Planning You Music Career,
by Christopher Knab - Fourfront
Media & Music - January 2008
Back to Music
This is the first of 3 articles devoted to what is called a 'Career Plan'
for a new band or musician intent on establishing their career in a professional manner. Since most newcomers to
the business of music have very little experience dealing with the business side of their music, a Career Plan
is a useful tool and discipline for serious musicians to consider. It lays out tasks and strategies for putting
a band together by prioritizing those things that are most important in the early stages of a career.
In each installment you
will find several issues discussed. It is important to note that this plan is a prototype based on a hypothetical
situation surrounding a typical band that had undergone an extensive interview and 'inventory' of their accomplishments
and goals. I hope you are inspired by these ideas, and realize that to adapt them to your needs, you would also
have to take time to answer questions about your music, your goals, your dreams, your finances, and your commitment
to your music as a business.
That being said, I hope you find this information beneficial in building
your career as a professional musician.
* * *
Organizing Your Band
A Prototype Of A Career Plan
By Christopher Knab (with the cooperation of Dianne Caron)
Click Here for Part 2, Part
Starting a band is more than just finding the right musicians, writing
songs, rehearsing them and getting out and playing them. For any serious group of musicians who believe they have
great songs ready for the consumer marketplace, they should consider setting business goals for themselves. The
following prototype of a career plan is an in-depth look at how much work is involved in launching a career.
As with any prototype plan, the following information is advisory only.
It contains information about the business of music as it pertains to the initial start-up of a band.
There are 10 goals to examine, and I hope these ideas get your wheels
spinning in the right direction. I also go into some detail on WHY you need to consider doing each goal, as well
as providing you with some detailed information on what issues may come up when tackling a goal; as well as some
specific advice on how to carry out some of the goals.
Goal #1: BAND AGREEMENT
The time to make an agreement is now, when everybody is friendly and
you are just about to start out a possible career. It is sometimes simply impossible to solve the problems of a
band that's been together for a fair amount of time, signed record deals and performed live. Nobody likes to talk
about anything negative (like breakups) when everything is working well, but when everything is going well is exactly
the time to discuss it, because you can do it in a friendly way. It's like insurance, you may never need it, but
you'll sure be glad you have it if you need it. There is no lawyer needed to put a band agreement into effect.
It is a good idea, though, to have an entertainment lawyer go over the agreement before you further undertake any
major obligations such as signing a recording contract. Here are some issues you should resolve in a band agreement:
1) Start Your Own Publishing Company
After you have registered your copyrighted songs with the U.S. Copyright Office at www.copyright.gov set up a publishing company, as soon as you have a commercial
market for your music. You do not need a publishing company until there is activity from and with your songs. Please
consider the following options:
- Setup a publishing company making all band members owners and equal
partners (writers) of that company and the songs previously written.
- Setup some kind of participation contract in a situation where there
is only one main writer, but the writer wishes to share a certain percentage of writer/publisher royalties with
band members for good will.
What kind of vote does it take to make band members contribute
to the band (put in money the group needs to buy equipment, cover unexpected expenses, etc.)? Decisions may be
based on the concepts of either "majority rules" or "unanimous".
3) Share of Profit and Loss
You will have to define how the money (profit or loss) is divided.
Either make all band members equal partners and divide profit or loss equally, or distribute the profit or debit
the loss based upon the percentage owned (i.e. in case you founded a corporation with each person owning a certain
4) Trademark Your Band Name
You should also discuss if you want to give all members ownership
of the name. Please consider the following options:
- No one can use the name if the group breaks up, regardless of how many
of the band are still performing together.
- Any majority of the group members performing together can use the name.
For example, if there are seven people in a group that breaks up, then four of them together can use the name.
- Only the lead singer, (name), can use the name, regardless of who he/she
is performing with.
- Only (name), the songwriter who founded the group and thought of the
name, can use the name, regardless of who he/she is performing with.
- (Name of songwriter who founded the group and thought of the name) and
(name of lead singer) can use the name as long as they perform together, but if they don't no one can use the name.
- "Majority rules." If the band doesn't do anything, what most
likely will happen is that the band name will be treated the same way as any other business partnership asset meaning
any of the partners has the nonexclusive right to use it.
What kind of vote does it take to fire somebody?
- You basically have the choice between "majority rules" or
What kind of vote does it take to take in a new musician or to hire a lawyer, agent, or manager.
- Again, the two basic options are "majority" or "unanimous."
Is everyone free to quit at will? There is no way to force someone
to continue working with a group. Please consider the following options:
- Let people go if they're unhappy, as long as they don't walk out in
the middle of a tour.
- Stop a band member from working as a musical artist after quitting or
require the member to pay his or her solo earnings to the partnership (meaning the other group members get a piece).
8) Incurring Expenses
What kind of vote does it take to approve the group's spending
- The two basic choices are, once more, "majority rules" or
9) Amendment of the Band Agreement
What kind of vote does it take to change the terms of the band
- I'd suggest the band require
an "unanimous" decision. Any other type of vote could cause dis-harmony within the group.
