If you’re just starting out in the music industry, then you likely have a lot of questions. From booking shows to just getting your name out there, there are a lot of different factors to navigate as a local band.
We turned to Shan Dan Horan, the president of SBG Records (ex-Artery Recordings/Outerloop Records/Century Media), to lend some advice. Here’s what he had to say:
Every local scene thrives and dies based on their promoters’ business ethics. Without promoters, most cities wouldn’t have a supply of touring bands coming through. They’re the gatekeepers to the next level for any local band. Now with that power comes responsibility. On one hand, I see exceptional promoters who pay musicians fairly and give hardworking bands bigger opportunities. On the other hand, I see promoters exploit bands financially without actually “promoting.” You’d be surprised how many bands sell 100 tickets to a local concert but don’t get paid anything. Not only is that unfair, but it’s also a roadblock to leave your local scene. (You need money to tour, right?)
Every band at some level needs a manager. Someone who organizes everyone and brings in opportunities to make you more money. This is essentially a manager’s job. Having a great manager helps out any band tremendously (as long as they know what they’re doing). With that being said, how much do you actually pay a manager? This is a vague situation for local bands. Fortunately, I’m here to tell you exactly how it works. Managers normally get paid 15% commission from the band. Meaning the more money they bring to the band, the more they make. Sounds fair, right? Well, it is! However, every now and then a band approaches me who have a far different (and scandalous) situation. “We’ve been paying our manager $2,000 a month to get us opportunities,” the band says. They continue, “He hasn’t gotten us anything yet, and we are thinking about firing him.” Unfortunately, they got scammed out of about $6,000 with nothing to show for it.
3. Band members
That’s right: “band members.” How can an enemy of a band be the band itself, you ask? Let me explain more. Within a band, each member is effectively an employee. The band are a business. So if you think about your band in a business capacity, everyone needs to be working. If you went to Taco Bell and an employee was sitting around doing nothing, they’d probably be fired. Even worse is an employee who steals money out of the register. You’d be surprised how common it is for musicians to steal from their own merch booth. If you can’t depend a band member to contribute or steals money, it’s time to fire them.
4. Record labels
I might sound like a hypocrite talking poorly about labels (as I’ve worked at them my entire life), but some labels can be predatory and outright scandalous. Before an artist signs a contract with a record label, you should understand some harsh realities of a partnership that are serious. How many albums do you owe this label? If your band sign to a record label for six albums, that’s essentially your entire band’s career. What percentage do you as a musician get? I’ve seen contracts where artists agreed to an astronomically low percentage of their album. While you might get stars in your eyes at the thought of a record deal, make sure it’s a beneficial relationship that will progress your career.
5. Other bands
In the music industry I see two types of bands. Bands who make friends and bands who hate everyone. Bands who make friends know the value of networking. You’d be surprised how many tours get put together strictly on a band’s relationship with another band. On the other side, you see jealous bands putting down bands strictly out of spite. While you’re allowed to be bummed another band got an opportunity you wanted, it’s petty to act out because of it, and it only makes you look bad. Your career isn’t a sprint to cross the finish line first; it’s a marathon which you might need a helping hand to cross.
Shan Dan Horan is a record label insider best known for his work as president of SBG, Artery Recordings and Outerloop Records. He also continues to work for labels such as Century Media, Republic, Universal, Sony and many more.