Hey. Let’s have a quick chat about money.
I know, no one likes to talk about it. It’s uncomfortable – even inappropriate. But I wouldn’t mind putting a little clarity on some things that have been bothering me.
When I entered the music business it was preached repetitiously: “Hey, this is the music BUSINESS it’s not music FRIENDS – get a handle on creating a business.”
I took that pretty seriously and have approached my business, like a business from the get-go. Granted a few learning curves and errors along the way, but I’m proud of the fact that I actually make a living playing music.
Just in case this isn’t completely clear – this means that my business runs in the green – every year. I pay my bills, I eat at restaurants, and I buy myself things I want. My favourite thing was the (ONE) month I got to brag to my husband that I made more than him. Best day ever. I took him for a pricey dinner – and then gave him a $20 bill and told him to ‘buy something nice.’ (He still loves me even though I’m a douche.)
It’s not always easy, and I have definitely supplemented my slower seasons with additional contract work – because it’s important to me that I show a profit at the end of the year. I do not accept shows that mean I’m working at a deficit; and I only occasionally (usually for charity) work for free. I do not harbour any resentment for how much money I make on any show – and if I ever do, for me, that’s a solid sign that I need to increase my rate on that type of performance based on the amount of work I invest into it.
This beautiful, complex, frustratingly amazing industry has drilled in this concept of business. I am completely happy to abide that mentality. It’s practical, and creates an environment for mutual understanding and gain. That said, I can’t tell you how frustrating it is when I am not treated as an operational and functioning business by talent buyers and venues.
This past summer, I was asked a lot by friends and supporters if I was playing at Country Thunder; and my answer was a simple nope, I’m not.
Do you know how much Country Thunder’s B-Stage paid the majority of their bands this year? $400.
$400 per band. Not per player. $400 for a whole band.
Now, if you want to make some sort of pitch to me about how this is fair because of the ‘opportunity’ and the ‘exposure’ … I’d like you to take a moment, and mentally list which artists played that stage this year.
You don’t know do you? Or if you do know, it’s because you saw it on their own facebook page. Not because Country 105 played their music, or because Country Thunder promoted them in any way.
Let me break this into some costs and expenses.
The bare minimum a reasonable person/artist would pay one of their musicians is $200 for a show. You might think, well, $200 for a 45 minute set is pretty good! And if that were all the time they put into it, I’d agree with you!
Realistically though, that player invests a certain amount of hours into preparing for that show. Let’s say that a 45 minute set has 12 songs. An experienced player will take approximately 30-60 minutes of practicing per song (more if they’ve been asked to work from memory, and not from charts) – that works out to 8-12+ hours per set. If they’ve been asked to come to a rehearsal, that’s more time added to the clock. If you count being available for soundcheck, waiting around pre-show, and whatever amount of commute time it takes to get to and from the show… the numbers aren’t working in their favour. So any player showing up for $200, is a pretty gracious guy/gal.
I have joked with my musician friends about not calculating how much we make per hour because it’s sad. However, we see this as making an investment in ourselves. We take certain, lower-paying opportunities to build our skillsets, and because we believe that in the future, we will be paid a premium for what we offer. On top of that, we love what we do; and we can’t help but passionately pursue the craft that holds our heart. (Note, this mentality is temporarily low-paying and not NO-paying).
Alright, so coming back to our budget. We’ve got each player paid $200 each. The bare minimum. Drummer, bass player, guitar player – and some will have a keyboard player or a second guitar player. So that means just the band alone is an $800 expense. That means as an artist, for this show, I’m $400 out-of-pocket. Also meaning that I will not be in any way compensated for the high level of time and energy investment that went into practicing and rehearsing my own show. Not to mention any effort that went into planning logistics, and of course daily operational expenses: website, graphics, business cards, promo materials, original recordings… etc.
I feel really strongly about addressing this because as artists, all we want in the whole world is to be seen and heard. We want the music that we create from our heart and souls to connect with the people that we made it for. We also LOVE what we do. There are few experiences that compare to playing live music in front of an audience.