What happens after one person is terminated or after somebody
- One option is that the person who leaves the band keeps his/her percentage
level for past activities,
- or another option is that the person who leaves the band does not keep
his/her percentage for future activities.
11) Sole Proprietorship, Partnership, or Corporation?
In a later stage of your career you will have to think about
and define the "relationship" among yourselves. Especially once you start generating income you will
have to decide what form of business ownership you want to set up. Here are some basic types of businesses you
might want to consider:
A sole proprietorship is a "business" that is owned (and usually
operated) by one person. Sole proprietorship is the simplest form of business ownership and the easiest to start.
My recommendation to you is that each one of you opens up his own business - a sole proprietorship.
What's good about it:
Ease and Law Cost of formation:
No contracts, agreements, or other legal documents are required to start a sole proprietorship. A state and city
license is required, but beyond that, a sole proprietor pays no special start-up fees or taxes.
Retention of All Profits:
Any profits earned by a sole proprietorship become the personal earnings of the sole proprietor.
Possible Tax Advantages:
The sole proprietorship's profits are taxed as personal income of the owner. Thus a sole proprietorship does not
pay the special state and federal income taxes that corporations pay.
What's bad about it:
Unlimited liability is a legal concept that holds a sole proprietor personally responsible for all the debts of
his or her business. This means that if the business fails, the owner's personal property can be seized (and sold
if necessary) to pay creditors.
Often a partnership represents a "pooling of special skills and
talents-" at other times it results when a sole proprietor takes on a partner for the purpose of "obtaining
What's good about it:
Ease and Low Cost of formation:
Like sole proprietorships, partnerships are relatively easy to form The legal requirements are often limited to
registering the name of the business and purchasing any necessary licenses or permits.
Retention of Profits:
As in a sole proprietorship, all profits belong to the owners of the partnership.
Combined Skills and Knowledge:
Partners often have complementary skills. The weakness of one partner may be the strength of another partner. And,
the ability to discuss important decisions with another concerned person often takes some of the pressure off everyone
and leads to more effective decision making.
Possible Tax Advantages:
Like sole proprietors, partners are taxed only on their individual incomes from the business. The special taxes
that corporations must pay are not imposed on partnerships. Also, at certain levels of income, the new federal
tax rates are lower for individuals than for corporations.
What's bad about it:
Each (general) partner is personally responsible for an debts of the business, even if that particular partner
did not incur those debts. They thus run the risk of having to use their personal assets to pay creditors. It is
essential that each partner understand that he or she is responsible for the other partners' actions.
The corporation is an artificial person created by law, with most of
the legal rights of a real person. These include the rights to start and operate a business, to own or dispose
of property, to borrow money, to sue or be sued, and to enter into binding contracts. Unlike a real person, however,
a corporation exists only on paper.
The shares of ownership of a corporation are called its stock. And the
people who own a corporation's stock are called its stockholder, or sometimes its shareholders. Once a corporation
has been formed, it may sell its stock to individuals.
What's good about it:
One of the most attractive features of corporate ownership is
limited liability. With few exceptions, each owner's financial liability is limited to the amount of money she
or he has paid for the corporation's stock.
What's bad about it:
Difficulty and Expense of Formation:
Forming a corporation can be a relatively complex and costly process. The costs of incorporating, in both time
and money, discourage many owners of smaller businesses from forming corporations.
Most government regulation of business is directed at corporations.
A corporation must meet various government standards before it can sell its stock to the public. Then it must file
many reports on its business operations and finances with local, state, and federal governments. In addition, the
corporation must make periodic reports to its stockholders about various aspects of the business. Also, its activities
are restricted by law to those spelled out in its charter.
Unlike sole proprietorships and partnerships, corporations must
pay a tax on their profits. Then stockholders must pay a personal income tax on profits received as dividends.
GOAL #2: PHOTO
In order to be fully prepared for publicity, it is essential to have
a current and complete press kit. The photo is an extremely important and basic item of the promo kit that you
need to get done as soon as possible.
The photo is probably the most striking, and often the most effective,
part of the press kit. Photos have a significant psychological impact on the music. Initially, photos will be sent
to publicity contacts in the print media. These contacts will judge you by your visual image, as will fans and
prospective fans when they see the photo in magazines and newspapers. In a business that hinges on image, photography
represents "image" in its most immediate form. Take great care in selecting a professional photographer,
and selecting the "right" photo from the shoot. Remember to choose a photo that will look good reduced
down to the size of photos you see in the print media, and also look good on your website and MySpace.com page.+
Finding a Photographer:
The best way to find a photographer is the local grapevine or word-of-mouth. Ask around and contact other bands
or their management, entertainment editors, radio station promotion directors, people at labels or PR firms, and
club managers. When looking around for a photographer, make sure the one you pick has experience in the music business.
Most professional photographers tend to specialize, so hold out for a person accustomed to music.
Once you've found possible photographers, look at their portfolios. Most
portfolios will include widely differing subjects, compositions, and styles, so concentrate
on the entertainment work - concert shots, album covers,
studio portraits (needed for professional 8x10 black and white publcity needs), and shots of parties and other functions. Also, talk to the photographer about his or her experience.
- And does he or she seem to have a feel for your music?
