Recession-Proofing Your Band

Lucas Jensen | April 17, 2009 10:00 am

Earlier this week, the Chicago Tribune‘s Greg Kot asked a few Chicago-area musicians about how they were fighting through the tough economy. Some formed cover bands (Led Zeppelin 2… ha!) and went out with stripped-down outfits on the road. Part of me is a little “yeah, duh” about musicians having second jobs, and in the story, Katie Tuten, co-owner of Chicago club the Hideout, notes: “People who play music are better able to handle whatever the economy throws at them because they’re always on a tight budget.” That is very true. We asked a few musicians to offer up what they are doing to recession-proof themselves.

Sam Jacobs of The Flying Change sees opportunities on the Internet to offset the lack of touring:

On a macro-level, for small bands, recession-proofing is really making use of free social media technology to supplant some of the investment you might make in building awareness through unprofitable early-stage touring…using Twitter, Facebook, and blogging rather than booking small regional club gigs before you have the fan base to support that kind of tour. I’m also looking at cheaper recording options through digital distribution rather than relying on physical manufacturing. Finally, we’re looking to do as a group what we might not be able to do alone. So, moreso than in the past, we’re trying to form collectives and build entertainment experiences around those collectives rather than just solo artists. The bottom line is that the recession/depression is only accelerating existent trends in the use of digital technology and distribution to reduce recording and manufacturing costs and improve efficiency in marketing and publicity.

Jacobs is also banding together for shows with other solo artists like Paul Brill and Amber Rubarth, which “will be more profitable than three shows separately.”

Kay Stanton of Athens’ own Casper & the Cookies *notes that the band had to get rid of their drummer to get by:

Casper & the Cookies has taken an extreme measure to recession-proof our band. We’ve replaced our drummer with an iPod. Don’t get me wrong. We LOVE real drums, and we really want a drummer. But, when our last drummer left the band, and with multiple upcoming tours for the release of our new album, we made the big decision to rely on Boop the iPod. It means fewer people can drive the van, but it’s one less per diem to pay out, and we can sometimes leave the trailer behind, allowing for better gas mileage. We’ve taken other, smaller steps, too: more sleeping on floors (which is also easier as a three-piece), more doing things ourselves (making posters, t-shirts, etc.), buying groceries instead of eating out while on the road, and working more hours at our day jobs when we’re not. As soon as this recession’s over, though, we’d better be getting a drummer.

Boy, that previous drummer has got to be miffed about being replaced by an iPod!

+/- has trouble even hitting the road because of a legitimate fear of losing their day jobs:

I suppose the recession is making it difficult for +/- to actually tour as much as we would want to. We all work at this point and it used to be you would risk your job to go on tour. You never knew if they’d want you when you came back. The way things are these days, I don’t know if any of us can take that risk.

However, it doesn’t seem to be saving us any money either: our current bassist lives in Austin, TX and we have flown him to New York 4 times in the last few months just to play a few shows here and there. Perhaps one of us should be working for an airline. Or perhaps we should grow a bassist locally.

For Austin’s Monahans, gas prices were more detrimental to their fortunes than the economy:

I would say we were hit harder by gas prices last year than the recession so far. We all work day jobs and have families to support so we have to be very strategic about using vacation time to go out on the road. Lately we’re back to focusing more on regional weekend shows, and exploring various ways to broadcast performances online out of our hometown studio.

Don Feagin of The Theater Fire is thinking of taking up religion to get by:

All 7 regularly performing members of The Theater Fire have to maintain outside sources of income. I manage a bookstore, Curtis is a teacher, Nick’s a photographer, Jesse sells furniture, Sean designs flight simulation software, and Britt works at a restaurant. James is the only one that makes a living from music (he runs sound at a Jewish Temple every Friday night and it’s hell trying to book shows around that), but he still has to maintain another part-time job. We do whatever we have to do to keep making music. The Theater Fire operates as a non profit, though not intentionally. We don’t make any personal income from the band. Every cent goes into tour expenses, making a record, and promoting that record. We’re thinking about declaring it a religion to get tax-exempt status. WWTTFD?

Idolator-approved Sybris submitted this cheeky list:

To feed the band while on tour- Sybris steals the hot sauce from taco bell and make “engineitos” (a burrito that is cooked on the engine block)

To save money on gas- Sybris put Air Tabs (an accessory that helps mileage) on the back of their van. This helps streamline the van so they can get better mileage. The band has collectively started biking to practice to save gas money.

Prepping for tour- The band saves money on strings by not practicing as much Sybris has started bringing a flask on tour to save money on drinks in case there are not enough (or any) drink tickets.

For Sybris, whenever they are on tour they live like it’s a recession.

Ah, the old flask trick. It’s a time-honored tradition.

Musicians and artists and Idolator commentariat out there…how are you recession-proofing yourself?

How working musicians try to make themselves recession-proof: Drywall and Led Zeppelin [Chicago Tribune]

*Just put a big DISCLAIMER on this one.