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Your Band is Your Business!
by David Hooper - Kathode Ray Music, July 2002

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Before I start working with a band or even hear their demo, I have them fill out a form to let me know their goals, what they've currently got going on, their future plans, and other information that I use to determine if we're on the same page. I want to know that they're as committed as I am before we do anything. It doesn't do a band any good to pay me for advice that they're not going to take.

Quitting Your Day Job
About 8 out of 10 bands that submit an "application" to work with me list something about quitting their day job as a major goal, Having worked a stint in Corporate America myself, I know the feeling. It's not easy to put on a monkey suit and put up with forty hours a week of bitching customers, temper tantrums from your boss, and sales quotas. It's also not easy to make a living in music. A day job is much more than free Post-It notes though, my friends. You might also find out that the dream of being a working musician is much more fun than the reality. The music business is anything but what MTV wants us to believe. Many people find it worthwhile though. I know I do.

A day job is a double edged sword. I almost never advise a band to quit their day jobs right away. There are a lot of other factors to think about and I believe that, working with a good regional promotion plan, they won't have to. It's not going to be easy though. Bands who want to make it in the music business need to treat their music career like a second job and working two jobs is never easy.

The Tour: Not Just Fun and Games
Of course, you COULD quit your day job and still make a living, but I don't recommend it. A lot of bands think they can do a balls out tour of the US and survive just fine. Most of those bands have never been on tour and think it's all fun and games. You'll be able to survive, but very few people can cut constantly touring and most get burnt out very quickly and end up right back where they started. That's REALLY humiliating and a lot of people never recover. The people you work with will never let you forget that you had a moment of independent thought and wanted to do things on your own.

Sitting back a while and playing it smart a few months will let you tour all you want when the time comes and you'll have a much better foundation than going out right away. If you take your time and plan things out, you'll be able to give Corporate America what we here in Nashville call the "Tennessee Salute" soon enough. There are a few important things to consider though. Obviously, money is important, but you also need to think about your mental heath as well as the music you're creating.

The music business is expensive to break in on. You'll need money to get things rolling and a day job is a definite advantage in this area. You could be like a lot of people just charge up your credit cards, but I don't think you should go into a huge debt because that's one more thing to worry about. If you do fall on your face with a large debt, you'll just be that much more obligated to go back where you came from. Debt is too much to deal with in a crazy environment like the music business. Keep your day job while you break the first region and just go into the plan knowing that the next few months are going to be HELL. It's going to be better eventually, but you're going to work all the time for a little longer at making money or getting the band established. You're going to have to save up every cent and you're going to have to sacrifice a lot. This is where a lot of people find out they're not cut out for the music biz. No problem with that. People change and their plans change. I'm not cut out for being a working musician myself, but I still enjoy playing. You won't have to give up music. Just because I don't make a living from playing my guitar (or anything else) doesn't mean that I don't have a rewarding experience when I play.

Are You Mental?
How about mental health? One look at Behind the Music on VH-1 and you'll see that there are plenty of bands in the world that found out making a living in the music business was a lot more work and mental stress than they thought it would be. People who get involved in it having a lot of fun with people who are their lifelong friends often find that things change more than they ever thought. Things will change, but don't lose your friends, your dignity, or your life over the music business. Planning ahead is the key.

How are you going to be different? I suggest to treat your band like a business BEFORE you make the move to quit your day job. Get to know what it's really going to be like before you give up all those great benefits like paid insurance, company car, and a 401k. There is nothing wrong with enjoying music on a non-career level. Paying your rent and utilities on "band money" is tough. A band is your own little business and you're competing in a big popularity contest that you'll only be on top of for a short time...if at all. The average career of a band is seven years. Those seven years are going to have to count A LOT.

If you can you can keep things going with the "band as a business" attitude for 12-18 months with a day job and you have people who will do it with you, you'll definitely get an edge up on 95% of the other bands. The #1 reason that most bands aren't making a living in music is because they expect things to come to them right away and without any work. You have to get out there and work. If you can do it for just a year or two, you'll be able to quit your job and make a living. You'll still have to work though because making it in the business is hard. That's what you want to find out as much as possible before you start dipping into that GTH fund and burning all your bridges. Being in a band is not just a life of playing 3-4 hours a night with wild parties after the show. You're going to have to do a lot of interviews, stock your product at stores or at least check on it, follow up on calls, book shows, and take care of business. Other people aren't going to come in and do it until you're going it for yourself. If you're not doing this stuff now, you better start because that's what it takes.

Trust me, none of this is easy. I get calls from financially successful bands that I worked with to quit their day jobs and have a career in the industry all the time who have changed their minds about what they really want. There are a lot of problems that come when something changes from a hobby to a career. It's not as fun for a lot of people. I sometimes get accused of selling out because I try to help bands mix art and commerce, but the truth is that finding that balance myself is one of the main reasons I'm not a working musician. I like the creative process and don't want to jeopardize it by being forced to make a living from it.

So, don't go anywhere without a good plan! You'll be glad you took your time and did things right!


David Hooper is the founder of Kathode Ray Music and IndieBiz.com. He is a music marketing consultant, and co-author of 'How I Make $100,000 a Year in the Music Business."

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