With more revenue streams available to artists than ever before, it is of utmost importance that musicians take a proactive approach to the business side of their careers. While the main focus should remain on music; not structuring the band and its goings-on appropriately, which has been a crucial misstep for so many artists. Here are a few things to think about when your career starts gaining momentum.
As with with any business, it’s important to clearly state your goals and objectives, both long-term and short. Do you want to record an EP or LP? Do you want to buy new gear? Are you hoping to get picked up as a support act on a national tour? Do you want to get signed to a recording contract? Do you want to find a manager? Do you want to find a new rehearsal space? This is the time to discuss what everyone in the band hopes to accomplish.
Determine what is important and what is realistic. You can absolutely include your very long term, borderline “pipe dream” goals here, but keep in mind: the goal of this is to make sure everyone in the band is gaining focus and making sure everyone wants the same things. If your drummer has only been playing for a month, your singer is tone deaf, and your bass player still hasn’t saved enough money to buy an instrument, you probably won’t get picked up by Radiohead as support on their next tour so don’t set yourself up for disappointment and the resulting, feeling as though you’ve failed. Be realistic in what you can do in a given amount of time, but don’t be afraid to aspire to greatness.
Organization & Management
In every business, there has to be organization, and a band is no different. For the sake of example, let’s say you don’t have a manager. Who will be handing the negotiations for the band? Will it be one person consistently? Maybe one person for booking gigs, another for ordering merchandise, and another promotion and press? Be clear in what the expectations are for each band member and be consistent.
Obviously situations may arise and tasks may need to be juggled every now and again; if this occurs, be sure to speak in person or on the telephone. The last thing anyone wants is a gig with no merchandise to sell because you assumed your guitar player got the last minute text you sent about stopping to pick up the new shipment of t-shirts on the way to the venue, or some equally disastrous scenario.
Money has probably destroyed more professional relationships than anything else in the world. In your band, figure out, specifically, how things will work with band finances. Are all band members equal partners? If not, who gets what percentage? Who will handle the band’s accounting? Will you open a band bank account? Who will be able to access it? Who can deposit and withdraw funds? Does the band owe anyone money? Is everyone of aware of this debt and how it was incurred? How will you raise the funds for band expenses (i.e.; recording, touring, etc)? If someone needs a new instrument, is that a band expense, or their personal expense?
Do you need to speak to a professional accountant about taxes for band earnings (live performance earnings, merchandise & music sales, etc)? Talk about these things openly and get it all written out. Make sure everyone has copies. It may not be fun to discuss it, but it’s best to discuss it early on and be done with it. If you aren’t comfortable speaking about these sorts of issues with your bandmates, they probably shouldn’t be your bandmates.
Very closely related to the above topic– draft contracts. For everything. Explicitly state who gets what share of earnings and make it legal. It may feel strange to do this with bandmates and friends but it is a necessity. One visit with a neighborhood attorney to draw up such a document won’t cost much at all and it will save countless arguments, not to mention your band and your relationships. Keep the contracts you sign with managers, PR reps, promoters, booking agents, and everyone in between. You never know when you may have to refer to something at a later date.
For those talented and fortunate enough to be professional musicians, the future can hold countless opportunities in a fascinating industry. Establishing the business and organizational part of your career early on will afford much more time for writing, recording, touring, and interacting with fans. While it may not be the part kids dream of when playing air guitar in their bedrooms, a well-thought-out business plan will provide longevity and allow the opportunity to make music for a much longer period of time.