Business - Part Three

In Part Two of this topic on Business, we began to cover how to make a living. In this third and final installment, we continue with this topic and also cover debt consolidation.

Start A Working Band: To create a band that is designed to be out in the world actually working a circuit takes time, some money, a booking agency, and a lot of effort.

You will need to find a rehearsal space if your house or garage won't work. That may come through a member that comes on board. If you have a friend who wants to be part of the band, audition them, too, unless you know for a fact that they understand what this is about and are willing to commit themselves to the process. Yes, it's cruel, but they need to know that this is serious business, that it is going to be a real business enterprise. If they screw up, they're out. This must be made very clear. If it's a partnership, then both of you must understand that if either of you screws up, doesn't fix the problem, then you're out and they that remain will replace the leaving partner.

If you know musicians who are looking for work, invite them to audition. And advertise for players. Create a song list of at least 60 tunes, tunes that are what people want to hear, not what you want to play. The fact is, some of the songs won't be anything like what you prefer. But this isn't about you, it's about the people who are going to go into the clubs you want to play to dance and listen to music. You play what is required, not what is desired, though some of the songs will be very much favourites. Include perennial classics that never grow old.

A good line up is guitar, bass, keyboards, drums, with everyone able to not just sing, but carry tunes, stay on pitch and willing to sing. Make it a requirement of membership. The drummer often gets a pass on singing, so if they don't sing, don't sweat it. But if they do, that's one more voice. Some bands have a dedicated lead singer who does about 60 percent of the singing. Everyone should sing some lead to give the vocalist a break. His voice is an instrument. And, yes, singers are musicians, too. Singing is one of the hardest instruments to master well. Most people can sing, sure, but a real singer is rare indeed, particularly if they have a fairly unique voice.

As you interview players, tell them the rules. My rules are simple: No drugs, period. Alcohol not allowed during the gig, or even before on the day of a gig. All people will dress accordingly (weddings have requirements, as do school dances and other such gigs), behave respectfully toward the client and all the people present. Nobody will be late, arrive at least 30 minutes early. If set up is required, the PA guys arrive at noon. Drums at 2:00pm with sound check no later than 3:00pm; guitars and bass at 3:30-4:00pm with sound check as each is ready; each gets their sound check. Then the final sound check is at 5:00pm for 30 minutes. Then break for dinner, return 30 minutes before show time. If it's a daytime gig, we arrive early as possible, everyone sets up and we sound check as we go with final sound check 45 minutes before showtime for 15 minutes max. Players are put on a 1099 (commission, no taxes taken - the responsibility of each individual) and paid at the end of the engagement, often in cash, for which they will sign a receipt.

Once you have your players, rehearse the band for at least two weeks after they learn the set list. A month is better. Create an audition tape. It can be three complete songs or a montage of ten tunes at around 20 seconds each, flowing from one to another, to show your versatility and give an indication of what your band sounds like. Go to a decent studio that specializes in demo work, they're less expensive, and have them record and mix the product. Get it mixed to a CD and buy the master tape. Get a publicity still - use a professional, please! Take the photo to a good printer and have them add the logo and contact info, including the agent's name and phone if applicable. Make a nice presentation package with the photo, a CD (some people require a DVD - tell them you'll have one once you get a couple gigs under your belt and then follow through, hiring professionals for one night to film, edit and give you a DVD - and the master tapes), and include a bio of the band members; include a partial set list, too. Send as many copies to your agent as they require and have some on hand for your own distribution to potential clubs and people who might want to hire you.

Do not shy away from Weddings, Bar Mitzvahs or other gatherings that want music. Do avoid Frat parties, unless you're into that sort of drunken chaos. And, please, conduct all business with contracts, not merely hand shakes. You'll be thankful for it when a gig goes south and they don't want to pay you. Be sure the contract is more than the standard form. Include penalty clauses and other conditions that protect you. If you can, get a contract master from a band you may be friends with. If needed, pay the fee and talk to a music business lawyer about contracts. They will have something they can modify to your requirements. Yes, you'll pay a fee, but again, it will be a) deductible on your taxes and b) worth it's weight in gold the first time you have to enforce it due to non-payment or breach of contract. Trust me on this one, folks.

Be prepared, and willing, to let players go. If people violate the rules, give them the warning they deserve and monitor them. If they continue, you have to let them go, period. The survival of the band, and the growing reputation is more important than any single member. One good way to ensure a base line standard is to live the model you want them to live by. Be a person who does what they say, means what they say, and expects anyone involved to do the same. Lead by example. That way they will not be able to look at you and say, "Well, you're no better. You do the same thing I'm doing. Why is it okay for you, but not for me?" "Because I'm the leader" is not the right answer. You can't answer that way to such charges. So don't behave like a moron. You're the leader. Be the leader, the standard bearer. And when you bring in new players, go get a new photo. There's nothing worse than out of date material. The demo CD may still be fine. But the DVD will have to be redone with the new lineup.

