If you want to make money as a musician, you'd better learn to downsize
If you hadn't noticed, the music industry has been in a tailspin since 1999. I'm not kidding. 56% drop in sales from 1999 to 2009. And 2009 was 4 years ago, so the sales drop might be as much as 65%. Possibly even worse.
The money in music simply isn't there like it used to be. It's getting so bad now that record companies are actually signing bands just for singles instead of full albums. Remember how I mentioned in my Econorocker book that you should concentrate on singles? Well, now you know yet another reason why you should not bother with making albums whatsoever and release nothing but singles. Singles are the way to go; don't let anyone tell you different. Keep writing them, promo where you can, and keep releasing them.
To promote your singles, you'll want to play some local shows. But being that times are tough economically, the number of band members is now a factor. The more band members there are, the less you get paid. If you eliminate a few band members, you keep more money; that's basic math.
Some bands have even started to replace the bass player with a keyboard. And I'm sure there are others who have replaced the drummer with a keyboard as well.
Generally speaking, the "standard" for a rock band is 4 members. One singer, one guitar player, one bass player and one drummer...
...and that standard needs to change to 3.
3-member bands are nothing new and can sound awesome.
...so it's not like it can't be done. But you really have to "reprogram yourself," so to speak, to drive home the idea of purposely being in a 3-piece band and not 4.
But on top of that, everyone needs to downsize. In the above video you see a huge drum kit. That has to go. A good drummer DOES NOT need a big kit:
While true that most bands would love to play big gigs with thousands of fans out in the audience, the truth is that most places you play will be smaller. A lot smaller. And the smaller the band's setup is, the more places you can play.
Also consider the fact that smaller setups are much easier to transport. You can go so small these days that the entire band can "break down" a stage setup in less than 15 minutes. And I'm talking everything taken off the stage, put away in the car and ready to be taken home. All in 15 minutes.
Get the idea of "looking dinky" out of your head, because nobody cares anymore
The 1970s is what originally spawned "bigger is better," where bands would purposely use overly large equipment (as if the gear back then wasn't large enough already,) to make themselves appear impressive.
Nobody in the audience cares about full-stack Marshall amps or double-bass drum kits anymore. The audience is looking at you and not your gear, so the important thing is to make you count first.
Those who are multi-task musicians will ultimately do better
Every member of the band should know how to operate something either on the floor or to the side of them that helps the song along, be it a sampler, drum machine or synthesizer.
In addition, instead of having a guitar player + bass player, both musicians should be able to play either and switch off depending on what a particular song calls for.
What this does is add many different song options for a 3-piece band. For example, one particular song could be guitar + bass + drums, while another could be acoustic guitar + acoustic guitar + piano.
When recording, do it at home and screw the studio
Again, I have to mention my Econorocker book here. Don't bother renting a studio to record the band. Just get a digital multi-track recorder and record it at home or at the practice spot.
To the recording guys...
Don't worry, I didn't forget about you. If you want a way to make money recording without the studio, you really should set up a "field recording" system, as in a full system you can take to the band and record them there.
You know as well as I do that all you need for that is a mixer, some microphones, a digital recorder and/or laptop, a set of headphones, a fold-away desk and a fold-up chair - all of which fits in the back of your car very easily.
If you say, "I need the controlled environment of a studio to record with," then I'm sorry but you just suck at it then. Good audio guys can record anywhere. Yeah, I know, they don't teach you that in school, so you'll have to learn while in the field, but that's time very well spent and a potentially good source of extra income.
Think about it. If you advertised in the local flyer that you were a "remote studio for hire; we come to you and record you at your rehearsal spot," doesn't that sound like something bands would go for? It sure does. So do it. And don't even think about charging normal studio rates, because it's not like bands have a ton of money.
Start looking into alternative smaller instruments that people would enjoy hearing
Try a harmonica. Try an ocarina. Try a ukulele. Try a mandolin. Try bongos.
With smaller instruments, that means you can get together with your 3-piece band and start playing just about anywhere. Small is GOOD.
Start looking to play in places other than crappy dive bars
There are many restaurants looking for live entertainment. Talk to them. With your downsized band setup, you can now play those gigs.
There are many colleges with frat houses looking for bands. Talk to them (and enjoy the hot girls there too.)
For anywhere that draws crowds, go and see if you can play there.
Remember: Small gigs are easy, and many of them can equal a big check
Instead of seeking out The Big Payday from The One Big Gig, turn that thinking around and approach it from the angle of playing many smaller gigs to get paid well when you combine them all together.
Most bands can't play 3 nights week because it just takes way too much effort, mostly in just moving all the big gear and setting up.
With a downsized 3-member band and a smaller setup, you can easily play 3 gigs a week. Perform a half-hour set at a coffee house? Sure, why not? Do that 3 times a week? Sure, why not?
Also remember that playing many smaller gigs can lead to the big ones. Just remember to always bring along your business cards containing all the band info and contact information. Bring at least 20 every time you play out and hand them out to anyone who wants them.
Go small; make money. Cash is cash even in smaller amounts, and it's not a waste of your time to go small to get it.