And it's likely that if you are...it may not be good for you. Let me explain.
I'm back here on aaronlunsford.com ready to trigger you into tears over the fact that your band is actually worthless. Before you start accusing me of being some kind of old timer, Millennials are bad, man yells at cloud asshole, back in my day we walked uphill in the snow both ways grumpy pants - I would advise that you listen with an open heart.
It is very, very, very, very, very likely that your band (or insert whatever creative endeavor you may pursue) is worth little to no money in true market terms. However - and this is all anecdotal and totally lacking real data - it seems that more than ever in my lifetime of creative pursuit, artists feel that they are OWED something for their art simply because they exist.
Please hold your comments about "well I'm not like that." I'm sure you're not. No, no, no...this post can't possibly be about you. But every time I see a tweet, facebook post, or read a comment about how artists should be paid for their work, I think...bullshit.
Maybe I'm lucky. Maybe it's my privilege. I've never once, ever in my life felt like I should be getting paid when I wasn't. And on the flip side, when I figure out my value, I do everything I can to make sure I don't take a penny less than what I'm worth. But I'm seeing a trend of unknown artists believing they are entitled to $ simply because they exist. Why is this?
I have my theories. Maybe it is a problem with our generation. Maybe our parents did make us feel too special and then when we chase a dream that quite frankly is unattainable for 99% of the population (getting paid to create art) and we find out that nobody wants to give us money, we sit baffled and post about how the "system" is against us and try and convince our 187 twitter followers to #VOTEBERNIE because if only Bernie were president, society would discover our true value as artists.
This is...very bad thinking. And it's hurting you. It's decreasing your actual value and slowing you down towards arriving at a place where you truly are worth the money you so desperately want to be paid. I have a real world example of this.
Now I just recently got back from a music festival where I was selling BBQ. I won't name the fest, but if you know much about what I've been up to lately, you will know the fest. I really enjoy this particular fest and see a lot of potential. I've been the past three years for some amount of time working in some capacity, and it's a damn good time. But it could be better. And you know who is stopping it from being better? Your small little band that isn't worth the price of a ticket.
This festival is adamant that everyone should get paid something. EVERYONE. SOMETHING. It's a nice thought. Because bands need gas money. They need to eat. We have to take care of them. They are ARTISTS DAMMIT AND THEY ARE DOING THIS FOR US. Well, if this festival really wants to help small artists trying to break through, they will STOP paying them to play. Immediately.
Using the general knowledge that I have about the music industry and what bands typically get paid to play, I would venture to say that at LEAST five thousand dollars is spent paying very small bands to play this fest. Furthermore, I would guess that if you added up all the people that are playing in these bands, that number would be bigger than the theoretical tickets these bands sold. In other words, if you've got 400 band members I would be surprised 400 people bought tickets to see those bands...combined. Why? Because most of these bands don't have actual fans.
So where should that $5K going to the small bands be allocated? One, maybe two bands that are worth the money. Yes you heard me right. Take all the money being given to the poor and give it to ONE GOOD BAND.
$5K goes a long way towards getting a good and relevant - key word relevant - headliner to play a small festival like the one I am talking about. If you are a savy talent buyer, you will find two or three bands that are a bit newer on the scene and just breaking through, but haven't quite reach headlining status and would play for $1500 - $2500. Just to be transparent, a band like As Cities Burn wouldn't even consider playing a festival like this for less than $4000. And I am confident that As Cities Burn sells more tickets to this festival than all the small bands combined. Actually, it's a mathematical certainty.
But what about the small bands you say? How are they going to get by. Well, getting by is a relative term. The first 2 years of As Cities Burn really only saw me surviving. There was no money going in my pocket. And it was fucking awesome. Because we got to play fests - many bigger than the one I am referencing - for free.
You show me an indie band who sells $2500 in merch and I'll show you a band that doesn't give a shit that they didn't get "paid to play". Book as many headliners as you can afford and all the small bands will fall in line. A small band should be way more concerned about playing for a full tent/room than whether or not they are getting $300 to cover gas, food and hotel room. LMFAO. A hotel room. If you are buying hotel rooms and you are making less than $1000 per night to play then your band deserves to go out of business you fucking dolts.
Full tent. Put on a bad ass how. Sell t-shirts. That's the formula.
Cornerstone 2005 was about one week after As Cities Burn's debut record came out on Tooth and Nail/Solid State. We sold over 4,000 copies of that record and had been touring for two years straight. We got paid $300 to play...
...in front of 2000 people. Then we sold $10K in merch. How many fucks do you think I gave about how underpaid we were for that show?
Your band isn't worth $300. It's probably not worth $100. And every time a festival pays you more than you are worth, know that they are hurting your band. They are making sure that you play in front of less people. They are making sure that you sell less t-shirts. They are making sure that you make virtually no progress on gaining fans at their fest.
You don't deserve anything. You probably haven't even quit your day job yet. You don't make it to the NBA by straddling chasing a dream and "living responsibly". Put it all on the back burner and play for nothing. Not getting paid is the best thing that will ever happen to you and your pursuit of art as a profession.