This, unfortunately, is capitalized on by so many venues and buyers. They know that an artist is willing to go to the ends of the earth for themselves and their career, so they can make unreasonable offers and artists will take them. They can do that, because artists want that spot, because that spot might be the chance. That might be their big break moment. Someone might SEE them and help lift them to the next level!
Which is a beautiful segue to my primary beef. Artists. If you believe that, that is what’s going to happen. You need to take this moment right now to give your head a damn shake, take off those pink glasses and get into the real world. Labels, management teams, promoters are not attracted to you because you’re talented. There are a million talented human beings on this planet – and the market has shifted so dramatically in the last decade. You need to get up-to-date here and focus on developing your BUSINESS. The only artists who are getting signed to labels, who are getting opportunities and stages that you are dreaming of, have shown that their business is profitable or shows the potential for profit based on statistics and analytics.
Managers, booking agents, labels all make a percentage of YOUR revenue. Please tell me, what is 20% of -$400?
Now, you want to argue to me that this stage is an opportunity for you to build your audience and broaden your market. Okay, cool. I’m into that. Then my next question is how many of your own, original songs did you play? How did you promote your music, your brand, and your individual style? How many followers did your social media actually increase? What were your merch sales? Seriously. Go run the real numbers on that. I’m not being patronizing. If this opportunity paid you and increased the productive capacity of your business then I whole-heartedly support your choice in accepting this undertaking.
Now, if you’re running those numbers and you don’t see a positive number on your revenue – you don’t see a significant increase in your audience. Then please tell me. GUYS. WHY ARE YOU SAYING YES?
If these ‘opportunities’ aren’t creating an environment for business-building – why are you showing up for them? Ask yourself that, and dig DEEP on that shit. Because I bet you, at some level, there is a self-value issue here. Maybe you don’t know if you’re going to get another opportunity like this, or that if you turn this down, maybe nothing else is going to come around.
If this is in any way close to where your mind goes, then you have already sabotaged your career. You are telling yourself that you do not trust your hard-work, dedication, and talent. Which is shitty because the ONLY person who is going to passionately advocate for your career with unshakeable faith is YOU. So if you don’t have that faith in yourself right now, you need to create it. You need to understand that no one is coming to rescue you. No one WANTS to save you. If someone is looking to do business with you, they aren’t a Saint, they aren’t looking for good karma. They are looking for a mutually beneficial opportunity.
If you were an investor, would you invest in you? What kind of returns are you making? Modest returns are better than no returns. And no returns are better than negative ones. Businesses take years to build, have you started yet?
We can do so much better than this. The music business only works if we ALL treat it like it’s a business. There is a real economy here. There is the potential for many people to profit and make money; and the only reason you wouldn’t believe that statement, is because you question your own value.
You’re here for the music, not the money? Cool. Then you play for fun. And that’s awesome. Blake Shelton doesn’t play for fun. Miranda, George Straight, Kasey Musgraves… It doesn’t mean it’s NOT fun. It means these people are building a sustainable business that has the opportunity to go somewhere. And so it has.
You could have the world’s most beautiful car; but if you don’t have gas in the tank – ain’ nobody gunna see it.
I need to make it extremely clear that I am SO grateful to be able to do what I do. All of venders and talent buyers that I work with pay fairly, and even exceptionally. I have not had to arm-wrestle them for GST. I have either been presented a contract, or they sign mine. Everything is dealt with in a way that reflects a contractual and respectful business exchange. I would like to see more of this standard across the board. I would like to see bands and musicians treated with respect, and those same bands and musicians organizing themselves and their business in a way that entitles them to that respect.
Guys, I ‘paid my dues’ too – I didn’t come out of the gate working for the rates I do now. And I didn’t deserve to. I sucked and I was inexperienced. There’s something to be said for the opportunities that give you a chance to learn and work out the kinks. When you suck, you probably shouldn’t get paid much, or at all. But if you are at a point in your career that you want to be taken seriously, and you feel you present a quality show and product then you need to start thinking about how you are pricing your own product
How much is your product worth? Are you indirectly telling others that your show is worth -$400? How can you expect someone else to value your show, if you won’t value your show?
You are worth more than -$400. Even when you sucked, you were still worth more than that. When you start believing that, when you KNOW that, everyone else will too.