Yes, you'll make mistakes along the way. Learn from them and make sure to do your best to avoid them in the future. Sometimes, for example, you hire someone who looks to be exactly what you're looking for, but turns out to be all that's wrong with players. These guys have learned to make a good show of things to get the gig. Then once in, they slowly revert to "type", which can mean that they're alcoholics, druggies, or something less than desireable for your band, your image. That's why you do "background" checks, asking for the leaders of the last three bands phone number. You want references - so you can check on what kind of person they are, why they left the band. Were they fired or did they move on due to more civil reasons? You need to know this stuff.

Hiring and firing players is just part of the requirements of running a band. And if you're not good with numbers, hire an accountant to manage the money side. Make sure they, too, come with good references. Yes, it will cost you, but that's your expense, and the players shouldn't have to pay for it. You hire people to do a job, whatever it is, to make the band profitable, a going concern, a viable business. Treat it like that and you'll succeed.

One final element in your business practices, a personal one that will help you find some security and peace, both of which are necessary if you expect to have a more active and productive creative life in writing and playing music.

Learn to live below your income level. Simplify.

Just because you may earn 500 bucks a week, it doesn't mean you can just spend the money left over after rent, food, bills, travel expenses and whatever else it is that are considered "necessities". You cannot live as though the money will keep flowing in forever. The fact it, there will be weeks, even months in which you will earn very little, if anything, in the way of income. You have to prepare for that inevitability - yes, it will happen.

I cannot stress this next fact enough: Get out of debt and get rid of your credit cards. If you have a checking account and a debit card with the Visa or Mastercard logo, you have all you need to rent cars, hotels or any other service you require. Living with a "cash and carry" philosophy is the surest way to be free. Okay, some clarity here. When renting a car, be sure that the 250 bucks they'll put a hold on during your rental is not going to affect your ability to make other purchases or overdraft your account. Take this into account when preparing your trip, and the rental of the car.

You may try to argue that credit cards are necessary. You would be wrong. If you want to believe the lie these companies tell about this, fine. Go ahead, go into debt. Live with 20% interest on your purchases, giving up more of your hard earned money than they deserve to have. It doesn't hurt me. But it does hurt you.

I've taken financial planning courses and one of the things that is stressed in the good courses is that debt is evil, period. If you are in debt (mortgage doesn't count), you are in trouble, you are a slave. Your money is working for somebody else, not you. Got that? It's your money. It should serve your need, not theirs. And credit cards are how they get a piece of you, oftentimes for the rest of your life. The average credit card holder has no less than two grand to eight grand in debt per card. That's a horrible way to live. Just commit to paying them off as quickly as possible.

You have to make a solid, irreversable commitment to paying down your debt in a way that works, a way you will not compromise, a way you will not abandon, no matter that you have to go without "stuff" for a few years. Believe me, it's worth it. How do I know? I paid off 33 grand in debt in five years; I committed to paying five hundred bucks a month without fail the whole time. As each card hit zero, I closed the account, regardless of the pitch and offers they made to keep me as a customer. I didn't want to fall into debt again, ever. When I made that last payment, I felt so good. The closer I got to zero debt, the less weight I felt on my shoulders, the less burdened I felt, the better I felt about how I was going to be free, and that my hard earned money was now going to be working for me and doing what I wanted it to do.

You have to make that kind of commitment. And you have to start now, not later. Investigate the Dave Ramsey classes, pay the fee, and do the work. You won't regret it.

So, then, when you get out of debt...

Be smart. Be thrifty. Create a savings account - separate from your checking. And the first rule of self employed people is this: pay yourself first. What that means is that you need to put money away. You need to create a plan, one that includes investments in at least a Roth IRA, which allows you to withdraw money later in life without having to pay taxes. You need an emergency fund equal to at least six months' income. So if you earn two thousand a month, you need at least twelve grand in the bank, in that savings account. This money is for the unexpected, for those times when there is no money coming in, or other expense that is unplanned - but necessary.

If you do not begin to treat your musical or artistic career as a business, as a career, and begin to get smart with your money, your money will go where it goes and you won't have anything to show for it. Look, musicians are not lawyers, we aren't going to be earning 300 bucks an hour. That's the reality for 99.999% of all musicians out there. And artists aren't much better off. Your work will not sell for 50 grand, it will go for less than five grand on average for many years. In both cases, it is hoped that the level of income will improve. And if you are fortunate, and persevere, it will. But not like you may think.

