own money or with the money of your fans.

We have all heard "pay to play" or "Battle of the Bands" in the past.  Most of us have experienced it and nearly anyone that has done it knows that on most levels it does not work.  When you are paying $500-$1500 to open for a big band...what are you really gaining?  You need to think about the actual push that it could give your band compared to what it is costing you.  As far as Battle of the Bands type shows, most of the prizes are far less useful than you would think.

I will speak from experience on a very specific case.  I was working with a band out of Kingston a few years ago that had a great, original sound and had a lot going for them.  A gentleman who I won't name (but is a big name in the business) was very interested in their music and told them to get an EP done and let him try to help them get over the hump.  The band was ahead of the curve and playing music that DID become very popular.  This band actually had won a prize of a free 3-song EP at a studio affiliated with a Battle of the Bands company, and they were excited as they got to work.  The studio did there thing, handed the product back to the band and the gentleman that was working in the industry quickly told them that they could not work together on that product.  The EP quality was SO BAD that he could not put his name behind it.  You get what you pay for.  That brings me back to exactly that.  What you pay for.

I know bands that work with a certain promoter here in Toronto that makes them pay up front for opening spots on bills and then it is up to them to try to sell tickets to re-coup their costs. That is TRUE pay to play.  Let me ask you a question.  What is better to spend $2000 on?  A good EP that features your music or a chance to MAYBE play for a big crowd because you are opening for a decent to good closer?  The answer is simple.  Spend the money on your music.  That is your intellectual property, that is something that you can sell and make money off of for the rest of your life and most of all, it is not simply lining someone else's pockets.  Again, you are a band, you are a business.  What does a business need?  Investment.

Too many times I work with people and talk to people that are genuinely pissed off that I pay artists that do shows with Break Loose Entertainment.  Why?  These people tell me that the bands that I work with have not paid their dues yet and as such they do not deserve to be making money.  This is trash to me.  At what point is it "ok" for a band to make money?  I am glad that other business' don't work this way.  Can you imagine starting a job but not being WORTHY of being paid until you had been there for 3 months?  The notion is ridiculous.

Investing in your product is important.  You will hear often in life that "you need to spend money to make money" and this is the truth.  But spend your money on the right things.  The first thing you need to do is create or pay for a logo.  You need to establish a brand for your band and you need to pick something that you can run with.  Times New Roman on a black background is NOT branding.  Once you have a brand, build it.  Spend your money on products that people can buy.  Throwing back to my blog about standing out, how much easier is it for someone to remember you if they purchase something because they like your music?  The easy answers for a band starting out are CDS, DIGITAL COPIES, STICKERS, SHIRTS and things of that nature.  For example, if you buy a run of 20 t-shirts for $100 and sell them for $15 each you make $200 profit.  Then you re-invest.  Buy more shirts and keep doing that.  It's simple math.  That is cash flow.

Gone are the days when you could get your CD into a CD store and let's be honest...unless you make it huge you are going to make nickels and dimes and pennies (well, those don't exist anymore) for streaming your music on iTunes and Spotify.  The place that your product is going to make you the most money while you are on the rise is MERCH AT SHOWS...when people hear your music and they like your product they will support your BUSINESS and they will help you to grow.  Not to mention if I am listening to your CD I will show others your music and if I am wearing your shirt, others will see your name.  That is free advertising on top of cash-flow.

So, think it over.  Next time that you make $100 at a show don't just go buy yourselves beers for a show well done.  Reinvest that money into your brand and help your brand to grow.  Like any business, you are the person that can affect your outcome the best.  So get out there and build!

If you build it...they will come.

Until next time.  Get out there and support some live, local, original music!

1 Response

  1. Come across this article searching for another article about "pay to play" venues. Truer words can't be said here. It's he's, but reinvesting in your product will only give you a greater return. Awesome advice.

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