Why Bands Struggle

by Chris McGinty (According To Whim .com)

So this is what I was told a few hours ago. A band of musicians that quit their jobs to tour, paying their way in part with a tip jar, “… sounds like panhandling and being homeless.”

Let’s start with the homeless claim. First of all, that presumes that they don’t have homes waiting for them when they get back, and if they do then basically anyone who travels for a living is homeless by that reasoning. But whatever.

You know what sounds homeless to me? The moment my dad stops paying my rent for me, and I can’t find a full time job, in addition to the 50 plus hours I’m already working.

You know what sounds homeless to me? Not being able to pay the rent if your roommate(s) suddenly walk out on you, and you’re working any minimum wage job.

So what about panhandling? Well, a panhandler is someone who lies to you about what they need the money for, and gives you nothing in return, except occasionally to take watered down glass cleaner and a filthy rag, run it across your windshield, and leave more streaks than it started with. Actually, that sounds like politicians, minus the glass cleaner.

I’m guessing the point of contention for this person, who shall remain nameless so that I’m not accused of publicly airing out my laundry, is the tip jar. I guess that means that the wait staff at a restaurant are basically just panhandlers too. And the person who knocks on your door and mows your lawn when you don’t want to is just a panhandler too.

You know what sounds like panhandling to me? Hey dad, even though I work 50 plus hours, most of my paycheck goes to child support, so can you pay my rent?

You know what sound like panhandling to me? Going to the Department of Human Services and asking for food stamps because it’s next to impossible to survive on a minimum wage job.

At least those things sound about as much like panhandling to me, as putting a tip jar out when your band plays.

Let’s just discuss what that tip jar pays for real quickly. We’ll bring up a hypothetical bassist named Chris.

Chris buys a bass guitar for $150. He then buys an amp for $300. He teaches himself to play for at least five minutes (though for most people it’s more like days, weeks, months, and years). He decides not to spend $50 a week to get lessons, because many music teachers are people who aren’t making enough money by playing in a band, and he heard somewhere that people in bands are panhandlers.

Before Chris is actually able to do anything with his talent, he has to listen to everybody he knows tell him that he’s not all that talented, he’s a fool for trying to join a band, there’s no money in being in band, he needs to grow up and have real dreams like everyone else (dreams like fucking their way into a better paycheck, or marrying for money), and that once again, he’s not all that talented.

By the time he can get past the self doubt that has been instilled by everyone else (making it weird that it is still technically self doubt) he sees the people who just quit their jobs, and started pursuing their dreams, as almost heroes, because they had the guts to pursue their dreams. But they aren’t heroes. They don’t rescue people from burning buildings. They don’t fight the wars that our presumed leaders feel are best for us. They don’t get stuck trying to stop nuclear reactors from destroying their country, as the presumed leaders flee to safety to live to start other important wars another day. But really, these bands that pursue their dreams aren’t heroes, and neither is the guy who serves you your McNuggets, or the woman who turns the gas pump on for you, or the dip shit who brings you your pizza, or Angelina Fucking Jolie and her ambassador nonsense. Most people aren’t heroes, because self doubts keep us from doing anything particularly important with our time on Earth. So fuck it. Chris figures he can get over it enough to go to Guitar Center and look for people who allegedly want to be in bands.

Chris joins a band, and they spend at least five minutes writing music and practicing it. Then they realize that they need a CD. What options do they have? They can pay a recording studio $1,000 to make a shitty sounding demo. Since the average band has four members, it will cost Chris $250. Well, maybe they can chip in for a cheap $500 multi-track recorder, and make their own shitty sounding demo. In this case, Chris only has to pay $125. Finally, Chris just borrows a video camera from his hypothetical friend Nathan, records a practice, and uses the computer, which he still owes Nathan money for, to make an even shittier, but much cheaper, demo. Then everybody pitches in $5 to get a spindle of CDs.

The band finds a club to play at. They get five friends each to show up to watch them (because all of your friends will come to your first show to prove they support you, it’s just every show after that where you start having trouble). The club charges them all five dollars at the door (except each band member gets to put one friend on the guest list, and effectively alienate the other four friends). Each of the twenty friends, and the four band members, spend an average of $10 on drinks. The club brings in $320 from the band and their friends, between cover and bar tabs. The panhandler behind the bar (known as a bartender) is tipped about $5 per person, and walks away with $120 from the band and their friends. Then if the club is feeling generous, they give the band $20 (but usually less than that, like nothing). Chris, being only one member of the band, gets $5.

That means that Chris, provided he buys no soda at shows, doesn’t tip the bartender, doesn’t make friends with other bands who he pays to go to see at other shows, and never breaks any strings, only has to play 70 more shows to make back his initial investment… and this of course presumes that you’re not counting the money he lost from taking the night off from work. Oops I forgot the $25 guitar cable. 75 more shows.

And since this is hypothetical Chris, one day the band starts to gain some notoriety, and they see an opportunity to play some bigger shows. The venues, the vendors, the sponsors, and the promoters get their share first, and then the band gets some money. The first 25% goes to their manager and agent, who would get more if it wasn’t for legislation that limits how much they can skim off the top.

Then when they get signed to a major label, they get an advance, which seems cool at first. But then they find out that when their album starts selling the initial sales go to pay off that advance. Then it goes to pay off the over priced recording crew that charged a thousand dollars an hour to make a recording that doesn’t sound shitty at all, but is going to have them touring for the next three years to see any royalty checks.

Then they split up, because by this point they hate each other.

But you’re right. Homeless panhandlers. Nevermind that everybody else makes more money off the band than the band ever makes. You’re right, I’m better than all that homeless panhandling shit, because I’m willing to just keep hanging out in a security guard uniform, and pat myself on the back that I get to write my fucking blog while I’m on the clock. You’re right. Go listen to your Justin Bieber album, and spare me all your pretenses of telling me how you think I’m talented, and how you admire the amazing person I am. You don’t get me, as I always suspected.

1 thought on “Why Bands Struggle

  1. I come down on the panhandling side of things. If I walk into a bar with live music, then I probably paid a cover. So, if the band needs a tip jar to make ends meet, I'd suggest getting a better manager. But based on the father/rent/child support part, this hypothetical musician probably isn't the brightest bulb to begin with. And if it took me 50 hours a week to do my job, I'd focus on getting better at my job and leave the music to higher functioning adults.

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