The fact is, as a touring musician, at one point, five years went buy where I earned less than four hundred bucks a week, working six nights a week for about six hours a night. Day seven was a travel day to the next gig. Some gigs were three days long and we had a four day layover. These paid less and I still had to pay for hotel rooms. But living cheap (doubling and tripling up in a room) saved money and helped get me through those days.

For the touring musician, you don't need twelve guitars, seven amplifiers, 42 effects boxes and other stuff that just sits unused. A main guitar and one backup is fine. Four or five effects, or a couple multi-effect boxes is more than enough; two amplifiers (one as backup) will be more than sufficient. Learn to travel light. If it won't fit in the back of a hatchback or small station wagon, it isn't necessary. Don't waste your money on things that don't really matter.

I used to travel with two guitars, a Mesa Quad Preamp, a Mosvalve power amp, a 2-12 cabinet, and two or three effects. It was one of the most versatile rigs I ever owned - more than sufficient for the many styles of music I covered. While I use a different setup these days, I could just as easily stayed with that old rig even today. On the road, I still travel fairly light. I could bring multiple amps and guitars out, but if they're not needed, what is the point? I take what the gig requires, nothing more. But a backup guitar is still essential. And if possible, a small, but versatile backup amp is also important. You never know when disaster will strike.

At the end of the day, it is the way you choose to conduct your affairs that dictates how far you will go. It is how you manage your career that will determine how long it will actually be. You have to make more good choices than bad. And that takes time to learn how to do well. You will make bad decisions. The object is to recognise them as bad, examining why you chose that way, then learning to recognise that kind of situation in the future so you can avoid it and make a better choice instead. The longer it takes you to learn this, the longer it will take for you to see your career turn around.

You may enjoy some early success and think everything will be good from there forward. But the fact is, even with early success, sometimes rough times happen. We don't always get to avoid rough times. Sometimes they happen due to circumstances beyond our control. What we have to do is try to minimize how much the rough times impact our lives, our ability to earn a living, our ability to compose consistently good music, because sometimes no matter what we do, it's going to happen. Look at New Orleans in 2005. Hurricane Katrina wiped out the music in that town for a good long while and a whole lot of musicians suffered for well over a year before things started to turn around. But that climb out of the hole was slow going, and the more well known musicians recovered before the average musicians.

Remember that. This is why you need a plan. This is why you need an emergency fund. This is why you need investments. This is why you need to stop thinking your ability to play music and earn a living will go on forever and that the money will just keep coming in. This is a false security with no basis in reality. You will suffer for it more likely than not. Remember less than one percent of all musicians actually get to the Big Show and the amazing career where planes, fans, money, fame and fortune become even a possibility (with smart investing and spending a necessity to ensure security).

However, there are tens of thousands musicians out there earning a decent living. It is not difficult to become one of them. And if you're smart, you will become one of the more successful musicians because you have a plan, are out of debt, save money, spend frugally and demand that business is business and you will conduct yourself in a professional manner and command fair value for your services, or band. And that rate will rise as your celebrity, your popularity rises. Guaranteed.

Oh, yes, before I forget... find a copy of this book: How I make $100,000 A Year In the Music Business (without a Record Label, Manager or Booking Agent), by David Hooper & Lee Kennedy. Everything you need to know from someone who actually did it. It is out of print, sadly, but can be found if you are patient and resourceful.

So when you go out to your next gig, think about what you can do to help make getting another gig a higher probability. There are a lot of musicians out there who are perfectly happy to take your job if you stumble and fall. You just need to make sure you don't stumble, don't throw away that opportunity. You need to make sure you are clear headed and aware of the circumstances, able to recognise when a good deal is coming your way, and to see the bad deals so you can avoid them.

If you think I don't know what I'm talking about, just look around you. Of all the people I came up with in the music scene in the town I worked early on, I am the only one still making it happen. I am the only one out of a music "community" of about fifty people in our part of the city still playing music as my profession. Pay attention to this. Look around you at the other musicians in your community of players you associate with. In five years, 90 percent of them will be gone. Another nine percent will be faltering or playing weekends with their bands, maybe doing a gig here and there, but with careers in the "real world" that support them.

Then look at your own choices. Are you making the grade? Will you be one of the remaining people actually still pursuing your dream of a career in music - even if it no longer means super stardom? Trust me, it ain't what you think it is. But a life in music is still a better career - at least for me - than doing anything else, and I've done a lot of other things along the way in my efforts to keep my musical dreams alive.

Rare as it is, I am a success story.

Okay, one last thing: this is by no means a manual on how to succeed. It is simply a guide to help you understand some of the pitfalls, some of the potentials you will be facing. My experiences have been my experiences and all experience in the business world is dependent upon your preparedness - or lack therein - to deal with many situations to which I have only alluded briefly, if at all, during the course of this series.

I wish you all the success you seek.