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Live bands are paid to perform music professionally before audiences in bars, nightclubs, concerts, private parties, corporate events, and other public venues. Peripheral revenue can be generated through the sale of recordings and merchandise. In addition to the group’s musicians, ownership in the business can include its manager and anyone else with a financial stake.
Who is this business right for?
Ownership of a live band usually includes the actual musicians. Owners generally have a passion and instinct for music, a great deal of energy and motivation, and a talent for crafting a group style and sound that appeals to audiences. In addition to their performance skills, live band owners must be able to sell their services to booking managers at venues and to the audiences who watch them perform.
What happens during a typical day at a live band?
Band success involves a great deal of energy, creativity and persistence. Here are some of the multiple activities involved.
- Scheduling performances. Some bands have managers or talent agencies to take on this critical responsibility, but many groups starting out must interact themselves with venue and booking managers or individuals who want to hire a band for private or corporate events. Often, this duty will and should fall on the band member with the most confidence, sales ability or outgoing manner.
- Composing and practicing. This can involve finding (and often paying for) space where the band members and their gear can spread out and they can perform without disrupting neighbors. The musicians must regularly update their sound with new material, whether by covering other artists or writing and learning original compositions.
- Auditioning talent. Band members frequently leave groups for other bands or to make other use of their time. That means there’s a frequent need to find and groom new talent.
- Upgrading instruments and gear. As your business grows you’ll need to make additional investments in musical instruments, soundboards, lighting, sound effects and other gear.
- Marketing and media. You must constantly maintain your social media presence, upgrade your visual look, buy and design group-associated merchandise and strategize new ways to attract fans and bookings.
- Networking. This means going where your audience is likely to be—at shows and other performances. Here you’ll scope out your competition and potential new members, find out about new sounds and stylings and meeting and greeting managers, booking agents, venue owners, music label representatives and others who can influence your success.
What is the target market?
The immediate clients of a live band are the payers for the services. This includes managers, owners and booking agents at bars, concert halls, outdoor events and other public and commercial spaces. But, depending on your business plan, it can also include those who hire talent for weddings, corporate events, birthday and anniversary parties, bar and bat mitzvahs and other celebrations.
Your ultimate customers, however, are the fans who will watch and hear you perform. If your band can generate excitement from this crowd, and build it in numbers, that will go far toward encouraging hirers to continue booking your group—at perhaps higher fees.
How does a live band make money?
Bands most often generate revenue by charging management of the event location. Larger and more successful bands might, in addition, have their tours partially or fully underwritten by music labels (although this is less prevalent today) or by corporate sponsors/advertisers.
An accompanying or alternative source of income is directly through those who watch their performances, such as through cash tips. This is most likely in the case of street performers.
Another revenue stream can be through the sale of merchandise (often called “merch” in the trade) associated with the band. This can include recorded music, t-shirts, caps, posters, buttons and other paraphernalia that can be sold at the performance venue before, after or during the show, or online at such ecommerce sites as iTunes or Amazon.
What is the growth potential for a live band?
Live bands range from groups that stay together for an underpaid local performance to two to national tours. According to this article by the Los Angeles Times, the highest grossing band tours of 2016 included Bruce Springsteen ($268.3 million), Beyonce ($256.4 million), Coldplay ($241 million), Guns N’ Roses ($188.4) and Adele ($167.7 million).
Keep in mind that large tours involve the payment of astronomical outlays for staff, travel, stage shows, costuming, dancers and side performers, advertising, management and other expenses, so profits are much smaller.
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful live band?
Talent is critical, but that’s subjective. If your sound or means of expression can find its own audience—one that will generate positive word of mouth—this can boost bookings and increase performance fees. Your band’s success is ultimately driven by your ability to book as many profitable performances as possible while spending as little as possible on travel, meals, lodging and other out-of-pocket expenses in support of your bookings or tours.
What are the costs involved in opening a live band?
