Houston Music

How Much Do Local Bands Get Paid At Shows?

Most of us go to concerts, stand in the crowd and gaze in awe at performers onstage. While we're there, we might even become a little green with envy. Lights, cameras, confidence and everyone's attention - who wouldn't want that? Rocks Off, however, would like to point out that it's not all glitz and glamour. These hard-working men and women, put in long hours and diligently toil for your love and affection, oftentimes without much payoff - literally.

"Every band has a different deal for every show," says Omar Afra, Fitzgerald's partner and Free Press Houston publisher. "Sometimes the bands make the show free and get a cut of the bar, that way we're totally in business with one another. It's a you-do-well-and-we-do-well mentality."

Depending on the deal they makes with the venue, Afra says, the band can end up getting as much as 80 percent of the bar. But what he says some bands don't like to hear is the hard truth: If people don't show up to see an act perform, its members aren't going to get paid much. That's just business, folks.

"Ultimately, there's a correlation behind how much bands make and how many people they bring," Afra says.

Anyone who understand the existence of overhead costs should know that much. But what about bands' beginning asking prices?

"As a solo act, I usually ask [for] at least $50 to $75 a show, unless I know the promotional opportunity outweighs the money value," says local rapper Hollywood FLOSS. While FLOSS occasionally performs by himself, he usually plays with a full band.

"As a rock band, [we ask for] $300 to 600 - more members and the work put into the show causes the rates to go up."

Understandably so. Never mind the effort put into coordinating schedules, the difficulty of which is usually determined by how many people are involved. When on tour, prices continue to rise, because bands don't have the luxury of eating and sleeping at their own homes. And gas prices have gone up, too.

"The money is equal or a little bit greater in out-of-town areas, because they understand you have to pay for travel and ways to get to the venue," FLOSS says. "They want you to feel comfortable and tell other acts about the venue."

But it isn't all about money. While every act expects to collect a different amount per gig, almost all of them are willing to play for almost nothing if the incentive is right.

"An average pay would be around $200 for a well planned out show, but sometimes we play for less, or for free, if it's a very good lineup, venue or (the proceeds go) toward a greater cause," says Tax the Wolf lead vocalist Mario Rodriguez.

"We've gotten really lucky when we book our own shows, because we see a lot more money in our direction. It all depends on choosing the right places and dates.

"I've also noticed that if too many people or promoters are involved in a show, then the money always seems to disappear a lot faster," Rodriguez adds with a laugh. "Houston has been a good city to us, and I'm not sure we can compare it [with] much, though. We try our best to not trick ourselves into shows with bad turnouts."

In a city that isn't recognized for its music scene, plenty of bands are thriving. And not just hip-hop artists are making it in the City of Syrup, either.

"Pay always varies, and sometimes it seems like we're more a charity band than anything," says vocalist Mikey Seals of A dream Asleep. "When we put together a big local show - for example, one of our CD release shows - and get paid by head count, we can get $250 to $500."

Similar to Hollywood FLOSS, Seals and the other members of A dream Asleep are willing to play shows for less if they see it as an opportunity to promote their band. He says they have only been paid $50 to $100 for shows that brought the band publicity.

"Touring is quite different," Seals says. "For us, not being a well-known band in other cities, we can't count on a head count, plus we can't expect the venue to give us a guarantee not knowing who the fuck we are. On top of this, if you're using a booking agent, you will be paying them too, so that's even less money for [the band]."

When on tour, A dream Asleep's members focus on selling merchandise to pay for food, hotels and gas. The money they get from the door, Seals says, is just a little something extra. It's beer money, really.

"We all have side jobs to pay the rent," says Micah Walker, lead vocalist and songwriter of VerseCity. "One of my guys plays guitar and saxophone in his church band... there's a lot of churches, especially the big churches, where guys make $300 to $500 every Sunday."

In the past year, Walker says VerseCity has made somewhere between $6,000 and $10,000 from live performances.

"Basically, every penny we make as a band goes back into the band," Walker says. "Our starting asking price is $800 to $1,200, depending on if it's [an] acoustic or a full-band show, and it can go higher."

The last show VerseCity played was at the Fort Bend County Fair. The band was asked to lace its original music with cover songs and was paid $2,000 for three 45-minute sets.

"Sometimes we have fans who want us to come play an acoustic set at their birthday party or something," Walker says. "And they can't afford all that, so we'll bring our own PA for our die-hard fans, and if they can only pay $200 or $300, we'll go that low."

VerseCity is also known for playing a variety of benefit shows, for which the band is willing to play for free and only asks to be compensated for gas and food.

"That way," Walker says, "we play for free, but we aren't losing money out of our own pockets."

And, of course, musicians can always make some extra cash by giving music lessons, performing on other bands' albums. Also, let's not forget, that there's a large market out there for cover bands.

Follow Rocks Off on Facebook and on Twitter at @HPRocksOff.

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Matt is a regular contributor to the Houston Press’ music section. He graduated from the University of Houston with a degree in print journalism and global business. Matt first began writing for the Press as an intern, having accidentally sent his resume to the publication's music editor instead of the news chief. After half a decade of attending concerts and interviewing musicians, he has credited this fortuitous mistake to divine intervention.
Contact: Matthew Keever