How does my cover band start making money?
February 12, 2009 12:26 AM   Subscribe

How does my cover band start making money?

I'm in a cover band that has existed for years w/out even thinking of making money. We've only done it for fun, and although we've never seriously promoted our gigs, we always get a very enthusiastic crowd reaction at our shows. We are always asked to come back to every venue we play and the bookers love us, so I know we have serious commercial potential. The trouble is that none of us know how to get started making money. Do we need a manager? A promotion agency? Any ideas?
posted by Waldo Jeffers to Media & Arts (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe the bookers love you because you don't charge them enough to make money for yourselves. Other than that, what is your sense of "commercial potential?" In my experience, cover bands are pretty much a "live only" proposition.
posted by rhizome at 1:10 AM on February 12, 2009

Response by poster: Nope. Bands don't charge bookers. And I'm only talking about the commercial potential of live gigs.
posted by Waldo Jeffers at 1:13 AM on February 12, 2009

Anyone you bring into the mix is going to take a cut. Avoid that if possible.

One of you, whoever is the most trustworthy and money smart should be the "money guy" and all of you should be shaking down the managers, owners, or whoever at the venues you play.

Do they charge a cover? You should get a cut. Do they sell more drinks when you're up? Take your cut.

What you've done is shown venue owners that you can pull in a crowd. That's money in the bank. Time to cash in.
posted by wfrgms at 1:20 AM on February 12, 2009

well, step one is making a name for yourself in a local area... i lead my college's #1 band back in the day... only 2 performances got our name buzzing around campus. you seemed to have already done that.

Step two is negotiating with the places you currently play... see if you can play longer sets, or on not so busy days to bring in business. If they can't afford to pay you out right, see if tyhey can give you a percentage of, or better yet, all of the cover fees.

Step 3 is to record your music. Most local music studios charge excellent fees for recording... shop around, as many times the quality will not be 100% pro quality. average fees for a small studio is 30 - 100 bucks an hour.

Step 4 (i imagine you did this already) is get your fanbase pumped up... get your myspace presense going. use some of your proceeds for giveaways... first 10 people in the door get a T-Shirt.

Step 5 (can be done in conjunction with step 4) get your band website up and running. Your site can serve as your EPK (Electronic press kit). If your following is big enough, you may be able to play in larger venues, or as an opening act for a band in a summer concert series. Or you can negotiate with local parks and see if you can do a concert int he park... i'm not sure what the rules are since i don't know what state youre in, but they get a cut of the profits.

hopefully from there, someone cool notices your group and that may lead to bigger things.

finally, none of this happens overnight. and there is a very good chance even after your best efforts, this all still remains a fun hobby. but the adventure can be very fun! good luck!
posted by FireStyle at 1:26 AM on February 12, 2009

So by "bookers" do you mean people on your side who are getting you gigs? At any rate, you shouldn't be playing for free.
posted by rhizome at 1:41 AM on February 12, 2009

If you're sticking with the "cover band" track, then two words: Wedding receptions.

If you've got a sound that can get people hoppin', then you just need to get going on the wedding circuit. The great thing about doing weddings is that people will be getting married until the world ends, and they'll always want do dance at their receptions. Your only competition is DJs, but there's nothing you can do about that.

Successful wedding bands generally pull in gigs from both booking agencies and their own networking. Every metro scene is different, but see if you can track down the booking agents that get gigs for their clients, and do your best working the network on the live scene on your own (and on Craigslist and all of that).

Starting out in the pro (meaning, people are paying for you now) scene, your band members should expect to net somewhere in the ballpark of $100 per person off each 3-4 hour gig, and you (or whoever lands the gig) as the band manager should net a bit more - $150-$200. That should, of course, grow over time.
posted by stewiethegreat at 1:56 AM on February 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

Having once played in such a band - another vote for weddings. Have a look around for wedding shows in your area and try to attend one. It should give you some good ideas on how to promote yourself and on who your local competition is. Your existing fans will be a great source of potential leads and there is sure to be a friend of a friend who would be delighted for you to play at their upcoming reception so that you can get some experience. Wedding bands are often mocked by other musicians for having to play slushy music that they might not personally like. However the necessity to master a large repertoire, deal with wildly varying crowds and venues and take substantial responsibility for the success of people's expensive parties are great ways to develop. Plus you will make more money.
posted by rongorongo at 2:52 AM on February 12, 2009

I'd always thought that "commercial potential" and "cover band" were mutually excusive concepts.

but anyway: how do cover bands make money?

A) they play loads of crappy gigs in pubs, bars, weddings, coporate events, crappy parties, any where they can get a gig.

B) they play loads of crappy gigs in pubs, bars, weddings, coporate events, crappy parties, any where they can get a gig.

I think thats about it. - you might want to advertise in a local paper, or say hand out flyers at bridal wear shops.
posted by mary8nne at 3:24 AM on February 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

FWIW, I bought this cover album back in the day.
posted by losvedir at 3:35 AM on February 12, 2009

FireStyle has some pretty good advice for bands playing original music. Promotions, online and otherwise, are definitely a good idea, but a cover band playing rock, pop, or country standards will never play large venues or open for touring acts. mary8nne is right, cover bands typically play party bars and private parties (read: gigs that actually pay money).

