Band Structure – Know What You’re Getting Yourself Into

© 2010 Vinny Ribas

Before you start or join a band, it is important to know the various ways that bands are structured. The reason this is important is that there are benefits and drawbacks of each format. Many musicians and singers commit to situations that turn out to be completely different than what they ‘signed up for’. So, here are some common structures and what to expect out of each one:[private_member]


In this kind of band, everyone is an equal partner. There is no ‘owner’. There may (and should) be one person who acts as the leader, but he or she does not have a greater stake in the band than anyone else.

  • Belonging to this kind of band can be great if everyone gets along and has an equal commitment to the bands’ success. Expenses, profits and responsibilities are all shared equally; decisions are made by the group, not one individual. You might be on salary. It is amazing when you know that you are an equal partner in something great.
  • The biggest challenge of this kind of structure arises when the group members disagree on important matters such as song choice, hiring a manager, whether or not to pursue or accept a record deal etc. This often results in a messy band breakup, or with members arguing and eventually quitting. It is very difficult, but not impossible, to find several people who all fit together regarding personality, ethics, work ethic, vision and passion. It also takes hard work on everyone’s part.

Band And Hired Guns

Sometimes a core group of singers or musicians will form the formal band, and then hire additional musicians to perform with them. The core members own the rights to the band name, own an equity share in the business and most likely make more money than the hired musicians.

  • Being a member of the core band can be awesome if, once again, everyone gets along is on the same page. Most often the band members are committed to the group and are in it for the long haul. That could offer some sense of security, though nothing is ever written in stone. You may even draw a salary.
  • The primary challenge in being a core member of this kind of band is the same as the previous all-for-one band – keeping everyone content and working together as a single-minded, dedicated, cohesive unit.
  • Being hired on as a supplemental musician can be great if you just want to play but don’t want the responsibilities of getting the gigs, handling the finances, dealing with legal issues, doing the marketing, etc. Basically, you learn the music, rehearse with the band, show up and play the gigs and go home (or back to the bus). You may draw a salary or get paid by the gig. Most bands of this type try to keep the same musicians for a long time to maintain a consistency in their sound, so there can be some sense of security.
  • Being a subcontracted musician can be a challenge in that you have no say in the management or direction of the band itself. You may not be asked to help pick the songs, decide when and where to perform, when and what to record etc. You are also more expendable than the core members because the ‘faces’ of the band are the core members only. You are most likely offered a set wage rather than reaping the benefits of the act’s success. If you are looking to be a star in your own right, this may not be the right long-term format, though it is great experience for when you do break out on your own.

Owner And Hired Guns

In this format, one person is the boss, and most likely the lone celebrity. Chances are this person is the star and their name is what’s being marketed. Taylor Swift or Lady Gaga are examples where the star is one person and the band is hired as needed to back them up. Sometimes the band is mentioned as well, such as ‘Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band’.

  • If you are looking to promote your name personally, then you will benefit from this format. You (and your business team) make all of the decisions regarding your career and then hire the musicians and singers you want, as you need them. When things go great, you reap 100% of the rewards. You are the boss and have control over every aspect and the direction of your career.
  • Being the sole owner and celebrity can have some real challenges as well. For example, you are responsible for every facet of your career, including getting gigs, marketing, managing the business, marketing, dealing with legal issues and much more. You also need to be a good leader, an effective motivator, and be able to inspire the musicians and singers you hire. It can be a lonely road and can sometimes become overwhelming. If things don’t go exactly as planned, you alone take all of the heat.
  • Being hired to back up a musician or singer can be great if you feel more comfortable in a support role rather than being the leader. If you’re hired by someone who is a good leader, keeps the band as busy as you’d like to be, does the right amount of traveling for you etc, this could be ideal.
  • Being hired as a back-up singer can have some challenges as well. If you don’t get along with the leader or don’t agree with their leadership style you will be very unhappy. This will also occur if you get tied into someone who is not doing the work needed to keep the band booked and moving forward. There is virtually no security in this kind of position unless you can get the leader to offer you a long-term contract. And, once again, you may not have any say regarding songs, when and where you’re booked etc. In most cases, the leader offers you a set wage, as opposed to getting paid based on the act’s success.

Pick-Up Band

On a local level, this is a very common format. It occurs when one person (or an agent) gets a gig and then puts an impromptu or makeshift band together to play it. The songs are usually the most common songs that almost everyone who is hired would know. There may be a lead singer who doesn’t play an instrument. He or she may bring charts for the band to read. This happens extensively for private parties like weddings. Often 2 or more of the musicians have played together before and know each other’s repertoire.

To get hired for these bands, you need to have a wide repertoire, at least in the genre of music that the gig requires. You should also be good at transposing songs on the fly because different singers sing in different keys.

