The Truth About Tribute Bands
It always amuses me when i read an advert or a post on a forum online from a musician or band looking for other musicians to complete a new tribute band. I often see musicians who do this, talking about moving up to the tribute scene from either an originals band, as they are sick of working hard for nothing, which i have at some point experienced and understand, or perhaps from a covers band. The covers band musicians usually think, for example, "well we're already doing a lot of jovi songs, so why not do a Bon Jovi tribute band?" They probably also think "lets do a tribute band and once our name gets about we'll be doing some big gigs, we'll get paid a lot of money, we'll get a rider of free food and beer, we'll be booked to perform in other countries for a nice fat fee, have all our expenses paid, and it'll just be one big holiday in the sun."
I always shake my head and sigh. Feeling sorry for them i wonder whether i should tell them the realities of being in a tribute band, or simply let them do a lot of hard work and find out the hard way. Firstly, my dear covers band friends, what you should know is that even though you might already be performing a lot of songs from a certain artist, there is a huge difference between performing those songs as yourself, with whatever feel you play, with whatever equipment you use and sounds you make........and performing as if you were a certain artist, performing a piece of music as closely as possible to the original. You have to play your guitar, sing or whatever, pretty much note for note, while dressed up as that artist, while moving like that artist, while exhibiting that artist's mannerisms. You are no longer simply a musician, you are now part actor. So you see, there is a huge difference between covers and tribute bands.
The next truth about tribute bands is all about the money. The fees you can command as a tribute artist will range from a few hundred to a few thousand per performance depending on which artist you cover, how good you are, how good your presentation is, how good your marketing materials are, and last but not least, who you know and who likes you. Seeing as Freddie Mercury is no longer with us and Queen had many sing-a-long hits, Queen tributes can command much higher fees than for example a Limp Bizkit tribute. In fact, i really don't recommend you do a Lim Bizkit tribute.......unless you want to starve. :)
If you are lucky enough to be able to perform a high quality tribute to a popular band, that still does not guarantee you great gigs or fantastic fees, let alone great profit. A new band on the scene has the problem of getting their foot in the door when trying to enter the scene. Agents and venue promoters tend to stick with bands they have been booking for a long time. It does not matter if you are better......they see "tried and tested", and they see an established, crowd pulling, money making band already on their books. Changing their minds really is not easy. Supposing you manage to steer through all the negatives i have mentioned in this blog, it is then a case of not how much money you will be paid per performance, but how much profit you will make and keep.
A true, top quality tribute band works nationally and perhaps internationally. A band can command a good fee, but what about the expenses incurred when delivering that performance? Venue promoters would love to pay you peanuts, but you have a lot of expenses which they just don't think about when they consider you greedy. For example, imagine you are a Bon Jovi tribute band based in the south of England, almost on the south coast. A venue in Yorkshire wants to book you. Before you quote the venue a fee for your services, you have to factor that your fuel costs, depending on the vehicle you drive, how you drive it and the weight it carries, could easily be £150. Then you will have to pay the sound engineer. This could cost anything depending on who the engineer is and whether he brings any equipment with him or uses all your own PA system and related equipment. Lets say you pay the sound engineer £100, and then spend another £100 on accomodation for the band. This means that even without breaking down expenses further, such as money for toll roads, batteries for wireless microphones, guitar strings, food, etc, etc, this gig will cost the band a minimum of £350(700$) before they start to see some profit. If you then consider that a new band with no experience or contacts will have to offer their services cheaply and accept whatever gigs are offered in order to get their foot in the door.....starting a new tribute band is no easy thing.
If the new tribute band does indeed eventually manage to establish themselves on the scene and gain the trust of agents and venue promoters, as well as producing for themselves great marketing materials, then they might very well get to the stage where they do some big, well paid gigs. They might indeed perform in different countries and have a great, rock n' roll experience. If a band gets to this stage, it has to remember not to try and act rockstar-ish, try not to be divas, remember its not about getting drunk on free beer, and an international gig is not a holiday! Being in a high quality tribute band is all about attention to detail whether you are selecting a set list to perform, choosing stage clothes or planning a show. Its about acting professional on and off the stage and respecting venues and their staff. Last but not least, its about delivering a highly entertaining, crowd engaging show, which wil ensure that the audience goes home singing songs very loudly as the leave the venue......this is a classic way to let the venue owners/promoters know that your band kicks some serious butt. If you can manage to do all this, then you will enjoy getting onstage and being someone else for a while as you rock the crap out of an audience, leaving all your worries behind for a while and getting paid for the privelege. It is awesome.....just make sure you don't suffer from burn out or forget who you are. :)