Also, if you're wanting to make a living with your music, consider joining the local musician's union. Some chapters of the AFM are great and will help promote your group - others, not so much.

It's much more possible to eek out a living playing popular music for people who like to buy alcohol than trying to become a rock star.

A good place to start - as alluded to above - would be asking the talent buyers for at least $100 per player. Also, consider just who those "bookers" are working for. Some venues pay their bookers (aka talent buyers, promoters, booking agent) a flat rate per night as a budget for the musicians. Whatever is left over, the agent keeps. Under that set-up, an agent that finds a good band willing to play for free would be making out great.

You say, "Bands don't charge bookers." That's not always true. In some deals a band will get a gurantee from a bookiing agent for a flat fee and then its up to the agent (more aptly, a promoter) to extract money from the venue. Whatever the promoter clears from the gurantee the promoter gets to keep. Keep in mind that the "gurantee" is only as good as the promoter's word and pocketbook.

Also, people pay STUPID money for weddings. I almost feel bad taking their money. Almost.
posted by GPF at 4:45 AM on February 12, 2009

Two other thoughts:

1. If you're especially good at covering songs associated with a particular group, you could also establish an alternative identity for your group as a tribute band. You could test these waters (and advertise the other shows) with a short set/medley and see how your audiences reacted.

2. If you have an enormous repertoire (or are good with fake books), could you possibly put together a proposal to a friendly venue that entailed your band becoming a live version of karaoke? When needed your singer(s) could also help out the participants, which would help them sing on key and give them a better experience.
posted by carmicha at 6:51 AM on February 12, 2009

Best answer: I'm in a cover band that's been working around central NJ for about 6 years now. Weddings are a pain to play, but can be lucrative. We do better with corporate gigs. We've played several for Trader Joes, for example.

We get most of our gigs ourselves (clubs and so forth), but the real high-end stuff comes from an agency we've dealt with for several years. When we started out we'd play anything we could get while we built a following. All of us aggressively promoted the band's shows, which we still do; we each have a mailing list that we keep up to date. We also have a good web site that I, being a web designer by profesion, can keep up-to-date with song lists, gig notices, photos, MP3s, and videos. We invested several hundred dollars on a professionally recorded demo, and several more hundred to have a good formal photographic portrait taken for our press kit.

We started out with six members: two guitars, keyboards, drums, bass, lead male vocalist. The keyboardist was female and sang pretty well, which gave us the ability to work in a lot of female leads into the mix and allowed us to cover Fleetwood Mac, Bonnie Raitt, and so on. Another big plus for us was that we all sang, which gave us major flexibility in terms of lead and backgrounds. We work very hard on our vocals, and we believe that this sets us off from many bands who may have one or two singers at best.

We've recently changed personnel back to six pieces, having replaced the female keyboardist / vocalist with a male keyboardist who sings and a new female vocalist who has worked in the area for many years and has a huge following. We spend a fair bit of time choosing material that is (we hope) different and appealing, like Glad by Traffic -- which very few bands do, and most audiences really enjoy hearing. Plus it's got a great groove.

We do not expect to make a living doing this, but each year we do a bit better, financially. So: good website, strong email list, broad vocal mix, working part-time with a good agent. This is what has worked for us. Plus the obvious about rehearsing regularly and being good communiucators amongst ourselves: not letting problems and issues fester, and being willing and able to accept constructive criticism.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 7:41 AM on February 12, 2009

(UK based answer)

Round our way... wedding bands charge between £1K-2K a GIG - easily. And thats for about an hour and a half to 2 hours. I've seen 4k-5K.

My old covers band turned regular gigs into residencies with a chain of pubs. They pull about £1200 a week between them. The play the studenty/aussie pubs in london mainly. No manager, no one else involved, just the 3 of them. They tour the UK occasionally within the chain, but are expected to fork out for their own expenses.

Oh, and GET A CONTRACT. Seriously.
posted by daveyt at 7:59 AM on February 12, 2009

San Francisco Bay Area -- the best bands charge $4000 for a wedding, I have heard, so start below there and work your way up.
posted by salvia at 8:06 AM on February 12, 2009

When you guys play a show, do you share a bill with other bands or do you play 3-4 sets yourself each night? If you're doing the first, you're on the originals band circuit and you really shouldn't expect to make money. If you're doing the second you should NOT be playing those gigs for free.

If it was my band I would first make sure I had 3-4 sets ready in the style of music I was covering, then have a video done at one of our shows. That will show what you guys can do live, and how the crowd reacts. Then send that around to the local bars that have cover bands, ask for a guarantee of maybe $100 per person, and get a contract.
posted by InfidelZombie at 9:32 AM on February 12, 2009

You might want to develop a specific information package for wedding planners, hotel meetings staff and the people in charge of bookings at your local conference/convention center too.
posted by carmicha at 10:13 AM on February 12, 2009

« Older Water Polo Question   |   Help!! Teach Me How To Make NY Style Chinese Food! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.