Music Blogs

How do bands split their income?

  • By Trev@circlestudios
  • 13 September 2013

Over the last few weeks, Trev from Circle Recording Studios in Birmingham, has been offering his thoughts in terms of setting the foundations which (if you can get them right) will make it easier for your band to become successful.  This week he delves further into the detail.

Over the coming weeks my plan is ramble about a mind-blowing array of music industry related topics ranging from how you can go about getting gigs (and what gigs to get) to the best way of recording distorted guitars from hell.  You might get a bit of gossip about who I'm working with or my thoughts on new music I might come across one week, or suggestions about how you can make money from your music another. But, hopefully, every one of them will give you at least one little nugget of information to get you further up the curve in terms of your own understanding.

So you've been reading the blog, you understand your brand, you've been working on your songs, where do you take it from here?  Well, and I'm sure I've said this before, but I'm still a bit old school here. So in my view, the next stage is that you practice.  Until your fingers bleed. Because when it comes right down to it,  mastery of your craft should be a given.  As I've said before, very few record labels nowadays are going to put a stack of development money into you. This means that, if just one member isn't cutting it, they will either cut them, or they will instead focus on a band that does have decent musicians. So whether we are talking on a personal level or as a group, you want to be the best you can be.  And, amazingly, practicing can have some key fringe benefits too.  The better practised you are, the more fun you'll have on stage. And the more fun you have, the greater the degree of emotional engagement from the crowd. And the more they buy into you... Anyway, to cut a long story short, you are back on that upward spiral.

So you've got the band together, you've written some music, you've practiced like mutha-chukkas, you know your brand and how you are gonna take it forward.   You know where at least some of the manholes are, so you aren't going to fall down them.  Time to unleash yourself on the world then is it? Hold on for a second...

One of the first things I ask an unsigned band before I hit the record button for the first time is whether they have a band agreement.  Very few say they do.  But if you think about it for a second, it may be one of the most important things you ever even think about doing.  And, crucially, the time to think about it is not when you get signed to your first deal, not when you achieve your first number one and definitely not when you split up, because that's when the pressure is on and everyone is fighting their corner for a little piece of the pie.  And of course there are only three certainties in this world: death, taxes and the fact that your band will split up at some point (ask Rage Against the Machine, Oasis, The Smashing Pumpkins, The Police, Libertines or even the Everly Brothers how that goes down).

What bands often fail to realise in the early days, and which often causes friction down the line, is that their income is unlikely to be divided equally.  Because while income streams that come from merchandise, gigs and record sales may be divided equally absent any agreement to the contrary, income from radio play and tv/advert/movie syncs and other royalties which arise from copyrighted works will all go to the writer UNLESS THERE IS AN AGREEMENT TO THE CONTRARY.

Now we'll talk about all of those income streams, and how you can actually get money from them another day. But for today we'll focus on what should be in your band agreement.  The bad news is, there's no one size fits all.  Every band out there will have a different perception about what everyone brings to the party.  Is the bass player entitled to more because he owns the PA? Or the lead singer that paid for the record to be recorded? Or even the management company that has been paying for your tour? Good news is though, while its useful (for many reasons) to involve a music industry lawyer if you can afford one (as a repeat player he/she will have access to record labels/producers/booking agents/festival promoters/all sorts of useful contacts) but if you are skint this is something you can easily do yourself.  And believe you me, it's easier to do it now when there is no money, than in the middle of a bunfight after you breakup (ask Rage Against the Machine, Oasis, The Smashing Pumpkins, The Police, Libertines or even the Everly Brothers how that goes down)!

So what should this agreement contain?

Well, the UK Copyright Service says your band agreement should attempt to answer the questions below.  And if it's good enough for them, I've got nothing to add:

Who owns the songs - are they written by one person, a few principal writers, or as a group effort? Do you want to differentiate between each person’s contribution, or do you see the band as equal partners?
If a member of the band leaves, do they forfeit all rights to the songs, or would they retain a claim to the work?

What share of royalties or other income, (such as merchandising or sponsorship), which each member receive?
How will the income be divided if a member of the band leaves?
How will any income be divided if the band splits up?
Who would be responsible for ensuring everyone gets their fair share?

The band name
Who has the right to use the name, is it something that a single member owns, or belongs to the band, no matter who comes and goes?
Who can use the name if the band splits up?

So the moral of today's story? Deal with these issues now while it's an easy discussion or deal with them later when you are in the middle of a bunfight.  Your call.

The author of Machiavelli's Guide, Trev, is a record producer and Chief Engineer at one of the UK's top studios, Circle Recording Studios in Birmingham.  Check it out at www.circlestudios.co.uk. He has worked with clients from major and independent record labels across a range of genres from metal to hip hop.  This week he has been working on a Xmas record for the Army Benevolent Fund.  Go follow @circlestudios on twitter if you like the kind of inane rambling you get to read here. Alternatively, look up Circle Recording Studios Birmingham on Facebook.