Did you know that the same day that Violent Soho were nominated for a coveted ARIA Award, guitarist James Tidswell was applying for a job at McDonalds?
Despite having “signed record deals, been #21 on the US Charts [and] played Lollapalooza,” Tidswell’s fortunes were so low that he was forced to move in with his sister-in-law and seek casual employment on the same day he was given the nod for one of Australia’s biggest commercial trophies.
Tidswell’s admission is just one of the many stark truths offered by Aussie musicians – including Kate Miller-Heidke, REMi, Hey Geronimo, The Carios, and more – in a new music documentary that explores the harsh truths of how much money there is to be made in today’s music industry.
Spoiler alert: It’s not a lot.
According to the bands featured in the frank doco, entitled The Truth About Money In Music, while the current opportunities for wider exposure have greatly increased (thanks to streaming services, social media, digital distribution et al.) the profits to be made from such ventures have slimmed considerably, making the glory days of record labels throwing big money at young bands a fading memory.
The members of Brisbane’s Hey Geronimo explain in the feature that their humble goal is simply to “break even” while getting to “play awesome shows to a lot of people and not have to pay for it.”
Frontman Pete Kilroy calculates that for the average four/five-piece band to earn the equivalent $50,000 annual salary of a typical career, the “simple maths” are “with all the commissions and expenses, your band would have to turn over $1 million a year.”
Being in a band then is “fun but it sure as hell ain’t lucrative,” as The Truth About Money In Music director, Brisbane filmmaker Dan Graetz, declares in the doco’s opening narration.
Graetz, who has produced music videos for Violent Soho, Ball Park Music, The Carios, and other Aussies on shoestring budgets, says the concept for his new feature came after Jack Daniels approached him with funding as part of a new series called Future Legends, which is funding up to 18 projects this year in order to spotlight emerging Australian talent.
Getting his film backing off of a brand’s budget, Graetz also gets his musical subjects to open about the idea of ‘selling out’, finding that many musicians have changed their tune about collaborating with corporations.
Violent Soho’s Tidswell says there “[isn’t] much difference between taking money from some brand or from some record label. In some ways it’s better to take the money from the brand because you don’t have to pay it back.”
Hip hop’s new rising star REMi concurs that brand backing is often a “means to an end” that doesn’t have to compromise artistic vision; “I’m not going to feel like a sellout until I am not driving my mum’s Yaris,” he says.
Rather than simply focussing on the complaints of bands bemoaning a lack of big budgets, The Truth About Money In Music is tempered by the passionate attitudes of its interviewees.
“All my friends and family were saying ‘So when are you going to make it?’,” recalls Tidswell. “I always found it such a weird question because we made it the day we got the show at Ric’s in 2007. Everything else is cream for us,” adds the guitarist.
“In no way does the band come even close to drawing the income that we need to do the things that we do,” laments Jai Sparks of Brisbane band The Strums, adding enthusiastically, “but that’s not going to bloody stop us!”
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