It Takes Money to Make Money

My first successful band was a nine-piece classic R&B band. Dr Wu’s Rock and Soul Revue. We carried a full horn section, guitar’s bass and drums. We added a keyboardist later. I formed it in early 1992.

For those who were born after that time, there was internet; just most people didn’t have it. We made cassette tapes for ten guys to learn their songs. You had to rewind and rewind to get that lick learned. Someone had to set down with a pen and paper and write down the words to the songs. You had to call each person individually to give them new dates, set up rehearsals, give them actual directions to a gig, and promote ourselves through printed materials like post cards and newsletters. There was no social media to spread the word to your 800+ friends with one click. We licked stamps. We wrote, printed and folded newsletters and took it in the ass when a hundred or so of them came back undelivered.  Thirty-two cents for a stamp at the time. Doesn’t sound like much, but three newsletters coming back was one dollar out of our pockets. We had to watch the mailing list close to remove the old addresses and put the new addresses in. We did have the ability to print off labels thank God. Our first mailing was twenty five, hand addressed newsletters. It cost us about 40 bucks to get everything together and out for that first batch.

By the time the band got really rolling we were sending out hundreds and hundreds of these three-page newsletters. Our Sax player wrote 90% of them and they were funny as hell. He made horrible sport of each of the members, our stupid band antics, and upcoming dates. It was what a website is for a band today. It paid off in spades for us. We always noticed a rise in crowd numbers after the newsletter came out. It was entertaining; it had our dates and a contact number. We pulled more dates with this one promotional tool. The band was great, we had our niche, and we moved up the ladder of success. Management and a booking agent. We flew to shows; we played with our heroes, etc., all because of this one promotional tool. We paid for it by pitching in five bucks a piece after a gig. We probably were all making fifty bucks per guy at the time, but we saw it as an investment in our future. Everyone tossed it in except our drummer. “I told you I didn’t agree with putting out a newsletter and I’m not paying for it!”

“It’s f@#king five dollars! Just cough it up and shut the F@#k up” I replied in my “oh so subtle” way. I wasn’t a pro at the time either. We were slow learners.

Ringo, (names have been changed to protect the guilty party) replied “Fine! I’ll pitch in but I’m quitting …No one asked him to stay. This was six-months into a gigging band. Ringo never compromised on anything. That band lasted ten years. If Ringo wouldn’t have quit over five dollars the band would have never made it a full year. Ringo just made himself a pain in the ass. He’s still one of my favorite drummers but I could never work with him in a band. Others who have played with him have agreed.

Ringo was working in a factory while we were being flown from gig to gig, or pulling down BIG money working festivals and corporate gigs. Over FIVE DOLLARS!!!!

Point being, you HAVE TO INVEST IN YOURSELVES! We invested in the twenty-five newsletters, got better gigs and more of them, invested in lighting and better PA, which in turn made us look better and more professional and got us better gigs. It was a circle of investing in ourselves. We kept a ton of money but every now and then each guy would have to come home fifty bucks less from a string of dates, so we could make a payment on something new for the show, studio time, buy merchandise, or promotional material. We were a business. We were in show business. “Big B, little s.” The business end must be handled. The music was the easy part.

I guess the question is, how do we get start-up money? Well there a few proven ways.

“Everyone pitching in a bit”. A new band may need lights, PA equipment, a special piece of gear, etc. If you need to make payments on this I’d suggest this method be used only if you are playing with guys with a steady income. This is one place loyalty to you music store can come in really handy. The owner may let you finance the gear at the best price, especially if he knows you are the type of band that will make the money and buy more stuff from him. Get it paid off as fast as you can to help out the store owner, and he’ll be ready to deal with you with your next upgrade. The same can be done with T-Shirt shops, printers for posters, etc. Make your deals and then follow them to the letter. Screw one of these guys and you are screwing yourself.

“The extra man.” If you are a five piece band and after expenses you split up the night’s take. Split it up six ways instead of five. Keep the sixth member’s share. Give him a name. Ours was “the guy who keep the band running, gas in the van, fixes speakers, and even put’s us up in cheap hotels. His name is Tip. As in TIP THE BUCKET! If you have a fund saved up in a separate account, the next time you need a new speaker cable for the PA, take it from the fund. New merchandise? The fund…

You don’t have to pay the sixth man every show. But make it clear to everyone when you’ll be paying the sixth man. You don’t want someone to bitch about having to pay rent the night you decide to take it. Make it very clear. Write it on your master calendar. Every fourth gig we are paying the fund. Big point here. When it’s time to take it from the fund. Take it off the top and THEN hand out the pay. No one likes to be paid and then come back to them and ask for ten bucks. Chances are they’ll want that ten bucks. Keep a ledger of deposits and items you pay for. This way there is no doubt to your honesty, and it’ll keep you honest. On pay the extra guy night, don’t say one word about it. That goes for everyone in the band. You are investing in yourself. Encourage them to look at the ledger. They’ll like the money put away. Bring the ledger to every rehearsal.

“The free gig.” You can always play a gig where all the money goes into a fund. Dr Wu played a lot. When we needed something, we’d take half one week and half the next. Usually that covered it. And everyone went home with some pay. It hurts less this way.

“The Merchandise” Keep ALL your merchandise money for buying new merchandise, expenses, etc. We sold our EP and kept the cash in a lock box. The singer’s car broke down in downtown Chicago one winter day. We handed over the CD money, he got it fixed and came home. Yeah we didn’t profit on the CD but we did get our singer home and earned karma points. We had never split up that cash so no one felt any pain.

“One guy pays for it all” The Matt Poss Band did it this way. Matt bought all merchandise and paid gas expense, van rental, PA rental, everything. In turn, He kept the lion’s share of the money. I played with him for two years and to this day I have no idea what he charged. He paid me “X” amount for each gig, plus a bonus if we got one, or he had a particularly high paying show. I knew I was coming home with good pay and I also didn’t have to worry about money coming out of my pocket. Matt should have the lion’s share because he made the investment. Doing it this way made him some good cash most nights I’m sure but sometimes you eat the bear and sometimes the bear eats you.

These are a few ways that have worked in the past. What do you do if a member quits? I’ve never asked for any money when I have left a situation, even though I own part of it. I consider it my payment for using it and their payment for having to replace me. If you do need to pay him, look up the cost of used PA speakers on eBay. See what the average is on the gear and pay him his share. If the band totally breaks up, either keep parts, mics, cables etc. and split whatever anyone wants. If there is a problem at all, sell it all on Craigslist or eBay and split the money. Use eBay to find those used prices. You are splitting up what the gear is worth, not what you paid for it new.

fez for finks

On to another subject. My new band “the Finks” Have teamed up with Fez-O-Rama and the Make a Wish Foundation. Joe and Jason at Fez-O-Rama loved the idea and will be designing a custom fez especially for the Finks. Since we were buying fezzes anyway, we are going to allow someone to sponsor a fez. In turn we take the money we were going to spend and we give it to Make a Wish in the sponsor’s name. I’m working with Fez-O-Rama to work on the design. They will also be available to the public and you don’t want to be caught dead without a fez at a Finks show. We’ll make you part of our wall of fame and send you free stuff now and then, we’ll make available downloads of demos of new songs we are working on, tickets to shows if we can get ‘em, Hell I have a lot of stuff laying around here, We’ll toss in my coonskin cap if it’ll make someone happy. Either way you’ll be part of a band, giving to a worthy cause and to a company that makes fezzes. As Dr. Who says “I wear a fez now. Fezzes are cool.”

Sponsor a fez and buy my CD! NOW!!!!

You have downloaded my CD right? I need the money.