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Hey, being in a band can be expensive! Replacing cymbals, paying for gas, buying a tour van — it all adds up. Usually, bands foot the bill from their day jobs, but there are other ways. Here are some additional sources of income for your band.
If you are an unsigned band, you often hear people boasting about a sponsorship from [enter music company here]. What they often don’t disclose is their sponsorship only really means a slight discount on already over-inflated equipment (depending on your level of sponsorship). We get it—it sounds cool! What’s much cooler, though, is getting free equipment or actual money to help your band continue to grow. Instead of going after the same sponsorships everyone is, look for alternatives. A perfect example is my friends who are sponsored by Motel 6. Any city they toured through, they would make a call and get a free hotel room. How helpful is that? Or, another band got paid just to place an energy drink in the background of their music video. Many companies are willing to pay in currency or services simply to advertise to your younger demographic (fans). So think outside the box when it comes to sponsorships! Most companies have money for advertising; they just need an idea presented to them (just send them an email proposal).
Every time I talk to a band about sync, they ask, “Like *NSYNC?” and I say, “What is an *NSYNC?” Sync is when a video or company effectively pays you to use one of your songs in a commercial or other media. This, I promise you, is a very great way to gain some additional funds for your band. At one point, I had an artist offered $50K simply to use their song about “being happy” in a Pepsi ad for one year. I also have had many artists receive a substantial amount of money just to use their songs in video games. So Google “sync services.” A lot of great companies exist (like A&G Sync and ThinkSync Music) that strictly shop your music to potential advertising opportunities. If they land you something, they take a percentage, and the rest is yours. If you're lucky enough with a sync offer, it might even launch your single into notoriety (think theme song to a TV show). How cool would it to be to be recognized as writing “that song from Sharknado 18”?
Before trolling me on how obvious this answer is, I would like to point out how this segment is titled “Merch” and not “A few shirts and a CD.” While most bands get basic merchandise (shirts, CDs), others have tapped into their full merch potential, raising considerably more funding. Dad hats, stickers, posters, keychains — I can continue forever. With any growing band, you need to track what people actually want to buy because let’s face it, not everyone likes wearing band shirts every day. You would be surprised how much money you make in the long-term for something you didn’t even think of selling, i.e. something as simple as a sticker or signed poster. Think about it like this: The cost to print a shirt is around $5 (rough example) and your shirt is selling for $10. That’s a 100-percent markup for your product. This means you made $5 from one transaction. A sticker costs roughly 10 cents to manufacture and sells for $3 at your merch booth. That’s a 3,000-percent markup, making you a $2.90 profit. The margins between the two are close, but the point is you made additional revenue.
Once you tour consistently and start to develop some seriously die-hard fans, you might want to consider offering a VIP bundle at your shows. While I’m a firm believer that fans shouldn’t have to pay to talk to their favorite bands, I also understand fans wanting to buy a special VIP experience. A great example of a VIP bundle/experience is when a fan can gain early access to your soundcheck, signed limited-edition gear, early album listening parties, meet and greets or even music lessons from the band. Not only will your die-hard fans get something truly special, but you also made some extra cash to keep the band on the road. You can either try fulfilling your VIP bundles yourself or reach out to companies like Terrific Ticketing, which builds VIP packages around bands/tours.
Believe it or not, government art programs will actually pay bands to continue to play music. It all depends on your county, state, country or city. More often than not, you can find a government program your band fits within; you just have to look. A great example is one of my bands based in Denmark. Within a year, the band were paid five figures strictly to play music in a live setting. Another U.S. band actually have their practice space provided for free thanks to their city's art revitalizing campaign. So look into government grants for the arts and your local government programs as well.