How Do Bands Divide Their Earnings?

How Do Bands Divide Their Earnings?

This question is for those who have played professionally or semi-professionally. I have only worked for any length of time in a duo, where we split our earnings 50/50. I’ve sometimes played in larger formations, but these were one-off arrangements. I’m wondering about the division of earning in bands which regularly play for payment, where there may be a lead singer or lead instrumentalists playing fiddle or pipes (or whatever), and some simply playing backing guitar or bodhran (and probably others in between). It could be argued that the former deserve a greater reward as they are bringing greater skills and contributing more essential sounds, but I have no idea whether that is reflected in payment. So I’d be interested to hear about your experience and practice. Do bands tend to be egalitarian, with equal shares of earnings, or are there cases where some singers or musicians earn more than other band members?

Re: How Do Bands Divide Their Earnings?

We have usually split it pro-rata, including the sound man if we have had one. Some members have more star quality but we are all playing so all get the same share. If you wish for more of a share you have to set up your own band and set the rules.

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Re: How Do Bands Divide Their Earnings?

After decades of playing I’ve found that this is not as simple a question as one might think. The short answer is that each member adds to the mix in equal measure. If they don’t why are they there in the first place? It’s not a "pay by the note" kind of thing. Thus it’s an even split, at least after transportation, sound guy issues are dealt with (and agent fees etc. if you’re big enough to have them).

A big name band, and I’ve not found many in the trad genre that really qualify here, might travel with a small group of key players and hire local talent (union or academia) as needed for the job. They are generally considered an expense and get paid the going rate. Occasionally a local band will get hired for a really big date and hire talent the same way. Personally, as a bassist, I’ve had it both ways, as part of the band and as the "hired help". Another complication might be that the "band" hires or plays behind some big name and each member is being paid an agreed upon, let’s call it a "salary’ for being a band member.

The really important thing is to make clear up front what the expectations and compensations are. For most of us the even split after expenses seems to work pretty well.

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I played in a local band for about 25 years (pubs, functions, clubs, occasional concerts) and we shared payments equally between all members, and the same applied to bands I subsequently depped with. I think this was standard practice among the semi-pro bands in my area. (Not that the income ever amounted to anything like a living: more like a hobby that went some way to paying for itself).

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I’ve never played in a band where payment was different based on the instrument being played or the status of lead singers or "front man" vs. anyone else. Being hired to back a star performer would be a different situation, but I’ve only ever been in egalitarian equal pay groups.

One potential wrinkle is with smaller bands that provide their own portable PA gear, where a decision has to be made on whether every member in the band pitches in to buy and maintain the gear, or it’s handled by just one member of the band (i.e. a musician who also owns and runs the PA).

In the latter case, some bands will give the PA owner a double portion of the proceeds. That keeps things simple, and avoids the drama of having to part out the gear if one member leaves the band. Of course you’re sunk if the PA owner is the one who leaves! Life is simpler for bands who always rely on the venue to provide the PA system.

In my last performing duo I was the owner of our portable PA system, but we still made it a 50/50 split on payment, because the other person handled all the bookings and fee collection. For me, that was a good trade-off.

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Nominally, the fee is divided equally among the musicians. Adjustments are, of course, made for those driving (fuel expenses + per mile rate). We also have a pre-arranged system to reward particular members fairly for their administrative and technical input (handling bookings, setting up and maintaining equipment).

When we play for ‘ceilidhs’ (which are more like English barn dances - not a lot of set dancers round my way), we work with any of a number of different callers - ‘associates’ rather than band members per se. As such, we allow the caller to quote their fee, accepting a somewhat reduced fee for the band where necessary (although we will always negotiate with both client and caller to ensure the band members are fairly rewarded).

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Because a band isn’t really a band without a fiddle player, then the fiddle player should always be on at least twice the cash, be driven to the gig and given free beer… Well that’s how I roll anyway 🙂

… this is also why a band should also only have one fiddle player…

Re: How Do Bands Divide Their Earnings?

Split equally. Always.

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Equal split, wee bit more for organiser ( esp weddings) and also sound person if they are needed 2 stay on and do sound for client’s Ipod, disco, whatever….

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I wholeheartedly second CreadurMawnOrganig’s system particularly for small, casual groups.

Over the years I’ve had a few bad experiences where playing music for money is concerned. This was at the hands of people I thought were friends but turned out to be less than thoughtful when there was cash involved in the playing.

The trio I’ve "managed" for going on two decades were (and remain) good friends both musically and otherwise. I attribute this lasting positive set of relationships to the relatively simple system of dividing every payment equally but then subtracting a bit from each and paying the one member of our group—who always traveled about 90 miles round trip to all rehearsals and many of our performances—something extra. It wasn’t always calculated according to a set formula but I consistently made sure to give him a bit more than the rest of us for his mileage. When the band travelled to paid gigs outside of my hometown I always added a calculated mileage allowance to the fee all of which went to whichever one of us provided transport. If we came in separate vehicles we divided the fee according to the various mileages with the one/s traveling the furthest taking home a bit more.

