In this series of articles I will be examining the problems bands face when trying to record an album, and some proven strategies on how to avoid them. In my last article, I discussed musical problems that may get in your way. This time, I’m going to be discussing money.
A lot of bands struggle financially. Partly this is because they are often formed of people who are broke, or nearly broke, but it is strange what financial priorities people who claim to be "broke" sometimes have. A musician who has no objections to handing over $100 for two tickets to see Metallica will often plead poverty when asked to contribute the same amount to the recording of the album that could make them share a stage with Metallica some day. Are you really broke, or are you just afraid to commit money to the band? If the latter, you need to ask yourself why that is. If it’s because you don’t think you’ll get anything for your money, the problem isn’t your poverty, it’s that you don’t trust your band to complete the project, a very different issue that needs to be looked at urgently.
It’s not always an attitude problem though. If your band has a member who keeps having to be lent the bus fare home, or (as happened to me once) turns up in the rehearsal room without their instrument because they sold it to pay their rent, then you are not ready to record. Even if they’re not going to actively cough up any cash for the project, and everyone’s ok with that, they’ll still have to travel to recording sessions, travel to the meetings where all these things are decided, buy drum sticks, guitar strings or whatever their instrument demands and turn up to rehearsals. Being in a band is not something to do when you’re flat broke, and recording is certainly not something to do when you’re flat broke. It’s possible to record a pro-quality album for cheap, but not for free, and if you or a band member are so poor that you can’t afford the everyday out-of-pocket expenses associated with the project, then there is going to be big trouble ahead.
In addition, it may be that some members will end up with more expenses than others from recording. Maybe they need to re-skin their drum kit or buy the software to mix the songs. Maybe they live further away than the others and have increased travel costs. If they are buying equipment, is it their personal purchase, or is it an expense incurred on behalf of the band which the others are expected to contribute to? Some members will almost certainly have to put more time into the project than others – someone programming and mixing an entire midi orchestra is going to spend a lot more time, and probably money, than someone who just has to plod out a bassline for every song. You will need agreement on how these unequal levels of expenses and time are reflected in the members’ shares of revenue, or arguments will arise that could halt recording or wreck the band.
Do the members of the band have very different financial circumstances? One member with much more money than the rest can be just as problematic as one with much less. Is everyone prepared to contribute equally, or are their means going to be taken into account? As well as money going out, you are going to have to deal with money coming in – the shares of revenue from the album once it starts to sell. Will any unequal level of investment by different members be reflected in the allocation of sales money? Have the answers to these questions ever been decided on, or are you just assuming them without explicitly asking? Embarking on an album recording project without explicit (and written) agreement on these issues is a recipe for catastrophe, either during the recording process or soon after it, when the money starts coming in and everyone realises that they disagree on how to allocate it. Remember that a member who is not contributing much, or any, money is still contributing their time and effort, and that is worth something as well.
As a bandleader or member, especially if your band does not have separate management, your biggest challenge may not be trying to gain agreement on all these issues but to persuade the others to even talk about it at all. There’s a big tendency amongst musicians to regard the discussion of the band’s finances as distasteful, and the discussion of individual members’ finances as none of anyone else’s business. Both are fundamentally untrue. Talking about money does not make you a "sellout" or a "bread-head", it shows to your band (and the industry) that you operate in the real world. No band, no matter how anti-capitalist or idealistic, ever made it big without a mature attitude to money. Even Rage Against the Machine, the doyen of leftist bands, are signed with Sony, and back their anti-capitalist cause by donating much of their profits to the campaigns they support, rather than refusing to deal with money men.
Recording an album is a serious investment of time and, whilst there are ways to save it, money, and like all investments, has the potential to return money as well. It is the willingness to discuss finances, be they the band’s or the individual members’, that separates serious musicians, such as those who are likely to last the distance when recording an album, from the dreamers.
About The Author:
I have put together a questionnaire for bands that allows you to assess just how ready your band is to record, and will give you detailed feedback on what areas your band needs to work on in order to record an album successfully. For free access, all you need to do is sign up to my mailing list.