We all know that forging a career out of art is a tough slog. Not everyone can turn their passions into bank – but when has that ever stopped anyone?
It’s so important to support local musicians to help them continue creating. I spoke to Chris Vernon (Belle Haven, Better Half), Genevieve Rodda (Temtris) and Cassandra Vlahos (Shewolf) to garner their thoughts and discuss their experiences as a local artist.
Mastering The Art of Juggling
While it’s tough for some to make a living out of music, it’s not entirely impossible. Chris Vernon plays guitar in Melbourne band Belle Haven and sings for Better Half. On top of his two bands, he is also an audio engineer – a job that provides the main source of his income. “Being an Australian touring artist and juggling work isn’t the hardest thing to do” he says. “I work for myself so I can set my own shifts. It just sucks when we get a tour last minute and I need to somehow make that work”.
On the other hand, there are artists like Genevieve Rodda who has been singing since the age of 14. Now at the age of 40, she sings for metal band Temtris when she isn’t working. “I have always worked a day job to support my life and my music. [I] currently work four days a week at a special needs school”. In order to balance her work life and music, Genevieve says the band resorts to booking shows on weekends and school holidays to make touring easier and to avoid the risk of losing their jobs. As a mother of two, she also has to consider her children’s situations in her plans.
Shewolf guitarist Cassandra Vlahos (who also works part time) stresses the importance of time management that goes in to juggling this sort of lifestyle. “You may work a full day and then spend your night rehearsing for up to 6 hours, dropping into bed at the end of it all. For this reason, it can also take a toll on some part of a person’s social life”.
Merch Sales vs. Ticket Sales
The best way for fans to support local artists would ultimately be purchasing merchandise or attending gigs. But which is better?
“Personally, I’ve found that merch isn’t a huge revenue raiser in terms of general band income. Ticket sales are probably the biggest revenue raiser we have out of everything we do as a band. If we can pull 50+ to an 18+ show with a bar we can get paid quite well as a headline”, Chris states. While this is a good way of making an earning, being a local band also has its downfalls. “It’s enough that if you could do it regularly locally you could make a small wage personally, but people wouldn’t turn up because they’ve seen you 4 times in the past month”.
While merchandise sales haven’t made a big difference for Belle Haven, it can be said otherwise for Temtris. “”Rarely do bands make enough to cover the costs of touring through ticket or door sales, so merch sales helps with keeping the band afloat”.
Cassandra reinforces the sentiment that selling out a gig can at times be difficult. “Gigs cost money to put on in the first place. Hired professionals in lighting and sound need to be paid, and most venues want a cut as well. I remember once we were handed and envelope of our cut for the night after a gig. Inside was a $5 note”.
Reality Doesn’t Come Cheap
This brings us back to the main point. Local bands who stay local can only play so many times in a certain time frame in order to earn money. Which finds them putting music to the side and pursue a day-job to pay the bills. Adding a touring cycle to the mix can often complicate things too – sometimes leaving bands to drive their passion out of their own pockets.
“We run our band on a band account. What we make on shows goes back in to pay for accommodation, petrol etc. Money from merch goes back into making more shirts etc. I have always paid to produce and press albums out of my own pocket. We are now up to album #4. Our last release cost about $2,000 in studio time (which we paid for with gig money we had raised), plus another $2,000 in mixing [out-of-pocket] and most albums cost about $1,500 – $2,000 to press 500 CDs plus 500 promo CDs which go to radio stations and reviewers (also paid by us). We also pay another $1,500 to have the album distributed”, Genevieve explains.
Making music can be quite costly – and that’s even before factoring touring.
Genevieve continues by stating how hard it can sometimes get. “We recently played two shows, one in Canberra. It costs us $300 in accommodation for two rooms and about $200 in petrol for two cars. The band was paid only $50 for the show and sold about $200 in merch. The next day, we drove 8.5 hours to Bendigo to play a festival. Another two rooms and about $300 in petrol for both cars. We were paid a percentage door deal and received $150. There was also nowhere to set up merch to sell and make up dollars lost on this show”.
So despite the struggles, what keeps them going?
“I’ve found that releasing music can be the most stressful part of being in a band, easily” Chris says. “But the kick you get out of performing a show and catching eyes with a person (while you’re head-banging the crap out of your neck, mind you), as they sing your songs to you and you’re both singing the lyrics to a song that you helped create and it’s a moment for you both”, he explains. “It’s something that never ceases to be special for me and I’d love to believe it’s special for them too. That far outweighs the stress of releasing said music”.
“Playing on stage gives a performer a certain kind of adrenaline that you can’t get anywhere else” Cassandra explains. “Having people believe in you and the music you create is one of the best feelings you can get”.
Genevieve sums up her reasons short and sweet: “This is who we are and what we do. If it was about money, you would not do it. It’s a part of us and our life”.
Some words of advice, if you haven’t been scared off yet:
“If you’re a band dude/girl and you’re just starting out, the biggest things I’ve learnt in the industry is that you really have to learn to discern when someone is just trying to make money out of you or ACTUALLY genuinely believes in you and wants to help you out. Sadly, the industry is filled with negative, selfish and hate-filled humans that are jealous and just want to see you fail. Also, you don’t need a manager unless you have way too much going on for you – most veterans of the music scene with any experience can offer you their advice for free” – Chris Vernon
“Set realistic goals and stick to them. Make sure you learn from people around you and support other bands in live music in general as you would expect a regular punter to” – Cassandra Vlahos
“Enjoy the ride” – Genevieve Rodda
So in conclusion, if you really love an artist/band – support them. It’s easy to complain when bands break up due to financial struggles, so let’s help them avoid that.