  • One big advantage of successfully getting involved in these kinds of bands is that there are always bands or band leaders looking to hire musicians for individual gigs. Even if you have your own band, you can do these pick-up dates on your off days to fill in your calendar. If you get a reputation as being a good player, easy to work with and professional (show up on time, dress properly etc), you can stay pretty busy. And if you want a day off, you just need to not book a gig for that day. You are not locked into working every date that a band books. The person who got the gig in the first place usually makes a little more money than everyone else, and different players may be paid different amounts. Multi-instrumentalists or musicians who sing can thrive in this environment.
  • The biggest disadvantage of this kind of band arrangement is the uncertainty of getting gigs. If there are a lot of people who do what you do and do it well, the work can be a little thin at times. You have to do everything you can to make yourself the go-to person.

Corporate Band

A corporate band is one that is basically assembled and marketed by a separate for-profit or non-profit entity, such as playing in a symphony. Some record labels will ‘manufacture’ a band and market it.

  • One big advantage of this kind of gig can be a reasonably steady paycheck. Often you will be on salary rather than getting paid per gig. Your primary responsibilities are to learn your parts, show up for rehearsals and gigs on time and act and dress professionally at all times.
  • One drawback of this kind of relationship is that you usually have no say in anything; you are an employee and are expected to do as the appointed band leader says. Another drawback is that you don’t always get a chance to exert your individuality as a musician or singer. Also, the repertoire is often the same night after night after night.

Jam Band

A jam band is one that just gets together for fun. There is little or no rehearsing, and some don’t gig that much, if at all. Many only play at informal parties for little or no money, while others play at local bars on weekends.

  • If you’re doing music just for fun, this can be an ideal situation. There are no long-term commitments, no dress requirements or other rules and regulations. This arrangement can also work if you’re looking to supplement your income with a few dollars here and there. If you’re looking to get a better gig, you might be able to use this as a showcase for your talents. This can also be a chance to work with some amazing musicians who just don’t want the pressure or commitment of booking, marketing and managing a band.
  • If you’re looking for a full-time paycheck, this is probably not the situation for you. The songs are often classics that everyone already knows, there are lots of solos, the arrangements are loose and the only emphasis is on having a good time.

Solo Artist

A solo artist is someone who performs all alone. Many solo acts are singers who accompany themselves on piano or guitar, but there are soloists on many other instruments. Others hire someone to accompany them, but the focus is on the one main performer.

  • The good news is that as a solo act you have control over every single aspect of your career. You choose the songs, sing all original songs if you want to, decide when and where you want to perform, decide how you want to dress etc. You also get to keep all of the income after expenses. If you are a strong enough act, you can move into pretty lucrative gigs (corporate events, concerts etc.)
  • The bad news is that with the control over your career comes the responsibility of managing and maintaining it. This can be a lonely road unless you have support from a team, friends, family etc. Another challenge is that, depending on the nature of your act, there may be limitations as to where you can play, such as coffee houses, small lounges, house concerts etc.

Solo Artist or Band and Orchestra or Symphony

Some solo artists or bands travel by themselves and perform with local orchestras backing them in each town. To be this kind of act, you would need to have great charts or sheet music for the musicians to follow, and often schedule a rehearsal or 2 before the gig. In most cases you will only be able to make this kind of arrangement financially viable if you have already established a name for yourself.

The next step up from this is the orchestra or symphony that brings in an established band or soloist to perform and backs them up. Once again it is expected that the band or soloist has orchestral arrangements for all of musicians. These are mostly concert gigs and only work if the act has a draw.

As you can see, there are many kinds of band situations that you can get into, and this list only touches the surface. The bottom line is that it is important that you know ahead of time when you join or form a band exactly what your position and your responsibilities are. Don’t get caught committing to a situation that doesn’t meet your own personal goals or that has you doing things that you have no desire to do (e.g. travel, play certain kinds of gigs). Know what you want and need, and search until you find and settle into that ideal situation.

Please don’t discount the value of performing in any of the support roles mentioned above. They are equally as important as the lead roles. They are also a way to get serious experience and make great connections that can help you when and if you decide to take on a lead role yourself.


About The Author

Vinny Ribas

Vinny Ribas is the founder and CEO of Indie Connect, an artist management, consulting and training company. The company also hosts networking and educational events and has published an app that connects people to the Nashville Music Industry. During his 40+ year career, Vinny has been a full time musician, artist manager, booking agent, songwriter, studio owner, producer and the Entertainment Director for the NV State Fair. He has also coached over 1000 artists and songwriters. He is a sought after speaker and has authored over 400 music industry articles. Vinny is also the CEO of Top 4M Entertainment, an independent film and television production company.