While Weezer, a band that got its start at Harvard University, posed last year with showers of dollar bills in a music video, few college bands can expect the same luxurious lifestyle.
Maintaining a band at Yale is often a pricey project: studio time, advertising, equipment prices, travel and various other expenses add up. Michael Waxman ’10, founder of campus music blog YaleMusicScene.org, estimated that the average member of a serious Yale band will invest up to four figures of his own money into his music. And because many bands are hard-pressed for cash, more are beginning to look to off-campus gigs and merchandise sales to stay out of the red.
“It’s almost impossible to make money as a band,” T.J. Smith ’10, former bassist for The Sandy Gill Affair, said. Smith said he left the band in the spring of last year, citing the stress of acting as the band’s booking agent as “overwhelming.”
Smith said he was responsible for booking the nearly 30 gigs the band performed, all of which pooled in around $300 each. One noteworthy performance at Toad’s Place managed to earn the band $60, an amount Toad’s owner Brian Phelps said was average for a Yale band. (A touring band, he added, can expect to be paid on average anywhere from $100 to a few thousand dollars.)
The majority of venues played by The Sandy Gill Affair, ranging from The Space in Hamden to the Calhoun Cabaret on campus, did not compensate the band with money. Instead, they provided food or an opportunity to sell the band’s T-shirts and CDs, Smith said.
Because student bands rarely match the revenues brought in by other musical groups on campus, they must often spend extra time soliciting gigs and finding a paying audience, several student musicians interviewed said.
Tess Ryckman ’12, a member of cello orchestra Low Strung, said that though the soon-to-be 10-person group has been around for five years, it has yet to develop the thick alumni connections boasted by Yale’s a cappella groups. She said that for the first time, the band raked in over $1,000 for each of two performances at weddings, one for a pair of Yale alumni and another for a couple who stumbled across the group’s Web site, in September.
She said the orchestra will use the money made at the weddings to pay for travel and lodging for future gigs.
While Toad’s differentiates between Yale bands and professional bands, owners from two other popular local venues said they pay the same rate whether or not the band is one of Yalies. At Caffe Bottega, manager Ari Gorfain said the average band can expect to make between $200 to $500, though he noted that the club has only hosted three Yale bands this year. At Café Nine, promoter Margaret Milano said the average band will earn anywhere between $50 and $400.
Hazel Scher ’11, drummer for punk rock band Suitcase of Keys, estimated that she had spent approximately $1,000 out-of-pocket over the past three years with the band, an amount comparable to her three bandmates’ contributions. She was quick to note that the group had yet to break even on its investment.
“I really wouldn’t expect every Yale student to have an extra thousand dollars to spend,” Scher said. “There are a lot of talented musicians here who aren’t upper-middle-class.”
Though residential college practice rooms and the Digital Media Center for the Arts offer free space and resources to students who wish to casually jam together, booking studio time or private performances nearly always translates into hefty out-of-pocket expenses, Waxman said. Sprague Hall, for example, charges a $100 hourly recording rate.
And when the Silliman College recording studio, which Waxman said is known for producing professional-grade sound recordings, reopens in the coming weeks after a two-year renovation, it will now come with a price tag. Silliman Master Judith Krauss said Monday that she could not state hard numbers for the studio’s rates, adding that it will feature different prices depending on the purpose of the recording.
“Some a cappella groups will be recording professional albums that they’re going to sell and distribute internationally,” Krauss said, “and they’ll be charged a different amount than a band that just needs a demo.”
And even with a demo, most Yale bands will never see black bottom lines.
Said student radio WYBC President Sean Owzcarek ’11: “If you’re trying to make money, reassess the music industry and why you’re in it.”