Please Pay Me: An Oral History 

Is Your Band Bankrupting You?

MAYBE WE'RE DELUSIONAL. Or reactionarily idealistic. Whatever it is, ask half the musicians you know about how finances and capitalism affect their art and they'll give you the big "Fuck money—I don't do this for money." It's a cliche, sure, but we've all done it; it goes with the territory. It's a matter of credibility, of integrity. But let's be honest; music-making expenses—and there are a shit-ton of them—hang over us like a damn ghost most days. It's expensive to book shows, to put out decently produced records, to tour—to do just about anything but play in your bedroom. It's different for everybody, and as I've found recently, immensely varied between multi-member bands and solo artists.

So, how does it break down? Is it better to go solo and keep the profits along with shouldering the expenses? Or is it more cost effective to split the expenses, while sharing door money and merch profits? What's more expensive: laptop software or instruments? How do you survive as booking fees, publicity, production, recording costs—not to mention living expenses—landmine around you?

I talked to bands, solo artists, and people that either blur the line or have recently switched sides. Here's what a few of your neighbors had to say.

Albert Alaniz/Bubbles

"Being in a band is more cost effective—if there is some measure of control. The issue isn't how many people there are to split the costs, the issue is the strength of the organization, i.e., the club, and whether it's meeting its goals. For example: all the money I have made, both solo as a DJ, or with my group, has been reinvested into the collective of which I am a part of. We buy things like blank CDs, paper, ink for printing, studio equipment, etc."

Tommy Harrington/The Wanteds

"When I started playing music there was very little investment involved—playing a show or two a month brought in a little income, but once it was divided among the band members there wasn't much left. Plus, in every band I was in I was always the only member paying for things: flyers, recording, etc. But I never ran things like a business. Being in a one-man band that uses a lot of technology has required a lot of investment in gear, and I am also functioning as my own label and booking agency, which has meant expenses to cover PR, college radio, posters, CDs, merch, and general office expenses."

Jeff London/ex-Boycrazy

"I find that it is a little more cost effective to go solo, as one's expenses are lower in terms of sleeping, housing, and size of vehicle. Often you can ride in another band's van, as I have done."

Nick Arneson/Paint By Numbers

"I don't know how small solo artists tour for any long amount of time. From my personal experience it seems like the expenses, stress, and overall burden of the road would be too much for one man/woman to handle alone. Just the drives alone would probably be enough to break most people."

Whip/Timesbold

"For a month to two-month stay in Europe, playing close to nightly, we make and spend around 30 grand. Solo is about one-fourth that earning, spending about one-fifth of [that]. The only way I bring money home is solo."

Josh Kirby/The Empty Set

"We do not pay individuals with money that the band makes. Like, I assume, many bands, we have a 'band fund' in which we put the proceeds from CD sales and shows, not to be touched by individuals. We use this fund to pay for the more expensive parts of making records and promoting shows—tape, mastering, duplication, printing, etc., and we have talked about using some of it for services like outside publicity as well. It does not go toward instruments, strings, picks, drumsticks, or beer."

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