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Why Mid-Level Bands Cannot Make Money

moneyShane Blay is a guitarist/vocalist for the indie band, Oh, Sleeper. The Texas based group has been compared to Slipknot and Underoath. You can learn more about the band here. Follow the band on Twitter @weareohsleeper.

For the past five years my brothers in Oh, Sleeper and myself have sacrificed our lives, our time, relationships, birthdays, holidays, health (haha) to travel around and play shows for our fans. Not to say that isn’t been a fun ride!

I would just like to bring a few things to our fans attention.

I would like to show you guys an average day in finances for a “mid-level” band like us. I’m going to breakdown the average monetary ins and outs of a day on tour.

On tour, bands have two ways to make money – guarantees and merchandise.

Bands have big bills on tour [including]: Managers, Booking agent, Merch Rates, Merch bills, Food and of course… the gas bill.

Our last headliner tour was an east coast run with 3 other bands. The average guarantee per band was $300 per band, and around 300$ in merch. This was the average for all 4 bands, for the entire tour.

So we have a $600 gross income per night. Now let’s break this down.

Merchandise is bought, printed, and shipped on the bands dollar. We print most our shirts on American Apparel. They obviously offer the best fitting shirts, and kids are smart about looking good now [a] days. They won’t sell unless you have slim fitting, soft shirts. The demand for better quality shirts from bands is higher in the last few years.

American Apparel shirts are very pricey to print. Usually $7.50 a shirt. More for v-necks, 3/4 sleeve shirts, etc.

We sell our shirts for $15 at our shows, UNLESS we are on tour with a headliner that demands we price match them.

$15 – $7.50 = $7.50. So half is profit. So out of the $300 the band made in merch, they owe $150 to the printer.

BUT HOLD ON – merch rates!

Most nice venues have merch rates, [and] we have seen them be as high 32% gross. Usually they are 25%…


So out of the initial $300 in merch the band made – 25% goes to venue. That’s $75.

$300 (gross) – $150 (merch cost) – $75 (merch venue rate) = $75 (Net profit for the band.)

BUT the breakdown doesn’t stop there. If the band has a manager, he takes 15% of Net profit of merch.


$75 X .15 = $11.25

$75 – $11.15 = $63.75( TOTAL Net profit in merch for the band.)



The breakdown in deductions from this money is: 15% to Manager, 10% to booking agent.

$300 (gross guaranty) – $45 (managers cut 15%) – $30 (booking agents cut 10%) = $225

Average Gas bill is around $150. Some days way better, some days way worse. We have done 17-hour drives… Leaving a show and showing up to next one right before we play – many times. Those are a bit more expensive. Most west coast tours we do the average gas bill is around $200-250…but I’ll use $150 for this example.

$225 (guarantee after manage and agent deductions) – $150 (gas bill) = $75

We have 6 people on tour, our 5 Guys, and our merch guy “The Maze.” We give everyone $10 bucks a day to eat on. (This isn’t enough when your 6’4 and 200lbs. like Micah and I by the way.)

6 people x $10 = $60

$75 – $60 = $15

$15 Total net profit in Guaranties.


$63.75 (Net merch) + $15 (Net guaranty) =

$78.75 for the band for the night. Out of $600 gross.

If you divide that six ways it’s $13.12 a day per band member.


This doesn’t include hotel costs, which are usually $50-60 bucks. Most bands don’t get hotels or shower to save money to pay for phone bills.

This does not include Tires/Van payment/Oil changes/Van upkeep registration bla bla/Trailer tires/Gear/etc.

This doesn’t include taxes. This doesn’t include ROAD TOLLS, which in the northeast, can add up to $20-40 a day.

The message that Shane is trying to convey is:




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  1. Guest
    "HELLO" Are you new? You don't choose this business this business chooses you! Although it sounds to me like you chose the business . We do this because we love it and it is in our heart not in our wallet . Get used to it " write a couple hit songs then maybe you can whine a little if you've made a bad deal. Until then, enjoy the gift God has given you and stop whining about it. Take all that energy you spend complaining , and put it into some good music. Then maybe you can buy an $8.00 shirt .
    • gighive
      Blay loves what he is doing... His post is just giving a heads up to music fans how bands are really funded. I think it's good to make fans aware of the unsigned/indie industry and how it works. Thanks for checking out TheBuzz!
  2. Chris Meck
    guest number one is a dipshit. As a 'lifer' who's been at this for a long, long time in mid-level bands, I would advise new bands to NOT hire management, booking agents, etc. for exactly the breakdowns implied above. What is that manager really doing for you? What exactly is he 'managing'? I think that managers and booking agents, at least at the low to mid level (club level, if you will) are part of the 'old' music economy and are obsolete. Either way, Blay's right. The money sucks. It's hard. People ought to know.
  3. janelley
    I totally agree. i always suppport bands. Back on May 23 at ground control in West Palm Beach, FL i bought 2 shirts and Cd' next time you jit up south florida i plan to buy that hoodie lol....You guys are great and not many peopl can recognize the sacrafices you make to entertain to the masses ^_^ so thanks...cant wait for the next album, and your next tour to se you guys live AGAIN XD
  4. Joee
    Why are you paying gross for anything.. . I see theres not alot of money but if you did sign bad deal you would be a little more in the green....