The other thing I always insisted on from the folks who hired us to play was payment at the time of the performance. People experienced in hiring musicians then typically handed me the total amount before we started playing. Assured we’d be paid and knowing the precise amount—though nearly always in the form of a check—I could come to the gig with cash so I could pay my musical partners/friends on the spot when the session was done. For our one bandmate, who was living pay check to pay check for a long period of time, that extra bit of cash meant he had gas money immediately. The one time an event promoter failed to heed my payment- on-the-day-of-the-performance requirement…"Oh, golly. I forgot. So sorry."… I made sure that he saw me pay my mates out of my own pocket as we packed up and I then promised him that I’d be camping outside his door until he paid me.

Where our music is concerned my guys and I are mostly in it for the pleasure of playing for an appreciative audience—no matter its size or the size of the paycheck. For professionals this system may not be the best. For those like us I think its a fine way to keep your friends showing up to play with you.

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Pretty much everything that’s been said above chimes with my experience of paid gigs, though payment is just about always in cash. Equal split, except perhaps a bit extra for the driver(s).
It may well be different though in fully professional outfits with a star headlining name.

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@Seamus O’Bog: When handling the booking myself, I now always ask the client for advance payment (bank transfer or cheque) or cash on the night, so that everybody can receive their payment immediately without causing me cashflow problems.

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We split evenly…. which is also why I prefer duos and trios.

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Always an equal split, but whoever supplied and ran PA gets an extra half share.

Some callers take a fixed fee and the band shares the rest, but most of our regular callers take a band split.

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Apart from equal shares, as I said above, of course if one of the musicians supplies the PA or drives his own car with all the musicians to the gig, the cost for that is deducted and paid before splitting the rest. I know some musician friends of mine also deduct a certain fee for the guy who does the bookings, even though he’s one of the musicians.

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yes I agree with the general consensus , equal shares after fuel and p.a. expenses have been taken out - but the entire discussion is slightly surreal, as if it was happening in a universe where musicians were actually travelling to play at ceilidhs, pub gigs, festivals, weddings, etc…………………?

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@christy taylor: Yes, it’s all rather hypothetical at the moment. That gives us plenty of time for us to fine-tune our contracts and intra-band agreements.

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Quite a few years back, there was discussion in The Living Tradition about a well known traditional band where the longest serving members were "partners" so to speak and received a greater financial remuneration compared to the newer members because they "owned the name".

I’ll not mention the name of the band as I can’t really remember all the "ins and outs" of the discussion and probably wouldn’t even have been "au fait" with every detail at the time.
I’d imagine that this sort of scenario would be more likely with long established outfits and also less likely on the traditional music scene.

There will also cases, as mentioned above, where there is always a core of members but other musicians may "help them out" at different times.

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Every band, no matter how far up or down the fame/ remuneration league, has to decide the money thing right at the beginning or when adding a new members/ assistants. It avoids so much possible future grief!

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Equal shares. Possibly an extra share for the PA and/or soundman. And then make sure that travel expenses are covered.

Funnily enough, one of my best paid gigs so far was as an accompanist for a duo (I got the same payment as one of them, and that was three times as much as the other musician…). I also got reimbursed for travel expenses. Those were the days…

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@CMO, well it all seemed a bit like planning the Winter Olympics in the middle of the Kalahari Desert - but yes I agree it’s as well to prepare for a time when we are all ‘back on the road’ whenever that might be!

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For informal gigs we’ve done equal splits.

On the other hand, I used to be a member of the Musician’s Union (Local 7) and Union gigs aren’t like that.

Every group is reckoned by the Union to have a "Leader" who gets a bigger cut. The other players are colloquially known in the industry as "side men" and get a smaller share.

The Leader for a particular gig is the one who negotiates with the client, decides on repertoire, gets copies of the sheet music ready, and makes all the calls to round up the Side Men, so it’s no wonder the Leader should get paid more.

This approach, being standard, spills over into non-Union gigs sometimes. Thus musicians used to the Union way aren’t expecting as big a share as the Leader. Musicians who aren’t used to that system might get surprised by it.

I was in a non-Union group that I thought divided the money unfairly so I quit. It was a four-piece band and they divided the money five ways, the fifth share was the "band’s share" and went toward expenses like the band’s van, replacing sound equipment, and so forth.

Thing is, the band was run by a married couple who in effect got three-fifths of the band’s income and had complete control over how the "band share" was used. No open books, and the two of us hirelings suspected that most of the "band" money was spent on their personal stuff. I found out that what I was getting paid was rather less than the one-fifth promised anyhow.

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Richard Cook: ‘Every group is reckoned by the Union to have a "Leader"… negotiates with the client, decides on repertoire, gets copies of the sheet music ready, and makes all the calls to round up the Side Men, so it’s no wonder the Leader should get paid more. ’

That works in theory. But in practice, where a band has an unchanging core line-up, those roles may be shared between several members. In the ceilidh band I play with, one member (not always the same one) will liaise with the client, whilst another liaises with the caller and draws up a set list. I suppose, if the MU were involved in a gig such as this, one member would have to be appointed as nominal ‘leader’ and apportion the excess earnings to the other members, as appropriate.