At a minimum level of involvement, your costs can be very low. It can be just you and your acoustic guitar. At a mid-level, you might have to spend a few thousand dollars for equipment if you don’t already have it. Also, depending on the number of performers and the amount of gear involved, you might have to rent or buy a van or other vehicle to transport. A used van can be bought for as little as $7,000 and rented as needed for $100 or so.
Managers and agents usually take a percentage of your billings, so their participation detracts from your performance fees but doesn’t add out-of-pocket costs.
What are the steps to start a live band?
Once you're ready to start your live band, follow these steps to ensure that your business is legally compliant and avoid wasting time and money as your business grows:
- Plan your business. A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. A few important topics to consider are your initial costs, your target market, and how long it will take you to break even.
- Form a legal entity. Establishing a legal business entity prevents you from being personally liable if your live band is sued.
- Register for taxes. You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
- Open a business bank account. A dedicated checking account for your live band keeps your finances organized and makes your business appear more professional to your customers.
- Set up business accounting. Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.
- Obtain necessary permits and licenses. Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.
- Get business insurance. Insurance is highly recommended for all business owners. If you hire employees, workers compensation insurance may be a legal requirement in your state.
- Define your brand. Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.
- Establish a web presence. A business website allows customers to learn more about your company and the products or services you offer. You can also use social media to attract new clients or customers.
Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.
Where can I find a business mentor?
One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.
Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.
What are some insider tips for jump starting a live band?
Turn into an avid salesperson, or have at least one playing or non-playing member of your group with the confidence and perseverance necessary to contact venue managers, promote your band and book performances. This skill can seem counterintuitive to musicians, who often see themselves as artists or creative types rather than marketers, but it’s critical. You probably won’t start out with a booking agent in your entourage, so most of this work—at least in the early days—must be self-derived.
You’ll need professional-quality audio recordings, and possibly videography if your physical presence is a strong selling point. Your portfolio can be posted to such free sites as YouTube and SoundCloud to promote your group to bookers and fans alike.
One final tip…while it can be both easy and comforting to continue returning to the same venue on a regularly booked schedule, you’re better off fanning out and finding new locations. That’s because fans can grow tired of you if they keep seeing you at the same space, so try to develop new fan relationships even if it’s difficult.
How to promote & market a live band
It’s critical that you know and understand your audience—those who can book or influence the booking of your performances and the fans of your music. Where do they hang out? Your initial marketing strategies might be as modest as posting flyers at coffee houses, bars or on telephone poles in neighborhoods where you’re likely to find prospective fans.
Have a band page on Facebook, post performance photos on Instagram and audio recordings on SoundCloud and have a dynamic presence on other social media where the band will come to the attention of fans and decision makers. Also, be on the lookout for and make yourself available for interviews on Internet, satellite and terrestrial radio stations and podcasts and for blogs, magazines, newspapers and other media where you can come to the attention of your audiences.
Recommended: Get started with local advertising for your business with a $300 credit from Yelp.
How to keep customers coming back
Your sound and image should be everywhere. Get a graphic designer to create your band’s logo and associated art and use it to design t-shirts and other apparel. Record and distribute your music online or at your events. This is easier and less expensive than it’s ever been. Most musicians know at least one individual has audio engineering capabilities and can capture your sound in a home office, on locations or in a rented performance space. You can either sell this music or give it away free to build a fan base.
How and when to build a team
Your team will most likely start with a pretty sparse staff—band members and volunteer help, including mates, friends and family to drive, sell merchandise and help transport and set up gear.
On the talent side, you might have to constantly add musicians to craft an improving sound or replace those who quit your band. You might also need to recruit players as side performers while recording or performing live.
At some point, you might have the financial ability (and the need) to add to your management team. A manager can better organize your group and maintain responsibility for travel arrangements and expenses and other day-to-day issues. An agentt will help book and schedule performances. The largest and most successful bands also have working relationships with lawyers, accounting firms and licensers. And all employ roadies and other help to transport the band and gear to performances, set up and break down shows, run lights and audio and perform other duties before, during and after shows.
