Making Music: The “Business” of Music

Local Band Talks About How Money Affects Success

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There’s little doubt that if you’re a musician that takes music seriously, playing live is almost always necessary.

For Duluth-based band Fearless Moral Inventory, playing live was how they got their start.

Guitar players Corey Gice and Andrew Stern began writing songs together in 2007, and performing them at open mics at area bars.

As more members joined, more opportunities to play live presented themselves:

“Confidence and experience are the main evolutionary points,” Gice explains. “Just the more you do something, the more you know how to do it.”

Their newest member, drummer Jim Mattson, joined the band about a year ago.

Mattson has been in a number of bands over the years, and says that playing shows is one of the main ways a local band can make a name for themselves.

“Gigging is just the lifeblood and the pulse of the crowd and you go from there,” Mattson said.

Yet the members of the band cannot make music their full time job. They all have full time lives outside of the band.

This makes scheduling a potential headache.

“To get there and make sure everybody has the time off is difficult. Now we have five people. That’s difficult,” Stern said.

Somehow they make it work.

Band members in Fearless Moral Inventory says the band plays at least one or two shows a month.

And each show has its own source of stress and worry.

“Every time we go to a show, even if we know what to expect, there’s always the next curveball,” Stern explains. “Whether it be the venue throwing in something that we had no idea or that our instruments don’t even work!”

For Stern and his band, making music more about passion than income.

Fearless Moral Inventory and many bands like them face the “business” side of music every time they prepare to take the stage.

“Unless you’ve played there before you have no idea what you’re getting yourself into,” Stern said. “Like how you get paid is sometimes up front – like they’re up front with you. And sometimes you get there and they’re like ‘Oh – today we have changed everything.’”
So we followed the band to a free show they were playing at the Boathouse Brewpub in Ely.

Boathouse General Manager Joseph Thome says that for better or for worse, money is at the heart of the decisions that venue owners make when booking shows.

“Money is the big thing,” Thome said. “Especially in a small venue like up here. You don’t want to pay too much for a band. Then you’re not going to make any money off of them. And that’s kind of the main point. And that’s the main aspect. You want to make money off the band.”

Ryan Young, the fiddle player for the band Trampled by Turtles, confirms how important it is to understand the business side of the music.

“The decisions you make on the business side have a huge effect [on your success],” Young said. “You have to know what you’re doing. Not that I do!”

Trampled by Turtles is from the Duluth area, but now they tour the world, have recorded seven albums, and in the years leading up to now – have faced as a band the same ups and downs as bands with much smaller amounts of success.

“We would play shows for zero people in the middle of nowhere in Texas and spend 700 dollars getting there,” Young said. “Sometimes we didn’t make a lot of money at all.”
It’s taken more than a decade for the members of Trampled by Turtles to get to the point where they can call music their full time jobs.

“I took a lot of things from other musicians,” Young explains. “Like I just pay attention to people who were maybe where I want to be someday and kind of learned about them. Like, what decisions did they make?”

Andrew Stern says the Duluth scene is diverse, and there is a sense of mutual support among bands.

“The camaraderie is there, but also I just want to be better than them,” he said. “I really like when they do really well. And then I get to try to do better than that.”

Stern’s band doesn’t have a record label or a tour bus; they’re just five friends who enjoy playing rock and roll.

But it’s the drive to get better and eventually record an album that keeps them on the stage, the rehearsal space, and keeps them moving forward.

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