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The Plight of The Working Class Band

Lacey
© 2013 Karina Lyburn Photography

You can’t begrudge anyone having privileged start in life, but when you roll up to a venue in your knackered death-trap of a former Royal Mail delivery van which you’ve been crammed into along with all of your gear and your flatulent guitarist for the past agonizing 5 hours and you see the fresh-faced support act, barely out of school, unloading a drum kit worth more than your van from their dad-bought dad-driven spacious tourbus complete with XBox, it can be hard to not to feel a nauseating mixture of envy and rage in your stomach. They make it look so easy, and happily for them, it’s all kind of fallen into place; they get to pursue their passion for music without the black cloud of financial ruin that follows the rest of us around. You on the other hand, have had to take the day off of work to drive 200 miles in a van that you paid for, with the amps you took a loan out for, the guitars that you’re still paying off 18 months later, and the merch that you had to borrow money from your girlfriend to have made, all to play in some dive club for 45 minutes before you take the 5 hour drive back home. On paper it makes no sense at all, but what have you got in common with the kids whose parents were fortunate enough to be able to abide their children’s ambition and desire create music? You love making music, you love being in a band and you love being on stage, and you’ll do whatever it takes to get yourselves noticed in the hope that it leads to something bigger, and that’s why you do it. The only difference is your ass is broke, and you’re at work first thing in the morning.

So how do you do it? How do you balance work and being in a band? In our band we are lucky enough to each have a job where our employers are aware of what we do with the band outside of work, and allow us a certain amount of leeway when it comes to block-booking holidays for a tour, starting early to finish early so you can make a soundcheck, and on occasion not being able to make it in at all because your piece-of-crap Royal Mail van broke down on the way home from Glasgow. Communication is key. Even the sternest of bosses will usually support you if you talk to them about the importance of your band and your ambition. Hell, they’ll probably even be gunning for you and want to help you out, if only to convince themselves that they’ve still got some kind of connection to their rock and roll youth which escaped them once they started carrying a briefcase and working for ‘the man’. If you don’t talk to your employers about what you do and stress the importance of it, and you have no genuine excuse for sloping off early or needing a day off at short notice because you’ve been offered a show with a huge band, then you can’t expect them to accommodate you or understand.

But why work at all? Why even risk not being able to make a show supporting a huge band? Why not just quit and focus on being in a band? Because you need money to be in a band, silly. How much? Well that depends. A friend of mine, a singer in a successful international band, once told me that he was $20,000 in debt before his band got signed, all from funding his passion for years. You need money to pay for guitars, strings, amps, drums, transport, petrol, rehearsal space, recording time, petrol, merchandise, CD manufacturing, design, petrol, and petrol (you’ll be driving a lot). All of this does not come cheap, and you will find that it adds up. Want to go on tour? That’s going to cost you. Hiring a van, a trailer for your gear, cases for your gear, petrol, merchandise, CD’s, and food will all add up. Want to record an album? That too is going to cost you. Transport to the studio with your gear, accommodation, producer, engineer, mastering will also add up. It’s a frightening list, and the kind of bar tab that even Jay-Z would balk at, but fear not – if you’re hardworking, and more importantly, if you’re good, it’ll all be worth it in the end.

Shift work is recommended. Anywhere with a degree of flexibility where you are able to switch shifts with people at a moments notice or where you know you’ll always be able to leave at a certain time on any given day, and these kinds of jobs (barstaff, fast food worker etc) are easy to pick up and put down. Being in a job that you see as a career and being in a band is a double-edged sword. I assume that if you consider you job to be a career and not just ‘a job’ then you’ll be reasonably well paid, which means you can afford better equipment, better recordings, better rehearsal space and therefore, be a better band. The flipside of that is: what happens to your career when you reach that fork in the road where a record company offers you a deal or a huge band offers you a killer support slot on a 3-week tour, and you’ve used all of your holidays? You’ve got a difficult choice to make, and understandably many musicians stick with their career when it comes down to it, knowing the music industry to be the unstable, unpredictable and financially unviable beast that it is. That’s a decision which, the way things are going, will probably be facing us as a band in the near future – some of us are in careers that we’ve studied hard for at University, so to turn our backs on that will be difficult, and probably naïve, ill-informed and generally wrong, but I don’t think any one of us would trade the opportunity to write and play music for a living for any amount of bonuses for answering phone calls in a stuffy office for the rest of our lives.

Can’t spare much of your pay packet? Well, the good news is you don’t always have to. Your band is a business, so treat it as such. The old business cliché of ‘You’ve got to speculate to accumulate’ is entirely true. Pool your money together and invest in some good t-shirt designs and sell them. I cannot stress how essential it is that your merch is good, if it’s a terrible doodle your singer drew on a napkin then don’t expect to sell any shirts unless you’re Daniel Johnston. Hire a good designer, pay them fairly and recoup the costs in the greater number of shirts sold. The profits from these will pay for the next batch of t-shirts, and a bunch of those silicone wristbands that kids love, and once you sell those you’ll find yourselves with money to make an EP or a video. It all has to start somewhere, and some basic business nous will take you a long way.

It all depends what you’re willing to do to make it happen for your band. Be prepared to stretch yourself, to barely sleep and to not be able to afford new underwear, but don’t lose sight of what you’re doing it for and consider how much better the rewards will feel if you achieve your goals knowing how much graft you put in along the way.

Lacey will soon be embarking on a UK tour with Patent Pending and People on Vacation  (Jaret Reddick of Bowling For Soup) You can purchase a CD or buy concert tickets here and check out their new video for “Hometown” below.

 

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Angela Mastrogiacomo

Founder of Infectious Magazine & Muddy Paw Public Relations. Lover of passion, ice cream, and books.

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One Thought to “The Plight of The Working Class Band”

  1. Bigpete

    Tip of the cap to you sir. A good depiction of the struggling musician. I would be interested to know what money signed bands actually make at the end of it, and if treating bands like business actually pays? I think maybe not much even for a lot of successful bands that aren’t a 5 peice one direction esque setup.

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