How Much Do Bands Make to Play Private Events?
With album sales currently in free fall and showing little sign of recovery, the live stage has now become the main way to earn a crust for most artists. But those raking in seven-figure sums aren’t necessarily having to embark on mammoth year-long world tours to reap such rewards.
Whether you’re a CEO of a global corporation looking to splash a bit of cash around at the annual conference, a daddy’s little rich girl hoping to impress her friends at a My Super Sweet Sixteen-style birthday party, or just an affluent super-fan wanting to bring the concert experience into your very own living room, the majority of the world’s biggest music acts are now available to ‘hire’ for private shows.
Sure, there might be occasions when the pop glitterati are baring their souls, pouring their hearts out, and working up a sweat, only to be ignored by a bunch of disinterested businessmen or bratty teenagers. The financial incentives, often so astonishing they would make even Donald Trump’s eyes water, are arguably more than enough compensation.
Even Guns N’ Roses must have turned up on time for once, having been given a cool $1 million to play a show in Moscow last year for Alexander Chistyakov, the deputy chairman of the management board of the Federal Grid Company. Rolling Stones picked up seven times that amount for rattling through the hits at the 60th birthday bash of Texas investor David Bonderman in 2002. Michael Jackson reportedly netted $15-20m for appearing at the Sultan of Brunei’s 50th birthday celebrations back in 1996.
It is unlikely that anyone will ever be able to top the pay-per-minute salary of The Eagles, who were handed an astounding $6 million to play just one solitary song (“Hotel California”) at a private New York party.
But being courted by some of the world’s wealthiest can occasionally come back to bite artists on the proverbial ass. Mariah Carey, Nelly Furtado, and Beyonce were just some of the superstars who accepted handsome payouts to perform for the family of Libyan dictator Colonel Gaddafi over the last decade. Due to intense public pressure, the latter two reportedly donated their fees to charity.
Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Aerosmith, Tom Petty, and Stevie Nicks, their collective earnings of $10m for appearing at David Brooks’ 13-year-old daughter’s Bar Mitzvah were later revealed to have been embezzled from Brooks’ own bulletproof vest-making company.
While the festival scene may be on less morally dubious ground, some of the larger festivals such as Coachella, V Festival, and Roskilde are capable of forking out equally substantial amounts of cash, causing concern amongst the independent music sector who argue that this practice is forcing smaller events to close down.
Indeed, it’s hard to see how the circuit’s lower-profile festivals can compete, considering Download reportedly dished out £3m to AC/DC to perform in 2010, Reading & Leeds Festivals allegedly offered The Libertines £1.5m to reunite in the same year, and a Norwegian festival almost tempted Robbie Williams to come out of retirement in 2008 with a similar offer.
50 Cent didn’t even have to finish his set at Reading in 2004 to earn his £250,000 fee, walking off after 15 minutes (the minimum contracted time artists have to appear on stage) after being both booed and bottled at by disgruntled rock fans.
There are exceptions to the rule. The likes of Paul McCartney, Arctic Monkeys, and Emeli Sande were given just one pound for contractual purposes to sing in front of billions of viewers at the London 2012 Olympic Games opening ceremony, while the star-studded bill at Live Aid and Live 8 all agreed to perform without seeing a penny.
But for the most part, even has-beens, flash-in-the-pans, and one-hit wonders can still command the kind of money in one day that most people would struggle to earn in a year. According to US booking agency, Pretty Polly Productions, Coolio, whose last major hit was back in 1997, can earn up to $20k for a night’s work; MC Hammer, whose last chart action goes back three years earlier, may show-off his trademark low-hanging pants for the price of $40k; forgotten mid-00s indie-rockers The Bravery, who only reached the Billboard Hot 100 on one occasion, can still profit up to $25k for a one-off appearance.
Perhaps reflecting the rise of the EDM genre, it’s the superstar DJs who currently seem to be earning the biggest bucks, with the likes of Skrillex, Deadmau5 and Afrojack all charging in between $75-200K a night for staring at their laptops and twiddling a few knobs.
Of course, these sums may or may not take into consideration the money that has to be handed over to production, management, and crew, etc. But even so, for those who have managed to escape the toilet circuit, hitting the road now seems to have become synonymous with hitting the jackpot.