You start a band for the fun of it and the love of music. You’re idealistic about it: you travel, play for free, invest your time and money into it and fight for that cause together. But as soon as money comes into the game, everything changes. All of a sudden, one band member thinks his effort is worth more than another person’s.
But there are ways to keep those arguments from ruining things. Back when my band formed, we decided that if we wanted to make it big, everybody’s input was going to be needed. Everything, from the glamor of writing the hits down to the lowly tasks like sending out newsletters, booking, doing graphics, blogging and maintaining our social networking presence, was treated as a team effort.
We did this because we had good musical role models. When I was a teenager, I was really into Queen. I still am. I collected every piece of Queen merchandise I could find, and I watched my Queen videos every day. I still remember lots of facts and stories about the band, and one of the most interesting things I ever heard Freddy Mercury say had to do with royalties. Mercury said that one of the best decisions the band ever made came in their later years, when they decided to credit all the songs to the whole of the band.
In practical terms, songwriting isn’t always an equal proposition; quite the opposite, actually. In my band’s case, sometimes I bring finished lyrics, sometimes our bass player brings melodies or even a finished song to rehearsals. Every song’s different. But when we recorded our first release and registered our songs with ASCAP, we credited the music and lyrics to all three of us, in equal parts.
Why did we do this? Partly to avoid future disputes about money – we’d seen both bands and friendships destroyed by arguments about who was supposed to get how much – and partly to keep our ASCAP registration realistic.
It seemed like a good decision, because we resolved a conflict before it could begin. And we thought we had been smart about the money issue, until we talked to a music manager friend who drew our attention to problems we weren’t anticipating. Our friend pointed out that if we kept crediting the music to all of us, then one day in the future, when for whatever reason we weren’t together anymore, problems could crop back up.
For example, I might want to use a song I wrote for an advert or something. But what if our bass player doesn’t? Maybe we always disagreed about this kind of stuff. Maybe he hates me by now. Maybe I don’t want him getting a cut of something I hustled up for myself.
At the manager friend’s suggestion, we decided to register our songs completely accurately – on a “who wrote what” basis – but then have all our royalties transferred to a shared account, the fruits of which would be equally distributed in three parts. We also signed a written agreement to keep this practice up as long as our band exists (under its current name).
I’m not sure that this is the end of the learning curve, or the final stage of our band’s financial arrangements, but it’s helping us a lot and keeping us focused on music rather than money.
And to me, if the great Queen, after being famous and more than rich for many, many years, can decide to rethink the way they handle their money, it’s certainly something we could do too.
There are many different ways to deal with money in a band, this is just what we’re doing at the moment. How do you handle yours?