Modern Music Intdustry a Surprising Collection of Contradictions

Posted on April 15, 2011 by


Many of today’s popular bands are suddenly calling it quits seemingly without reason, and many fans are growing alarmed. Of course, these bands aren’t really disbanding for no reason; many simply cannot afford to be out on the road anymore. Some readers might be thinking, “But I thought musicians got paid really well,” and, for the select few that you hear on the radio, this is true.  But for the thousands of other musicians around the world, this is not the case.  Sure, Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, and Lil’ Wayne are singing themselves all the way to the bank, but many of your favorite artists are most likely struggling to make ends meet.

In an interview with Emily Zemler of AltPress magazine, Haste the Day bassist Mike Murphy said the following about his early years in the band: “We played one show to nobody, literally. We used to take band money and buy peanut butter and jelly. We survived for a long time on Ramen noodles. You buy a big thing of Ramen, go into a gas station, use hot water from their coffee maker and put it in a Styrofoam cup. Sometimes they charge you 89 cents for the cup. That was a big deal back then, so you tried not to get charged 89 cents, or you bring your own cup. It’s hard to get paid when no one comes to your shows when you’re a band starting out. But we got lucky and got support later.”

So, if a band sells as many records as Haste the Day does (their new album debuted at No. 74 on the Billboard top 200, selling about 5,700 copies in the first week), then how can they be so strapped for cash? The main reason is that the bands see almost none of the revenue generated from album sales. Bands typically receive a few cents on every dollar earned by the album, and some very unfortunate bands don’t see a single penny. The majority of the money made on album sales goes directly to the record label to cover the cost of making the album in the first place.

The best way to help support a band (other than discouraging pirated music) is to buy their merchandise or attend their concerts while they are on tour. Surprisingly, bands control more of their merchandising profits than any other facet of their music. If a t-shirt is $15 at a show, the band will maybe earn $5 from that sale–a relatively low amount to the average person, but to musicians it’s a huge deal. Concert attendance is what either makes or breaks a band’s bottom line. The more people who buy tickets, the more money the band gets; the fewer people who show up, the more the band suffers. Touring can be very costly when you consider that the band has to pay for booking agents, managers, a tour bus, gas, food, and many other expenses on top of having to pay taxes for every show they play. About half of what bands make on tour goes toward paying state taxes.

The end result is that the best way to support a band is to buy their tickets and merchandise.  Buying CDs maintains the relationship between the producers and the musicians, but it will do little to help your favorite lead singer udate his Dad’s used Escort with a shiny new Maserati.  And before you call out a band for going “mainstream” and “selling out,” think about how that extra money can afford them the leisure to not just continue making music but also to ensure their survival.

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