‘You Never Give Me Your Money’ – The Perils Of Band Budgeting

SSo you’re in an aspiring band. You’ve got a decent demo doing the rounds, you’re playing shows to reasonably sized crowds on a regular basis and local presses have started talking about your music.

Cool. You’ve got some good prospects there.

Also, how’s your bank account looking at the moment?

I ask, because budgeting is something that I witness independent acts royally cocking up all the time; even some of the more successful ones. I’ve seen bands bankrupt themselves by spending thousands on recording sessions that they didn’t need, paying through the nose to play under-attended shows that served as little more than glorified band practise and forgetting that the gear that they use needs regular (and sometimes expensive) maintenance and repairs.

Image credit: justintaylorbrown on Flickr

I’m not going to go on about those things here though. There have been plenty of good articles written on costing for a tour, recording or instrument care. Besides, budgeting for a band is about so much more than the music-y stuff.

See, here’s the thing. Lots of people get into bands because they think that it’s a career that will afford you exemption from the mundanities of everyday life. Well, sorry to burst your bubble, but that just isn’t the case. AC/DC may have once correctly mused that “it’s a long way to the top if you want to rock and roll”, but they forgot to mention that the lengthy journey upwards involves learning a heck of a lot about stuff like food budgeting and managing your rent payments. If you’ve served tenure in a rock and roll outfit that has been both successful and financially stable, chances are that you’ll have as good a knowledge of home economics as you do of rocking out.

In many respects, keeping a tight grip on these mundane, everyday expenses is even more important when you’re in a band than if you’re working a full-time job. Especially in a band’s first few years, regular sources of income will be few and far between. Playing in a serious band means you’re effectively self-employed, and more often than not, the work is scarce. While you can support your musical endeavours by say, working a part time job, the amount of money that you can earn will always be limited by your band commitments. Your disposable income will effectively be zero.

What does that mean for you, oh aspiring rock-star reader? Well, it means taking a bit of a reality check and learning to live frugally. Keep asking yourself questions about your finances.

To help you out, I’ve listed five good starting points:

  • How hard are you flogging your merchandise?

When you’ve just jumped off stage, the last thing you want to do is switch straight into salesman mode. However, with people having just seen your (hopefully) kick-ass performance, you’re in a prime position to sell some swag. Rather than heading to the bar and getting on the beer wagon (more on that in a sec), approach a couple of people and try and sell some CDs. You may only sell a couple of units, but you’ll be closer to reclaiming the money that you spent on that merch in the first place.

  • Do you need that second beer after a show?

From experience, sinking a couple of victory beers after playing a really good gig is a fairly common occurrence. Problem is that it’s also a really easy way to burn a hole in your wallet. Think about it this way; for the price of a couple of pints, you could buy a new set of guitar strings.

  • What’s the cheapest way to eat nutritional food?

When you started playing in a rock and roll band, you weren’t exactly aspiring to be a dietician. Simple fact of the matter is, though, that you’re going to need to sustain yourself through the rigours of performing. Invest in a basics cookbook, approach your food budget on a weekly or monthly basis and avoid expensive takeaways.

  • How many hours should the heating be on for?

And any other questions about utility usage for that matter. While you might feel like you’re in the most awe-inspiring up-and-coming rock and roll combo since the Rolling Stones, you still have to pay your bills like the rest of the mortal world.

  • Are you getting petrol money from promoters?

The cost of petrol is something that always gets factored into tours, but seldom at a local level. Travelling 10-30 miles outside of your home town to play gigs might not seem like a big deal, but it’s still costing you money. Before shows, ask promoters if they’re willing to pay for, or at least contribute towards your petrol expenses. Even if you only get a few bits of shrapnel towards your fuel budget from them, its money saved.

These might seem like some of the least ‘rock and roll’ sounding concerns that you’ve ever heard, but the simple fact of the matter is that they’ll keep your fledgling group of would-be guitar heroes from plummeting into the depths of debt. And so long as you’re not in debt, there’s no reason you can’t rock and roll all night and party (in a financially responsible way) everyday.

Alec Plowman is writing a PhD thesis on liveness in rock music at the University of East Anglia. He is also a freelance media journalist, musician, and collector of Star Wars memorabilia. Check out his blog at www.alecplowman.com