Show Me the Money!

Remember when making music in an original band was a way to actually make a living if you were good, and not just lucky? Well, those days are over, my friend.

by Shawn Pelata

While things like the internet and affordable home recording have made it easier for good bands to get the music they make to the masses, it has also allowed really, really bad bands to do the same…and as we all know, there are way more bad bands than good. There are so many damn “bands” in any given style now that not even the most diehard of fans could try them all out. Bands are popping out of the woodwork with indecipherable vocals (and sometimes indecipherable music complete with indecipherable logo) with 17-word names and clogging up the damn internet. The same could be said for Power Metal bands, Prog Metal bands, Opeth clones, tattoo/piercing shops, bedroom “labels” and garage “studios”…they are literally everywhere. Suddenly, anyone with a badly written, 2-minute “song” and a MySpace page is a “band” complete with shirts, stickers and the indecipherable logo.

Someone once said having options was a good thing. But that person wasn’t wading through thousands of “bands” online all playing the same kind of music. How did all these bands even pop up so quickly and seemingly simultaneously? One thing I’ve noticed with a lot of these bands is there still seems to be this mentality of “we need to book shows to make money” or “we need t-shirts to sell to make money” or “this guy is going to record our demo for us so we can sell it and start making money”. They still think they can start a band in the garage, while still in high school, and parlay that into a job complete with cars, houses and health benefits. Then, when it doesn’t happen, they jump on the bandwagon of “man, downloading is killing our band…we can’t make any money selling our CD…” I know, I know…downloading is stealing. That’s not my point. My point is that any observant individual can point to several reasons why your “band” isn’t making money and I promise you downloading isn’t one of them.

Now, there is nothing wrong with wanting to make a living playing music. It’s just not likely to happen. Ideally, I think an artist should be afforded the opportunity to make a living making music, if that’s what they choose to pursue. But, not everyone can make a living as an accountant or a plumber or an exterminator either if there’s too much competition and not enough money. Nobody in their right mind will look in the phone book, see 10 different pest control companies in their immediate area and say “I’m going to start an pest control company”…it’s just not a sound business decision (and yes, once you start using “band” and “money” in the same sentence, art has been overtaken by business). Especially if they’re just going to start an identical, run of the mill pest control company like the 10 that already exist (see the similarity?). A new band has to be the BEST it possibly can, not try to be like the 10 most popualr bands, or not bother because everyone else is happy with what they have already. Just in Metal alone, for every Opeth or Metallica, there are literally thousands of bands the world over wondering why the bucks aren’t rolling in. They wonder why they’re working so hard only to sell no CD’s and play to 17 people at the bowling alley. They wonder why their label, Mom’s Evil Basement Records, doesn’t front them “tour support”. Even cover bands are this way. When one cover band gets 8 shows a month, at $1500 a show playing Hair Band covers, within the month 8 more will appear out of thin air (with logo, t-shirts, stickers, etc) all competing for the same venues until they all get pissed and break up and wind up with a garage full of merch. There’s just no room.

It takes, IMO, an abnormally optimistic mindset to look at the internet, see the amount of labels & bands in the world and say “I’m going to start a band and make a living at it.” God bless the dreamers, and anyone with a dream has every right to, and should, peruse it. But there has to be a sense of reality as well. There are thousands of other bands playing the same style of music all reaching for the same cup…some of them aren’t going to even get close to it let alone be able to take a sip. And those who do manage to score a real label deal (by “real” in Metal, I mean Metal Blade, Century Media, Relapse, etc) and get a good sounding album and on a decent tour as part of a 5-band bill where they play at 4 in the afternoon on a Tuesday still wonder why they’re still being “paid” in pizza & beer. They, again, will resort to the same excuses as to why this is happening (usually starting with downloading, going on to their label, then the band(s) they’re opening for, and on down the line).

The sad fact is that being in a band doesn’t automatically earn someone the right to make a living at it any more than knowing how to fix a car earns you the right to make a living being a mechanic. Why are people with master’s degree’s waiting tables? Because there aren’t enough slots to be filled and not enough money to pay them all…and that’s the same reason there are guitarists working at Chik-Fil-A. Whether good or bad, there are too many musicians starting too many bands and recording for too many labels all aiming at the same target…that target is simply not big enough to hold all the darts being thrown at it. Music fans have limited time, limited attention and most of all limited money and there’s just not enough to go around.

So, if you’re in a band, good for you. Write songs, make demos, have fun at it. Live your dreams to your heart’s content. Play Poison covers for drunks at the local watering hole if you want. Have your buddy draw you an indecipherale logo while your girlfriend organizes the street team. Re-record your song 1000 times on GarageBand and add MySpace friends until your clicking finger bleeds. Just don’t go into it thinking that you somehow “deserve” to get paid for it…you’ll end up very disappointed.



  1. Commented by: Erik Thomas
  2. Commented by: vugelnox

    Myspace has done more then any other service out there to drive this point home with a hammer. Any band whose music I enjoy I’ll add as a friend on the site and slowly over time have accrued a great deal of bands as friends. Allows me to easily check news, tour dates, new songs…etc since most bands keep their Myspace page more up-to-date then say their normal website or any other service they use.

    That said having a lot of bands as friends has caused a unstoppable tsunami of friend requests from hundreds, if not thousands, of bands to clog my inbox. I know there is an option to block friend requests from bands and really it doesn’t annoy me as much as simply astound me. I must get between 5 to 10 a day consistently for the last 3 or so years I’d say.

    I think that is a really good example of what you describe Shawn. I’m pretty easy-going about metal, a real stickler for quality, but the genre or level of originality, modern, oldschool, raw, polished…etc doesn’t make a difference to me if the band excels at what they set out to do. I used to give a lot of these bands a chance but I’d say 95% of the time they are either completely awful or so faceless and bland (a greater insult imo) as to not be worth a second listen.

    No matter how tolerant and understandable I try to be, there is simply no way to say anything nice about most of them or give them any sort of additional chance. And as you say, time and money is limited! Why should I bother checking out EVERY band that wants my attention when I already have piles of albums from bands I know are fantastic and are worth as many listens as I can give them? You’re dead on with this blog.

  3. Commented by: Apollyon

    I remember back in 2000 when I went through almost every band that crossed my path in the Internet and left no stone unturned. Nine years later, that shit is completely impossible due to the sheer volume of bands pushing out material and finding the hidden gems has become tons harder. Especially when a lot of bands don’t take the time and effort to actually develop their identity and insist on releasing the stuff that they recorded at their first band practice… But yeah. Now I just mainly look out for recommendations from respectable sources. Like TOTD. Ahem.

  4. Commented by: Juan Pinto

    Well, If one takes into account that Chuck Billy from Testament has a day job then one can really begin to understand how hard it is to make a living as a musician.

  5. Commented by: Shawn Pelata

    Juan Pito nailed it. Most “stars” in Metal have day jobs…even if it’s “in” music, like a owning/operating a studio or something, most Metal musicians have to do something other than just play music…it’s just how it is now.

  6. Commented by: Piss Ant

    So how do i make it big, Shawn? Tell me god damn it!! You know!!! LOL!

  7. Commented by: Shawn Pelata

    I wish I knew…if I did I’d be somewhere else right now…LOL!

  8. Commented by: Rane2k

    I agree with all of this, especially the post of Apollyon, there are just too many bands out there to check out.
    Sometimes it feels like wading through a sea of faceless riffs, just to find that one good band you were searching for.

  9. Commented by: Cliffy Huntington
  10. Commented by: Jeff Reese

    GREAT blog, Shawn!! Very well thought out and extremely well put!!!

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