Is Your Band Your Business or a Make-a-Wish-Style Charity for Marginally Ambitious Bassists?


Are you a musician? Is your group having issues? Ask Fan Landers! Critic Jessica Hopper has played in and managed bands, toured internationally, booked shows, produced records, worked as a publicist, and is the author of The Girls’ Guide to Rocking, a how-to for teen ladies. She is here to help you stop doing it wrong. Send your problems to her — confidentiality is assured, unless you want to use your drama as a ticket to Internet microfame.

I am a performer in a relatively successful touring act. On our last tour, we made $25,000. I book all of the tours. I plan the live show. I keep track of money and pay everyone. What do you think is a fair compensation for this? Is it OK to pay myself more for doing this stuff? What is a standard percentage of total earnings? How do I explain to my large-ego’d bandmates that I deserve more money than them? Secondarily: How do I cut the slackers and hangers on out of my posse? Like, the guys that don’t do any work but claim that they do and then reap many of the benefits from claiming that they are part of my project?
Darling Nikki

I would say 25 large from a summer tour makes you more than “relatively” successful. Shit, you are probably doing better than Grizzly Bear. Such is the benefit of keeping things in house: No 15-percenter goofballs buttchugging your change!

Judging by the nature of your questions I am guessing you are a nice guy to a fault, bordering on doormat, a little too interested in keeping the peace and being democratic and that your bandmates are probably bros from way back. Your reward? Bandmates who are coasting on your hustle and your ambition (because you’ve shown them they can). Sure, you might have had to step up and be the parent because the rest of your band is, like, the stoned guy that’s always losing his van key, but it’s time to stand up for yourself and have some more self-respect.

Here is what you need to meditate on before we deal with the rest of the issues: Standing up for your interests is going to destabilize your band status quo, but you cannot let the potential fallout or confrontations deter your course of action. Your band is your business, not some Make-a-Wish-style charity for marginally ambitious bassists. Secondly, how crucial are your bandmates? Is their vibe essential to the band? Are they the thing/player that gets a lot of compliments after a show? Is your chemistry with them the essence of the band? Be real, but not vengeful in your contemplation of their roles.

While you toss these rhetoricals about in your mindgrapes, get out a piece of paper and make a few columns. Rate your ‘mates from 1 to 10 on how essential they are — 10 being the Keef to your Mick. Next, rate their potential as far as possibly being able to be a productive, contributing member of the band vis-a-vis booking/management. Be realistic, not wishful. Next, rate how much you actually like touring/enjoy being in the band with them. Add up their score. Fire anyone with a score lower than 18. If that seems harsh, think of it this way: $20,000 is a lot to pay for dead weight.

So, that is one way to cut the slackers. Clean house. Around the Fan Landers office, we call that “pulling a Shins”: periodically replace your entire band so everyone knows who is boss. People will argue with you less and probably respect you a bit more. It’s a power move, but you know, this is your band, your idea and your livelihood, and not to be all NRA, but you have a right to preserve and defend that. Whomever you recruit for the band after that, you can give them a set percentage or do as many bands do and set a salary for tour. It sounds businesslike, but a clear demarcation of things actually makes navigating everything easier.

If this is a little drastic and aggro for you, spend a few days practicing saying this into the mirror: “Because I am booking and managing the band, I need to be compensated for the huge timesuck that involves, so I am going to be taking 25 percent of gross from here on out.” The end. That’s a booking agent’s 15 percent and a managerial 10 percent. If, at a later date, you hire that sort of outside help, you will reroute those monies to those agents. At a minimum, that’s what you should ask for. You needn’t explain much of anything — the still sizable dividends they reap from your hard work will do most of the talking for you.