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Yes with the Union I believe there always is a Leader (on paper) regardless of that the actual situation is.

For one thing, the Leader is the one who files the gig with the Union.

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I’ve normally always played for an equal share with the other band members.
Sometimes there will be a traveling allowance which goes to whoever is driving, or gets split between the drivers if they share the work, which is only fair really, especially if it’s a long way.

I’ve played a handful of gigs where whoever organized it took a ten percent extra cut or something since they were essentially acting as a manager. I wasn’t necessarily over the moon about it, but, like the travel thing, it makes sense if they were putting in extra work negotiating and organizing sound equipment etc…

Sound men are more complicated. Sometimes the venue pays them separately. Sometimes they take a cut just like the band. Sometimes the band hires them as a sort of independent contractor for a set fee.

I get it that sometimes there’s a definite leader who’s the main draw. I have no idea how Sharon Shannon splits the money with the band for example, but where it’s “the Sharon Shannon band” it might make sense for the split to be uneven. Like I said, I don’t know how she does it, but she’d be a good example of a band with a main member or leader or whatever you want to call it.

I’ve never played in one of those though. Generally we’re all going up on stage, we’ve all put the time and effort in to get good at our instruments. Who the hell am I to say that joe blogs is a better flute player than John Doe is a guitar player, or which band member is more important?

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By agreement!

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Back ‘n the day, my father-in-law had a band that debuted on "Ted Mack’s Amateur Hour" and later with Pat Boone, (that’s how far back,) and he always said they couldn’t make a crumb because the fiddle player got all the money.
Our band now has had as few as four and as many as seven members, including two fiddlers, and we split equally monies from performances, streaming, CDs and merch sales everything after overhead expenses have been taken out. A band that pays it’s members based on perceived value of their contribution won’t last as a band very long IMHO.
On another note, I wonder in these pandemic times how bands with only performance income can survive. We haven’t done a live performance since March 2020. Looking forward to 2021 and normality.

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The main thing is that all in the band discuss and agree on the method of split.

Most bands I’ve been in have had similar arrangements but the band I’ve been with for the past 16 years or so, and managing for the past 5, has a bank account which most gigs, clubs, corporate, schools etc pay their invoices into. We do prefer cash and a lot of pubs and private parties are happier to pay this way. The main thing is we have a normal exercise book ruled up with an entry for each gig, amount paid in, bank or cash, a column for each band member and their amount, as we collect our cash we each sign for it. Simple accounting. This ensures everyone is paid and there are no arguments and also serves as a record come tax time. (For those who are honest. However more than often if it’s cash it just gets handed out;) ) It also covers the arse of whoever is in charge of the money. The split we do is even less $50 for PA which either stays in the account or goes into the petty cash tin. This pays PA upkeep, insurance and other bills. If the gig is over 100km away or tour we give whoever is towing the trailer an extra $50. Bills paid via bank appear on the statement. Bills paid via petty cash get noted and tallied in the exercise book. No arguments.

We keep a separate bank account for CD’s and merch and keep this totally separate to the workings of the band.

However, in regards to all being even, the very first band I was in, in the 80’s, was a four piece. I owned the PA, our bass player owned the light rig, our drummer owned the truck. We would arrive at the gig an hour or two prior to lug in and set up. We would also be the ones packing up and bumping out. Our singer would turn up 15min before the gig, after we had soundchecked, and plug her microphone into the lead and stand which I had already provided and generally complain that the lights were too bright in her eyes. AND demand equal pay. We were just a cover band and she was nothing special. This caused a build up of five years of arguing and resentment. Don’t fall into that trap. Just make sure everyone is pulling their weight in some form or other and money decisions are discussed democratically.

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For the years we performed it was always an even split between the musicians. We started as a 5 piece, grew to 7, reduced back to 5, and finished as a quartet. We performed over a 17 year period. For larger audiences, where a sound engineer was a must, they were accorded a share as well.
Our weekly gigs, didn’t require a lot of tweaking to the board, so once it was set, myself or another could adjust on the fly. 90% of the time, it needed no adjustments.
If we’d have decided to go from semi to pro, things would have changed. A manager, engineer and roadies, would have been neccessary. So, we’d have had to incorporate, and that would have required legal counsel too.
Tax law on music performance in the States can be a real quagmire. Money earned below a set figure, isn’t taxed. Above that figure, it is taxed. If memory serves, that amount in 1990, was $3000/ year. By 2000, it was up to $5000/year. Most of that period, we made well over the limit, and had to pay taxes. Those figure limits, were what the IRS labels as the limits of income from a hobby vs income beyond hobby and into semi or professional. We did this on our individual incomes, rather than as a group. Incorporating wouldn’t have allowed that, but it also opens a whole different realm of tax law.
We did set up a common fund, that we all contributed back too. Doing this enabled us to replace worn or broken sound equipment, without any one member taking a hit for replacing something.