- Does the person appear enthusiastic about the project?
- Don't be timid about references and previous clients. Contact a few
of them and ask how the sessions went.
Location vs. Studio Shots
For outdoor or"location" shots, the possibilities are
virtually endless. Regardless of your musical style make sure you have at least a rough idea of an effective shot
before going in. Often, you can use locations to help portray your (the band's) identity (i.e. an abandoned prison,
a funky old billboard or storefront, bizarre architecture, a sunny beach setting, etc.). The more dramatic and
eye-catching your shot, the more it'll be used. Do not, however, go for something so arty or weird that you as
individuals aren't recognizable; this will just defeat your purpose. Also, think about getting written permission
from property owners for location shots (normally this is quite easy, but if you run into trouble, go elsewhere).
With abandoned buildings, this may not even be necessary.
When you shoot your photo at a venue/show, think about the following:
- Make certain there's no alcohol or tobacco evident in your publicity
photos. Many newspapers and magazines won't touch them otherwise.
- Showing banners, placards, and other promotional items are okay, but
have the photographer watch out for empty beer cans, overflowing ashtrays, and the like.
The advantage of a studio shot is that the photographer has total control over the environment. So he or she will
have virtually unlimited lighting resources along with control over backdrops, props, special effects, etc. Shooting
time in a studio, however, is expensive, so calculate your
If you hire a studio, there are some basic tenets you should follow:
- Make sure that everyone arrives
a little early or at least on time.
- If you have to cancel a session, call the studio as soon as possible;
if you simply blow off the appointment, you'll be billed for all the time that was booked.
- Think about bringing
different outfits to the session; this will not only save
you time, but also money.
- See that all cans, bottles, and other garbage are put in trash cans.
If you leave the studio in a mess, you can bet you'll be billed for cleanup.
Generally, when you have some photos taken, what you want are two rolls
of black & white and one roll of color photos. (Don't concern yourselves with color photos when all you want
and need are a couple of photos for the press kit.)
Unless our photgrapher is using a digital camera, ( some still don't) you'll first see the black & white photo results in the form
of "proof sheets." Proof sheets are 8" x 10" sheets that hold all the frames/shots in their
actual film size, whether 35 nun, 2 1/4", 4" x 5", and so on. These are quick-prints that allow
you to choose the final shots for careful printing. Each frame is numbered to help in the selection process. Generally
you'll pick 3 to 5 photos and blow'em up to 8" x 10".
The Film Roll
The question of who owns and keeps the film has been a big bone
Here's the rule:
Under normal circumstances, the photographer keeps the black & white film, unless otherwise negotiated. The
photographer will deliver one master print per ordered frame, unless more prints are specified per frame.
The Work (Photos)
Any photographer's work is covered by the same copyright laws
that protect musical works. In practice, this means that the photographer retains an rights to his or her photographs
except for the rights that you specifically purchase.
When you pay normal photo rates, you are actually leasing the photographic
work for specific uses, and you are not free to do anything with the photo that you wish. Publicity shots are a
good example: If you pay a publicity-photo rate, then that's all they can be used for. If you later decide to use
the same print for a billboard, album cover, or as part of an advertising campaign, additional fees are due the
It's quite possible to purchase all rights to a given piece of film,
but then the applied rates are going to be much more expensive (because the photographer is giving up all rights
to his artistic work). In the world of music PR, it's usually inadvisable to buy all rights to a black & white
film; it's too expensive and the odds are slim that you'll re-use any of the prints.
For black & white photos, send the master print to a mass-duplication house. A mass-photo house can also work
up logos on the prints, along with the contact info and the credits.
The number of prints you order will vary widely depending on your goals.
GOAL 3: LOCAL SHOWS
Local shows will most likely be your first "major" source of
income. Expenses involved in local/regional shows will be limited to gas and maybe per diems. - In order to get
booked at a local or regional club you will not need the services of a booking agent, instead you will be able
to do it yourselves. All you need is a complete and updated press kit, lots of persistence, and the ability and
confidence to play a 45 - 60 min. set.
Once you've selected local and regional clubs you want to perform at,
send out the complete traditional press kits (or PDK's) and follow up with a phone call within 5 to 7 working days.. The club will then
tell you whether they're interested in booking you for a show or not. If they are, it will be your turn to tell
the venue how much money you want for your performance. Once you've negotiated a deal you will have to gather all
the pertinent information and set up a contract. (Note that after you've played a club for a couple of times and
established a working relationship, the venue might not insist on a written contract anymore.) Nevertheless, getting
things is writing is a very good habit to get into.
Here's a list of issues you will have to address and particularize in
- "Purchaser" or "Buyer" (Name of the Club Promoter)
- "Deal" - The deal you accepted and the amount of money you
will get paid.
- Here are the four most common deals you will encounter:
|Flat or Guarantee Ex.:
||$ 300 versus 30% door, whatever's higher.
||$ 300 plus 30% door
||50/30/20 of Net
Christopher Knab is an independent music business consultant based in Seattle, Washington. He
is available for private consultations on promoting and marketing independent music, and can be reached by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Visit the FourFront Media and
Music website for more information on the business of music from