This Article Originally Published August 1999
by Donald S. Passman
If you have a record and it's beginning to make some noise, you can get fees in the range of $250 to $1500. per night, either from clubs or opening slots. But until you get to that point, your deals look very different. They look like this:
It may surprise you (but then again, it may not) to hear that many clubs now charge for the privilege of playing in them. Thus, rather than give you the money to entertain the throngs, these clubs become fancy places to "showcase" your talents and invite industry executives and relatives, etc., to see you perform.
The way it's done is the club sells you 125 tickets or so, for about $350 to $500. You can then give away the tickets to key people, or, if you're hot enough, sell them at a markup and make a profit. This practice is knows as a Pre-Sell, because the club sells its tickets in advance.
While we're on the subject of pay-to-play, you should know that there's a small trend toward major stars requiring opening acts on their tours to pay for the privilege. This has been the practice in Europe for some time, ever since headliners realized the exposure of being on tour was valuable. Accordingly, acts can pay anywhere from $500 to several thousand dollars per night for an opening spot. This hasn't caught hold in the United states, but I've heard rumblings of it recently.
Splits / Guarantees
Some clubs will pay you no front money but will give you a split of the gate (meaning the money charged for admission). The splits run anywhere from 20% to 60%, depending on your stature and the number of other acts. For example, if there are three acts, you might divide up 60% of the gate. If your band is the biggest draw (meaning you "draw" in the biggest crowds), however, you can ask for a more than equal share. Sometimes you can get up to 100% of the gross after the promoter gets back his/her expenses for the evening (advertising, sound, lights, etc.). This is most common when the promoter is also the club owner and is happy to break even on the door charge just to get thirsty bodies into the seats. As to the accuracy of the club's count, you'll have to rely on the club's reputation or else have Bruno, your 300-pound roadie, stand at the door and count.
If you're really hot locally and have a following, you might get a minimum guarantee of $100 to $250 or so against your share of the gate. Or,you might just take a higher fee, of say $500 to $800 per night (with no share of the gate). I'm basing the numbers in this section on the club scene in Los Angeles because it's the one I'm most familiar with. These are also based on a ticket price of $5 to $7. I'm told that this basic pattern holds true for most major cities.
The minimum cost of putting yourself on the road is the money to rent a van you can use to carry equipment and sleep in, plus three meals a day at McDonald's. And you'd better get along really well with each other, or else expect some violent crimes. The next step up (three or four to a room in cheapie motels, slightly better meals, and perhaps someone to move the equipment) gets into more expense, as you can readily see. But if you watch it carefully, you can get by cheap enough to play the independent circuit and make a few bucks.
If you're headlining larger clubs or doing the opening act on a tour, the minimum cost of putting a four-piece band on the road can run around $10,000 per week, broken down roughly as $1,000 for crew, $2,000 for food and hotels, $2,500 for equipment and personnel costs, and $4,000 for insurance, commissions to managers and agents, equipment repairs, etc. With travel and set-up, you can't really do more than five shows a week and you don't need to be a math genius to see that you're going to lose money doing this. Five night at even $1,500 per night is only $7,500, which is $2,500 per week less than it costs you to be there! And the longer you stay out, the more you're going to lose.
Donald Passman is a Los Angeles-based music attorney with the firm of Gang, Tyre, Ramer & Brown. Specializing in music business law for over 20 years, his clients include major publishers, record companies, film companies, managers, producers, songwriters, and artists such as REM, Janet Jackson, Quincy Jones, Tina Turner and Green Day. On a regular basis, we will be excerpting from Mr. Passman's best-selling book, "All You Need To Know About The Music Business."
From "All You Need To Know About The Music Business" by Donald S. Passman. ©1991, 1994, 1997 by Donald S. Passman. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc.