You're signed, and the big cheque arrives. What do you spend it on?
Or foe. The money a record company may one day heap on you must be spent (oh yes). But how? Jon Lewin and John Morrish spoke to some recently signed bands to see where the money went, and why.
THERE you are, struggling just below the bottom rung of the escalator to stardom, with contracts, advances, and records still just a dream. But what if you were to get that phone call tomorrow? Have you ever really thought what would happen if you got your deal? To everyone still waiting, it probably sounds a tad dodgy to say that's when your troubles really start. But it's true.
So where does the money go once you've signed on the dotted line? Remember that big lump sum is (usually) intended to pay rehearsal and recording studio bills, as well as food, rent, clothes, and equipment. It seems that there is a new sense of realism abroad amongst the bands currently being signed — accountants and lawyers are now a vital part of every professional group's entourage. No longer do you regularly hear stories of famous female singers spending their whole advance on Mediterranean holidays, then coming back and asking for more. Though one producer we spoke to came up with a story about a new band who kept disappearing from the studio where they were watching some session players recording their first release (ho ho). He later discovered that they were out spending their advance in the fashion houses of London's South Molton Street.
Brian Spence, one of last winter's signings to Polydor, didn't believe the story.
"I spent quite a bit on home recording equipment. I already had an 8-track machine but I bought a Soundtracs desk, a cheap Korg digital delay, a digital reverb and a Yamaha DX7.
"I had my room spectrum analysed and bought a graphic equaliser — but it didn't seem to make any difference. So I bought a new guitar.
"And with some of the other money I put a deposit on a house. Previously I was living in one room," he says. Brian, a new signing but hardly a new face, having toured in the embarrassingly-named seventies group Bilbo Baggins, draws the line at the oft-suggested sensible idea of banking the loot and paying yourself a wage.
"I can't work it that way. There were things I wanted and I felt it was time to move. If you have got accommodation, that's the best thing to do; it takes a lot of pressure off you.
"Oh, and I bought a Triumph Spitfire."
Curiosity Killed The Cat are a recent signing to Phonogram, and have just finished recording their debut album. Guitarist Julian Brookhouse seems to have got things pretty much under control. Like nearly everybody else, he wouldn't say how much he got, but he seemed happy to say what the band is doing with it.
"We had to pay quite a lot off initially. We had been financed by a management company for rehearsals and so on, for a year or so, and we had to settle that. That took about a third, and of course we'd already paid them 20 per cent as their fee.
"So that was nearly half straight away. Then our drummer bought a new Pearl kit. The bassist went mad and bought a Wal and a Status. I bought a JC120 amp, I already had a pretty nice Strat, oh, and a couple of effects. The keyboard player got a DX7.
"We put ourselves on a wage, which has since declined. Initially it was about £100 a week, now we've chopped it down to about £75 a week. We can just sort of live on it. We run a float every week. The band is set up as a company, and we own our own publishing company.
"Running costs just seem to eat into it. We are going to set up some kind of studio as soon as we get another advance, otherwise you realise that it all goes and you've got nothing material at the end of the day. I myself have the ultimate ambition of production, and I realised at the age of 17 that there's various paths you can take into production, and this is one of them. I would like a guitar-to-MIDI converter..."
Producer John Walters suggest many bands are putting their advances into the most expensive kind of technology: "Fairlight ownership per capita must be higher here than in any other country in the world."
Our drum correspondent Geoff Nicholls also sees a trend toward people buying equipment. "Basically to survive in the pop business now, you have got to become a producer, engineer and songwriter. You have to control the means of production. Increasingly that means the production is being concentrated in one machine being operated by one person."
But that scheme doesn't seem to have affected Salvation Sunday, another new Polydor act with a single just out, who have stuck to resolutely traditional purchases: guitars; amps; keyboards; but no van.
"We already anticipated what we thought we'd need for a year. We decided not to buy a van because we are playing quite infrequently; it's only worthwhile if you're playing all the time.
"There are six of us, and we've got to pay six people's wages: we pay ourselves £80 a week. It's not extravagant but it's more than we were getting: we were all on the dole before — it's like Christmas now.
"We are also paying our own travel around London. And there's a reserve in the bank. One of the very first things we did was to get a very good music accountant. He worked it out to last for a year," said Salvation Sunday's Stephen Winterbottom.
The Roaring Boys made a big splash a year or so ago when Epic paid them an extremely BIG advance. Keyboard player Stef Osadzinski told us about the effect this had on the band.
"Initially, we didn't want to update our gear completely, until we could assess how things were going. I had a Korg Polysix and Fender Rhodes before we signed, and subsequently bought a Prophet 5 and a DX7. But after a while, we realised that you need the best possible tools you can get. I then added a Memorymoog, and looked found at samplers, before settling on a Mirage."
Stef admits to being irritated by the rapid turnaround in the keyboard market, as he found himself buying a Prophet 2000 a little later. "The Mirage is very fiddly to use, but it is good to learn the basics of sampling. And even if it is noisy, you do occasionally come up with a great sample."
The Roaring Boys are set up as a partnership; this has tax advantages, though it does mean that all the group members are personally liable for any debts. The partnership collectively owns all the group's equipment, and pays all their recording and rehearsal costs.
"We didn't put ourselves on a weekly wage; we roughly approximated an annual wage, and paid ourselves that. We get £9,000 a year, before tax."
He further made the point that a substantial proportion of the advance should be readily available to take into account producer's royalties and the like which will eventually come out of the band's pocket. And although that money is there for the band to use, it's judicious to invest it in safe assets. The Roaring Boys are trying to buy their own rehearsal studio.
Julian Dawson & The Flood, recent signings to PolyGram International, spent most of their advance in advance. Since The Flood are mainly ex-members of Can, the band had been given credit in Can's Cologne studio. "So when our advance arrived, roughly ⅓ went straight away. On top of that, all the musicians (including guests Richard Thompson and Kimberly Rew) had travelling expenses to be met, and there was a lawyer to be paid — another £1,000."
Julian is paying himself his own expenses, and might invest in a DX7 or a Mirage. His living costs will either come from session work (he's a harmonica-ist), or out of a putative publishing deal. Any spare cash he has will be put toward a deposit on a house.
"I'm lucky, in that I've got gear left over from other incarnations. I've even got a Fostex 4-track which I bought from Propaganda — they had to sell it because their advance ran out..."
So there you have it — that's the way the money goes. Not that anyone would have admitted (in a sober state) that two-thirds of their advance went up their noses, but there does seem to be a growing financial awareness in the new pop stars. Pop music is big business, as we all know.
Perhaps the last word should go to one unnamed muso who offered this slightly sour advice: "The most sensible thing would be to get a really big advance, invest it — and give up music." What, like Sique Sique Sputnik?
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