These additional staffers will only be added as revenue and job demands increase. Build your team slowly, splitting as many duties as possible between band members and other insiders for as long as possible.
State & Local Business Licensing Requirements
Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to legally charge money as a live band. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.
Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, read our article, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.
In addition, certain local licensing or regulatory requirements may apply. For more information about local licenses and permits:
- Check with your town, city or county clerk’s office
- Get assistance from one of the local associations listed in US Small Business Associations directory of local business resources.
Maintain Personal Asset Protection
Don’t think that just forming an LLC, or any other type of business, will save your personal assets in case of a lawsuit or other matter by itself.
When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your LLC is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.
Two of the simplest steps that will protect your business, and yourself, are to:
Open a business bank account
- This separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
- It also makes accounting and tax filing easier.
Get a business credit card
- This helps you separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
- It also builds your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money and investment later on.
In order to play music in a business setting, permission must be acquired from the composer or license holder. Typically, it is possible to obtain a “blanket” license allowing a businesses to play music owned by a large catalog of artists and recording studios. Such licenses can be obtained from Performance Rights Organizations, such as ASCAP or BMI.
Services Contract (e.g. MSA)
Bands should require clients to sign a services agreement before starting a new project. This agreement should clarify client expectations and minimize risk of legal disputes by setting out payment terms and conditions, and service level expectations. Here is an example of one such services agreement.
How much can you charge customers?
Performance fees are based on the band’s popularity, which translates, for your clients, into the ability to draw customers into the establishment who’ll either pay for the performance and/or consume alcohol and food or otherwise spend while watching and listening. Therefore, your pay can range from tips only to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
You must also know what your competition is charging. Gigmasters is a valuable tool in this regard. Although the website’s purpose it to help venues book talent, the breakdown of fees charged by talent and in various cities across America, by genre/format, can serve as a useful guide. For instance, it’s easy to see that the Gatsby Gang Jazz Band in Phoenix charges a range of $1,000 to $4,500 per performance. And that the Stringtown Trio, an acoustic pop band in the Fort Wayne, Indiana area, bills in the $650 to $3,600 range.
As for your merchandise, price it according to competitive prices found at other performances or online. Or simply give your merch away to enhance visibility and reward fans.
What are the ongoing expenses for a live band?
Startup bands might have virtually no out-of-pocket expenses except gas if they already have their own equipment and band members book shows and drive themselves to nearby gigs. But keep in mind that you’ll be paid a gross rather than net amount for your performance fee. That means that you’ll be responsible for paying your own taxes and other withholdings, so having the services of an accountant or tax preparer is a worthwhile investment.
As your band grows, your financial commitment will too. You’ll take on additional expenses for travel, meals, lighting, sound, roadies to help you set up and break down your gear, and such additional employee expenses as taxes, healthcare and other benefits.
Digital Music News lists the expenses and revenue generated by the nationally known indie band Pamplamoose. It shows that a 28-day tour generated about $136,000 in ticket, merch and associated revenue, but ran up about $147,000 in expenses. And yet it was considered a financially successful tour because it triggered additional iTune sales. Study the article for an excellent breakdown in touring expenses on a national level.
How much profit can a live band make?
Your talent, time, energy and visibility are your only limitations. As you learned earlier, the top bands in the world can launch tours that make hundreds of millions of dollars. For others, the band business can be a lucrative side job on nights and weekends.
How can you make your business more profitable?
Talented band members can generate additional income in the following ways:
- Record your music and sell it, along with other band-related merch, at venues or online, through music services such as iTunes.
- Initiate relationships with music labels, producers and other talent to hire on as session musicians on the recordings of other artists.
- Compose, produce and/or play on soundtracks ]for commercials, film and television shows, corporate audio/visual presentations, sound for events and other media.