Whenever I see one of those “whatever became of…” shows, it seems that former rock stars from years past either still have mega bucks or are broke. The brokeness can be blamed on any number of things: poor money management, not paying taxes, spending like a drunken sailor, bad investments, drugs, etc., etc…
My question is, how much does a rock star make in the first place? Not including investments, t-shirt sales and such, what does one get for having a hit song?
How much do they earn to play in a packed hall or stadium?
And compared to what a long term star makes, how well does a “one hit wonder” do?
Touring is where the money is, but unless it’s Metallica or U2 or the Stones, they’re probably not making the millions upon millions that we all equate with the ‘rock star’ lifestyle. I believe the members of Slayer (not big to many people, sure, but they’re still a long-established band with a loyal following and they are important innovators in metal) take home around 100k/year.
Don’t discount t-shirt sales. Merchandise sold at shows can sometimes provide artists with more income than the shows themselves. For some, especially smaller or newer bands, it can be their main source of income. The fee they get for performing can go to paying off their band debt, but they get to keep the profits from the t-shirt sales and use it to live on.
The songwriters can do well, because they have set royalty rates, and they get a cut of money when their songs are used in commercials, movies, bands or singers cover them, etc.
Some of those one-hit wonders in the 70’s made out for life on the strength of one song. Especially the super popular songs that get covered by multiple artists, chart multiple times, make their way into soundtracks and commercials, etc. And a lot of those songwriters are still making good annual incomes off those 70’s hits. We’re talking about the mega hits now, but still…
The regular members of the band will sometimes have a cut of the original album sales, which doesn’t amount to all that much (I think Courtney Love said a million-selling CD might net the average band member $35,000. And not many bands have million-selling CDs in them). Even in some of the huge bands, the guys who don’t do the writing don’t really make all that much. Ringo Starr has had financial trouble. Pete Townsend has said repeatedly that the only reason he tours is beccause the other bandmembers need the gig, since almost all the songs were written by Townsend. The other bandmembers still get a percentage of gate receipts for their concerts, and maybe some residuals off album sales. But ole’ Pete gets paid every time one of their songs is heard commercially, anywhere, even if it’s a cover by another band.
For most acts, the money is in CD sales, even with the record companies ripping them off. A handful of acts can do well touring, too, but that’s unusual: most groups break even on tours.
If you can fill an arena, you make money touring. If not, you’re touring primarily to get people to buy their CDs.
Check it out: look at your CD collection. How many of the acts represented have you ever seen live (and paid for)? I’m guessing less than a quarter.
Also total money spend on CDs is at least ten times the amount of money spent on concerts, so there’s more money available.
How much you make as a rock musician depends on a lot of factors. Do you get songwriting credit? That makes a big difference. If not, you may make enough to get by, but not enough to be considered rich. How successful was your group? How many members? What were the terms of your contract?
There are so many variables, that it’s hard to come up with any figures.
What everybody else said. It REALLY varies. Bands just signed to initial deals typically sign their lives away - they are the last to make money after all the production, marketing, touring and other costs are taken out of the CD’s revenue. And they are typically signed for multi-CD deals, so if they do hit big, they are locked in.
The money, as mentioned above, is in writing and publishing.
My drummer who is a record producer in real life also does commercial jingles - the business is shrinking by the day, but if you get a good gig, it can be huge. One woman sang on a commercial - not even words, more like “Great Gig in the Sky” (from Pink Floyd’s Dark Side) moaning - and the commercial was used for 3 years - she made hundreds of thousands of dollars in residules each year…
There is, or used to be, a member of this board, indeed, from a band with a recognized hit song (but it wasn’t A-ha.) IIRC he said he gets several hundred dollars a month from the royalties (presumably from writing it?)
For your big artists who actually get mainstream airplay, this may be true. For smaller acts, especially those on independent labels who mostly play clubs and small theatres, most of their money comes from touring. (Someone asked in a thread of mine a few weeks ago why Cat Power continues to tour even though Chan has paralying stage fright; my guess was that she wouldn’t make much money otherwise.)
My band & I are in the middle of negotiations with both a major & indie & are thinking of dismissing them both for a self-released thing. As noted above, the contracts usually offered to young bands are, well, atrocious, where the masters and publishing are sold for fractions of what they’re worth. Basically, a band without much clout to negotiate with can expect to make about 85 CENTS per CD, and, if they have a manager, he’s probably getting a dime outta that. Maybe their producer has a point too. At any rate, let’s be generous and say that the band gets 80 cents. There are four members. You’re looking at 20 cents each, per CD.
Thank Jesus for the Internet though. It’s now possible to get a decent national presence through online magazines, blogs, and downloadable songs, a presence impossible without extensive touring or label support in the past. In other words, the necessity of selling your rights or your soul are much lower now, and, with patience, well, I think it’s possible. We’ll see.
To answer the OP, it’s hard to peg exactly how much a band makes for a hit. Pushing a single through the radio in the states takes hundreds of thousands of dollars of “independent promotion” (read: bribery) and the band is sometimes left to recoup the cost. If this translates into larger shows, a nice soundtrack, or big CD sales, well, then they’re probably doing alright. If it doesn’t, they’d better get used to renting apartments for quite some time. Selling out big venues (stadium sized) is a luxury available to maybe 100 artists of all genres and, like any industry, the most successful 1% can be knee-deep in hookers and blow, if that’s their thing. And, hey, who doesn’t want blow & hookers?
Being the shameless self-promoter that I am, our name is Birdmonster. And I appreciate the good luck. Great books on the subject, by the way, are “Mansion on the Hill” (the story of the beginnings of the record industry and the strangness that is Bruce Springsteen) and “Hit Men” (a brief, albeit is a bit dated, history of payola)