Managing your band, part 3: Paying yourself. Thus far in this series, I’ve discussed the need for a band to have a manager within its ranks, and the basic duties that job entails. Before I go any further though there’s a delicate issue that needs to be covered: whether you should get an additional percentage as a manager – and how to bring up the topic with your band?
The first thing to consider is whether you’re making any money at all. If your band really is just starting out then there probably isn’t any financial incentive. You’ll be managing the band because you just want to get out there and play some music. That doesn’t mean that you’re not benefiting from the job.
In fact, sometimes it’s better when there’s little or no money at stake because that gives you the freedom to make mistakes without really hurting the band’s finances (there are none). At the same time, you are accruing what’s called ‘goodwill’ in the business world – a personal reputation, contacts, a proven track record, and so on. This is something you’ll develop with both your local scene and with your bandmates. Hopefully, by the time the band earns real money no one will question that your contribution made it possible.
Even at that, it’s still pretty common for in-band managers to avoid taking a cut when the pay out is very low. It may just not feel worth it to take a bit extra off the top of what’s essentially petrol and lunch money.
You might want to consider what your personal cutoff might be of making a percentage worthwhile – 10%? 20%?
But there are dangers here. The first is that without any added incentive, you may find your motivation slipping. Bands in which one player checks with the venue manager for 10 seconds about the next gig are usually not going up the ladder with much energy (unless they’ve just packed the place).
The second danger is that your band might start taking all your efforts for granted. And that leads to an even trickier consideration. In the early stage for an originals band earnings are commonly just plowed back into the band’s needs, covering basic costs. These costs might be rehearsal space rental, a PA system, a light rack, and just covering the expense of getting your van to the gig (not to mention secure parking during it). The in-band manager might find it difficult separating out their cut when everyone else is sacrificing all their money for the cause.
In the face of all the above, it’s no wonder that most bands never get off the ground, even when everyone has the best of intentions. Because even when you do take a cut, it’s rarely worth your time.
Starting-level fast-food jobs pay better than managing an originals band from the inside, at least at the beginning. On top of that, you’re going to have to prove that you can get results – and the more money on the line, the more your role may be questioned by your bandmates.
My recommendation: When you step forward to manage your own band, try to have an overall plan, taking some of the above into consideration and setting some goals. Be honest about the time you’re willing to put into managing. Try to find out what other bands are earning in the same situation, and how their earnings grew along with their following, and make that part of your plan.
It’s not enough to say, “I think you should pay me to take a little poke at the local scene.” You have to have a strong vision, and put that forward to your band. It’s a lot easier for them to think about someone taking charge of the business end that way. Nobody wants to give up a cut to a kinda-sorta-maybe manager. That doesn’t mean you should make any promises that you can’t keep – only that you’ll promise to work toward a clear goal with the resources at hand.
And that is exactly how to treat the subject of taking a percentage. Be completely matter-of-fact about it. You’re going to get the band more gigs, and you’ll need some compensation for the time that takes – otherwise, you might as well do other things with your time. Don’t be arrogant, but don’t be a waffle.
15% is a perfectly reasonable cut to earn for a gig that took hours to book, organise, and promote – especially if everyone else’s time commitment was only in rehearsing, getting to the gig and playing. But make sure you have the option to up that percentage to 20% once the band is earning a living with its music (should you get so lucky).
Here’s where an additional band manager job kicks in; keeping clear financial records. You’re going to have to explain how the band’s money was spent, showing which amount of money went where – to expenses, to band members, and to you. Keep these records handy and share them with your bandmates on request. Your band may eventually function as a company (usually within a year of ongoing earnings), and you’ll need those records for the IRD as well. Over and above your responsibility to keep your financial house in order, these records are a great way to track the progress of the band’s earning power.
None of the above advice is intended to be final and authoritative. In fact, it would be impossible for me to take responsibility for following that advice even if I wanted to because every band and every local scene represents a different situation. Some bands are not going to be worth it – and some readers may take more or less time to find the confidence and the right information they need to be effective managers – if at all. Ultimately, it will all be worth it if the experience of learning to manage helps you to grow as a person, and asking what you’re worth is an important part of that equation.
All of this aside, there’s yet another extremely critical job that I haven’t even mentioned yet in this series: Promotion. Join me next time for the story of a band named Free Beer!
Thomas Goss is a producer, band coach, and composer/orchestrator with an international clientele that includes Billy Ocean, Melanie C and Canadian jazz star Nikki Yanofsky.