Backstage there’s a dirty green couch with rips in all the cushions. On it sit three sweaty band members under a cloud of smoke resulting from a thousand cigarettes smoked before, during and after the show. Turning to face the other two, the guy on the right—the singer—raises the PBR tallboy in his hand, saluting the “incredible show, boys, incredible.” Roars of applause, enough to bring the band back for an encore (the first they’ve ever played), are now fading echoes in the ears of those present. But the feelings of the show—the feeling that comes with playing the art you’ve created to appreciative fans—well, those are as vivid as ever.
But the next morning the conversation is the same as it always is the morning after, slightly hung-over and already nostalgic for a time just a few hours ago. “Where do we go from here?” asks the drummer. After being asked so many times, it’s an easy question to ignore, so no one even attempts an answer and they all go back to loading up the van. The show was good, but it was just a weekend tour a few hours away from home. They are all just weekend tours a few hours away from home, and after the packing is done, there’s no more shows until the following Friday. The time in between is packed with day jobs to support the weekend ventures, and thoughts of how to make the tour the only day job. And then on Friday it’s time to repack the van and do it all again.
This isn’t a true story, yet it’s simultaneously the story of a thousand bands. There’s a cult following, a name that’s known regionally, and they’ve probably even sold a few of the records they self-released. But it’s easy for this band to hit a ceiling. There are no record labels stuffing offers down their throats, no big-name managers lining up promising them riches and not enough money to support them on a prolonged tour. Many bands want to think of themselves as an all-inclusive group, but this is the point in a band’s career where, if it wants to go to that next level, it’s time to bring in outside help.
Particularly in today’s ever-evolving music industry, there’s no one path to success, but here are a few suggestions for the aforementioned “band” to follow.
- Hopefully at this point in their career, the band will already have a band partnership agreement that directs how songwriting credits, income and other factors will be divided up amongst the band.
- The band should discuss what kind of manager can bring them the opportunities to find the kind of success they want. Once found, a contract should immediately be drafted by a lawyer that explicitly states what percentage the manager will make (and if that percentage is of total income or just a portion of what the band brings in).
- Potentially a deciding factor in what manager to choose may be that person’s record label connections. Except in the rarest cases, there’s a not a choice of what record labels want to sign you, but you can choose what kind of record labels you want to focus on. Is a major label the best fit, or would the artist be better suited developing itself on smaller indie while it continues to expand its fanbase?
- Assuming there is an offer from a record label, the band, along with its manager and lawyer, must decide if the contract they’re presented with will be lucrative or just become one of the all-too-common stories where the label makes a killing and the band is left back home washing dishes to make a living.
Again, there is no “right way” to make it in today’s music industry. And, let’s face it, there’s always been an element of luck, no matter what era you’re in. Many bands find they just don’t like dealing with the business side of music, and this is a make or break point for many artists. If you don’t work out your own business issues, or bring someone in to help with them, you may be sitting on that dirty green couch forever, always waiting for someone to take you back home to your day job.