|Bands: You Get What You Pay For|
by Mark E. Waterbury
You are in a band that has created a solid local following that is perhaps even spreading regionally. You have some product to sell, maybe just a demo CD that you burned and duped on your computer, and with your shows and your merchandise you are starting to make some money. You see the possibilities of more widespread success in your future. The question is what steps are you going to take to get there?
It's a foregone conclusion that many indie bands don't have a lot of money to throw around, but if you are making money you have to remember our previous article about growing your band like a small business That means reinvesting money into your band. Bands need professionals to help them further their careers so they can concentrate on further improving their songwriting and live performances. What most bands fail to realize is that nearly all music business professionals are trying to make a living as well. Their particular area of expertise, whether it is in public relations, production or tour managing can be an invaluable boost to your careers. Yet some musicians and bands seem to think that music business professionals are charitable organizations. This is simply not true; they have bills to pay, food to buy and often times families to support. It's important you realize that if you really want professional help for your career you are going to have to pay for it. You may have started your band with your girlfriend or a college buddy helping you with bookings and press for free, but unless they are actually knowledgeable about the in's and out's of the music industry you need to hire true professionals.
No one is telling you that you can't shop around for services and you can't find better rates for the services you require if you do so, but beware that the cliche "you get what you pay for" often does apply to people that go the cheap route. If you cannot afford very much than perhaps you should wait until you have more money and then hire that particular professional. If you do hire for example a publicist and only can afford to pay that person $100 a month, then you have to realize that you are going to get $100 worth of work, which is most cases is probably not very much. That is not to say that $100 won't be well spent. Most PR firms can achieve some results for you for that rate, but you have to understand that they are business people and are not going to give you the same amount of attention or work that they are giving someone who is paying them $1000 a month. That is simple economics of any business, not just the music industry. As long as they are giving you quality service for that amount than it is money well spent, but make sure you don't over extend your expectations. If you expect a PR firm to do your tour press, CD release press, radio, television on a nationwide or even large regional scale for that $100 then you have to realign your thinking. Some of that thinking comes from the negative effects of musicians with overinflated egos. They pay a little for a service and think that they are so great that the company is going to do ten times the work that you are paying them to do just because they are so impressed with your talent. Music business professionals appreciate any business especially in the current economic climate, but it is not beyond the possibility that they may not want to work for you any more of you pay them a small fee and then demand far more work out of them than what you are paying for. This can also cause word to spread amongst professional peers that you have an attitude problem and the good companies may not want to work for you, especially if you don't want to pay much. You may have to go to a company that will take your money and then do absolutely nothing for you. There are dishonest people in this industry that do prey on bands, and you can fall victim to them if you burn bridges with the reputable professionals. Some of you may think this is harsh because you're saying to yourselves that you are paying for the service, shouldn't you control what you get out of it? Let me ask you this: If you took your car into a mechanic would you expect to pay an oil change price to get your engine rebuilt? What do you think the mechanic would say if you asked them that?
Bands also get caught up in the vicious circle that has become the modern gig booking climate by selling themselves short with the often mistaken belief they can get exposure by playing free gigs. There are some limited situations where a band should take a gig with no pay if there is a true avenue for exposure and if you can at least make up for the lack of pay by selling your CDs and merchandise, but overall you need to try to get at least some pay for every gig. You have to be very selective about playing exposure gigs, and too many bands seem to think they have to play tons of free gigs just to get their name out. This is bad economics and in the long run it harms the future for other bands. You help to establish a precedence that fledgling bands will always play for free, and in these times where the touring climate revolves around a club/event market, not a band market, that can really whittle down the places that pay bands to perform. It will also make it harder for you to negotiate paying gigs down the line if the word gets out that you took too many free gigs for exposure. You may also get unfairly lumped with the "casual" bands; those music hobbyists that perform for the heck of it and don't get paid who quite frankly for the most part, stink. Some clubs and even events bring these bands in because they know they don't have to pay anything, yet they end up diluting their clientele or attendees who get tired of seeing lousy bands. That should make you wary of clubs or events that do not pay bands as some of them may have gained the rep of not providing quality music, and you do not want to get lumped in with them. You need to get paid. The bands that are starting next year need to get paid, so find the gigs that will pay you. If you want exposure you have to realize that in these times if a club or event offers you a guarantee even if it is only a couple hundred dollars than they have at least some regular draw. Of course if a monster festival with a good rep offers you a slot for no pay than that is worth doing, but beyond that you have to be very selective and wary about taking free gigs. Make absolutely sure there is a viable windfall in it for you.
All of this boils down to the business model that you have to treat your musical career as. You need to get your money's worth from the professionals whose services you purchase but you have to be realistic about what you get for what you are paying. Don't sell music professionals short, and don't sell yourselves short when booking your gigs. This is a cutthroat business and you have to keep a smart business attitude to survive while recognizing that those who are hired to help you are trying to survive as well. You need to concentrate on further improving your music craft and let them work the business side of your careers, but don't expect the world if you are not willing to pay for it. Work together with them, understand them and the future can be bright for both of you.