Ways rockers can make ends meet
Judges Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler applaud during the 11th season finale of "American Idol" in Los Angeles, California, May 23, 2012. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni
"I got 25 lighters on my dresser, yessir," boasts Billy Gibbons on ZZ Top's latest single. "You know I gots to get paid."
No, the bearded blues-rocker isn't singing the praises of owning a Bic franchise. Gotsta Get Paid -- a revamp of fellow Texan DJ DMD's rap hit 25 Lighters -- is about slinging crack in the empty plastic containers.
Not that anybody suspects for a second that Gibbons has resorted to hustling rock to make ends meet.
For one thing, he'd be the most conspicuous dealer ever. But he might not be alone -- these days, musicians have to improvise to pay the bills.
As anybody who hasn't bought a CD lately knows, the music biz has hit the skids. And with CD sales continuing to nosedive -- some artists claim they've lost 90% of their income -- people are finding creative ways to pick up some change.
But what can a poor boy do besides sing for a rock 'n' roll band?
Well, here are a few options that don't involve collecting discarded lighters:
Once upon a time, artists toured to promote albums. And often lost money doing it -- the cost of the road was offset by long-term sales.
That script has flipped. Many musicians now make albums to justify the near-constant touring they have to do to stay flush. And that road is indeed endless.
Polaris Prize winner Dan Snaith of Caribou, for instance, played 185 shows in 2010, travelling 139,000 miles. Talk about running on empty. And he's far from the hardest-working man in show biz.
Of course, having more acts on the road for longer -- especially during these tough times -- means more competition for dwindling dollars.
Which is why many artists have embraced ...
Want to watch Justin Bieber soundcheck? Tour Bon Jovi's backstage? Get a picture with Britney?
It's all doable -- for a price. Fans willing to plunk down hundreds (or thousands) can get the royal treatment -- primo seats, swag bags, and best of all, access to stars who wouldn't have waved at them from the limo before. Many indie artists go even further -- they'll give you lessons, take you to lunch, even wash your undies.
To promote his album Since 1972, drummer Josh Freese offered multiple packages, up to a $75,000 version that included a drum kit, a trip to Tijuana, a trapeze lesson with members of Nine Inch Nails, and having Freese join your band for a month.
The truly rich don't go to concerts. Concerts come to them. For a few measly millions, superstars will play your wedding, bar mitzvah or holiday bash. Elton, Celine, The Stones, Beyonce; they've all done the deed. It can backfire; Nelly Furtado got $1 million to play at a Gadhafi family party, but gave it away once the story got out.
In a less dictator-y vein, lucrative corporate gigs have long been a dirty secret of the industry. The same artists that sing about sticking it to the man will rock out for a ballroom of soused managers -- though word is these gigs have declined with the economy.
On a more personal level, many indie acts play house concerts for reasonable fees. They cut out the middleman; you don't have to drive home. It's a win-win.
Artists like to say the public pays their salary. But lately, some are taking it to a new level. Instead of going cap-in-hand to executives to finance recordings and tours, they're going straight to fans, soliciting funds via sites such as Kickstarter and PledgeMusic.
For some it may be humbling; for others it's a windfall. Corset-loving DIY singer-songwriter Amanda Palmer recently campaigned to raise $100 grand for her next album -- and raised a staggering $1.1 million.
That's gonna buy a lot of lingerie and ukuleles.
Along with being funded by fans, musicians are cutting out the middle men and selling straight to them as well. And I'm not talking about those late night Time-Life infomercials. The Beach Boys recently went on home-shopping network QVC to hawk their reunion album. Scissor Sisters hired Josh Homme of QOTSA to host an infomercial spoof for their new record. But so far, no one has topped Weezer -- they bundled their 2009 album Raditude with the Snuggie sleeved blanket and sold them via late-night TV ads.
You don't really think Steven Tyler and J.Lo care about finding the next instantly disposable American Idol, do you? Or that Cee-Lo, Christina Aguilera, Blake Shelton and Adam Levine are really keen to find The Voice? The only thing they're after is a regular paycheque -- and one that comes with the fringe benefits of massive TV exposure, a captive audience for their next projects, and the opportunity to visit their houses and spouses for a while. Of course, even the artists who can't stay home have another option ...
Some musicians make their mansions work while they're out playing.
Want to live like Mick Jagger for a week? You can rent his Mustique villa Stargrove -- which includes beachfront pavilions, a pool and Jacuzzi, use of Mick's Jeep and staff of six -- for $15,000. Not to be outdone, Keith Richards' Turks and Caicos estate with butler service goes for $8,000 a night, while Eric Clapton's $14-million Steadfast Point on Antigua costs $50,000 weekly. Randy Travis' Lahaina Estates on Maui? A mere $450 a night.
Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale of music's latest trip -- take umpteen bands and jam them all aboard a giant ship. Over the past few years, artists have gone overboard for music cruises. Bands from Weezer to Barenaked Ladies to Oak Ridge Boys shanghai a likeminded crew of performers -- be they classic rockers, electronica DJs or jam bands -- and headline their own floating festival, with acts playing several times on the Lido deck over the course of the trip, and hanging out at the bottomless shrimp fountain the rest.
Those who can do; those who can't quite make the mortgage on the castle teach. More specifically, they become counselors at Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy Camp, helping middle-aged wannabes make their musical dreams a reality -- if only for one night. Roger Daltrey, Steven Tyler, Slash, Bill Wyman, Vince Neil, Ace Frehley, Meat Loaf and Joe Walsh have all jammed with civilians. Gene Simmons is booked for an upcoming instalment in Vegas -- and if Simmons is involved, you know there's cash on the table.
Can't sell new albums? Resell the old ones. Musicians young and old (and their record labels) never get tired of deluxe editions, box sets and expanded, remastered reissues. Take your album, slap a few remixes, B-sides, outtakes and videos onto it and voila! -- a whole new product for almost no cost. Pink Floyd are the undisputed masters of the upsell -- they've repackaged their entire catalog twice in the last five years, and issued expensive boxes of Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here and The Wall. Fans could actually build a wall of their reissues.
And of course, if none of those work, there's always a last resort:
It's always been the best career move. Just look at what it did for Elvis, Jim, Jimi, Janis, Kurt, Michael and countless others. Granted, you don't get to enjoy your success. But at least you know your heirs will be rolling in dough. And if you're lucky, you could always come back as a hologram.