I cannot think of very many people in my life who have not complained about the money they earn.  Sure, I know some very wealthy people, and many who earn $90,000+ a year who seemingly have no complaints about cash flow, but for the rest of us – yeah, no.

Musicians are independent contractors – or, in other words, independent sole proprietorship based businesses.   They are not wage earners, and are therefore not subject to minimum wage laws.  As wage earners we very often do not think of the cost of running a business.  We really are only concerned about how much is in our paycheck, grousing if the “boss” makes a-whole-lot-more than we do, especially in very large companies where the disparity between the bottom and top are as great as we know it can be.

VERY VERY VERY few musicians have ever made a full time living at it.  My father and my maternal grandfather were both “professional” musicians, going back to the 1920’s trad-jazz era.  My father owned a jazz club in the 60s.  Neither of them ever made a full time living out of playing music.

There is really only room at the top for a very few – a very lucky few, because luck has a lot to do with it. Local musicians have also almost never made any money from recordings.  Most are fortunate to be able to recoup the cost of making the record – and instead rely on personal appearances to pay for the recordings and other necessary tools; profitability be damned.

We all like to go see our favorite band from high school and college.  Many of us like to see bands from other states and countries.  However, many people over the age of about 32 rarely go out to see a live local band unless they are personally connected somehow.

And yet in my personal experience most of the musicians playing those small rooms are over 35 .. and often over 40 years old. Many are still bemoaning the loss of the fans they remember seeing when they were 21-34 years old, who are now married with kids and full time jobs. – the very people who rarely go out to see live music, preferring a nice dinner out once a month and maybe a movie.  The 1.5 shows they see every year are those national and international acts they grew up with.

Wanna talk money?  That $5 we bitch about to see that local band in a local restaurant/bar = $500 if 100 people show up.  In the 15 yrs I’ve done sound and booked local rooms in this region that is a very BIG “IF.”  Not every band can draw 100 people – in fact, very few can, regardless of the room they play.

I cannot count the innumerable times I’ve stood and watched people walk away at a $5 cover charge.

Bar sales?  Assume $5.50 a beer.  Assume the average person in the room buys 2.25 beers (enough to earn you a DUI). That’s $12.37.  Multiple that by the BIG IF 100 people … = $1237.00 in bar sales.  If the band plays for 15% that’s $185.00  Let’s say there is no cover; will that change the scenario?  Not in my experience.  That average person in the room will still only drink 2.25 beers x $5.50.

The solution to earning more is to either get more people in the door, or increase the price of entry.  After all, movie theaters now get $10 – why can’t we?  Aren’t we worth it?



Musicians – are you an Independent Contractor or an Employee?

FYI to musicians (from Chris Daniels). Please pass this long…

“In case any of you have not been included in the emails going around, there is a problem and concern that musicians in Colorado are facing concerning the Department of Labor and how they classify band members, bandleaders, and event companies. There are no villains here, just a very important discussion that effects the livelihood of every working musician and every bandleader and every event company that hires artists to play their gigs. In simple terms, the question is: are you an independent contractor, free to work for whom ever you want, or are you an employee? The DOL’s policy, that goes back to the 1990s, is to classify any musician who makes more than 50% of their income from one band (or event company) as an employee of that company.

This is a long discussion but in short, if you are a band and you make all your money from performing with that specific band ..DOL wants to require you (and your company) to do withholding, unemployment, and matching payments…and many musicians do not see themselves that way … as employees … but as independent contractors. The difference between the two in dollars and cents, accounts fees, and money withheld is huge for the musician, the event company, the bandleader etc. So this is the issue. If you know nothing about it, I encourage you to read the ‘common law rules’ about who is and who is not an independent contractor. The current policy of the DOL is causing many bandleaders and event companies to consider ending their business because they simply cannot afford to follow DOL’s policy that is basically … if you make more than 50% of your living from one organization you are employee/employer not independent contractors. The results of not following that can be a $25,000 fine for each noncompliance.

For more information, check with Barb at the Colorado Music Business Association, there are some very important hearings coming up on this issue.”

Chris Daniels
Assistant Professor
University of Colorado, Denver