Bands And Money: How To Split The Cash! (Plus We Take Issue With Another Writer's Inadequate Response To Same Question)

Mike Zelenko (far left) on how Material Issue dealt with money issues!
Being a writer by trade, and having logged over 20 years in rock bands myself, it pains me to see otherwise reputable writers doling out crap advice for the sole purpose of hyping their own book.  Such was the case when a 30-year-old rocker named "Andrew" asked esteemed hipster journalista Jessica Hopper the following question:

Q: My question is more of a means to avoid drama and mistakes than to recover from them, so it might not be worth your time for the column, but I thought I would ask anyway. Are there any books or other resources you could recommend for a band that manages itself? Areas of particular interest are finances and booking, but since I don't know what I don't know, I'm sure any list I could present would be far from comprehensive. At age 30, we're a little old for beginners, and there aren't a lot of people doing what we're trying to do in our area that we could turn to for expertise. What are your suggestions for managing income if and when there is any? Should we start a bank account? Are there unexpected costs that we might encounter or things we should have money on hand for over the course of playing shows? Pessimist question: If we split the cost of equipment like a PA, should we discuss what will happen to it when the band ceases to exist?

If you'd like to read Hopper's answer, click HERE.

If you'd like a REAL answer, just keep on reading, baby.

A: The truth is that money has broken up its fair share of great, and not so great, rock bands over the years.  The other truth is that there is no one tried-and-true method to avoid this pitfall because every band dynamic is different.  Whether it be songwriting credits, royalty payments, or splitting gig profits, deciding who gets what sooner rather than later is one way of avoiding this potentially fatal roadblock.

In the case of Chicago trio Material Issue, who recorded three albums for Mercury Records, how the band would split their earnings (and expenses) was one they reached early on.  "Our agreement was that everything was split three ways except for publishing, where Jim got the most," says the band's drummer Mike Zelenko.  "I still see some royalties.  After three large recording advances, three large publishing advances, tour support that lasted about 6 years, and at least 6 budget videos, I don't think we ever re-couped."

"The bands I was in were always completely egalitarian," says former Green bassist and Lilacs front man Ken Kurson.  "We split all money three ways (Green) or four (Lilacs). The only exceptions being if we had some big expense coming like the van needed an alternator, we'd take that out of the 'band fund' and then split the remainder among the members. I don't recall any tension over the division of the money, though there was plenty of general grumbling about how broke we were and how little we earned."

When asked if he and his band mates ever opened a band bank account, Kurson replied matter-of-factly, "No, we always kept it in cash."

See what I did there?  In the span of five whole minutes, I fired off a couple Facebook messages and got quotes from the drummer in a major label rock band and a bass player whose indie rock days took him around the world, but these days he's stuck behind the editor's desk at New York's Observer.

I also answered Andrew's question without hyping my own book or directing a 30-year-old man to the Young Adult section of his local library to check out a book called Girls Guide To Rocking.

Just sayin'.

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