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Yes, you’re in the music business!

By Fletch Whipp - RockStarzUSA.com Inc CEO

Shocking headlines today as the former drummer for Slayer, and founding member Dave Lombardo, reveals further details behind his messy split with the metal legends just shy of their Australian tour in 2013. Dave shared he received $750 per show, though the band earned $4.4 million for the year.

It seems shocking, but for those within the industry, or individuals who run their own company, the figures don’t seem so outlandish… in fact, some in the know would call it ‘standard practice’ today. Having done several overseas tours, penned my share of artist contracts & conversations with industry colleagues, allow me to share further insight into the situation. (Some of this is  speculation, but backed by real world insight & experience).

Slayer wikimedia cc image)

Slayer wikimedia cc image)

The sooner the talent realizes they are in the music BUSINESS, the quicker they can adapt to their environment, because love it or hate it, while you & your buds may be jamming in the garage, as your expsoure & popularity grows, you WILL be surrounded by an army of people who are not ‘dudes’, but are bean counters, and they are paid to make decisions that most benefit the one who pays their bills, not the friends of the one who pays their bills.

BACKGROUND DETAILS

Lombardo’s situation is very typical of musicians in his situation today. Here’s the scenario. He was a founding member of Thrash metal band Slayer who formed in 1981. after a 11 years, he left in 1992. Almost 10 years later he was asked back into the band to fill in for their injured drummer. He remained as a permanent member until his departure in 2013.

During 1992 to 2001, the remaining founding members, Jeff Hanneman, Kerry King & Tom Araya handled the Slayer brand, recording 3 CD’s, embarked on multiple world tours, released new products & navigated the bands future, sans Lombardo.

Lombardo rejoined after 10 years & the band continued to record numerous CD’s, toured etc. At some point, possibly in 2011 at the expiration of their long term recording contract with their label, a new agreement was drawn up for Lombardo that was overwhelmingly in the founding members favor.

HOW ‘BOUT THEM APPLES?

Trouble blew up for Slayer when Lombardo received a breakdown of his earnings from the band accountant for the 2012 tax year. His income was $67,000 for the year. while the band took in $4.4 million. Further breakdown revealed the members of Slayer received a cut of $400,000 out of the $4.4 million. Lombardo calculated his earnings were $750 per performance. He was livid at the reality of his situation. The other members perhaps justified their position as they only earned $1,266 each per member for the same show. Truthfully, not such a great disparity considering Lombardo walked away from the group for almost 10 years. Should such a situation be reality, then his grievances would perhaps seem greedy. We know though, that perception is not always reality.

The issue at the heart of the matter here was a poorly understood contract agreement on Lombardo’s part, & the shrewd move by the remaining members, that blew up into an ugly, public debacle.

THE MUSIC BUSINESS PART

For those in small business, who have access to a sharp accountant, you always want to ‘minimize your tax position‘, meaning, you want to write off as many expenses as you legally can, in an effort to show minimal income. If you don’t account for your rightful, legal deductions, you show greater earnings. Greater earnings mean you owe Uncle Sam more moolah, dig?

That’s a standard move for any artist earning income, and so it is for Slayer. Sadly, for Lombardo, he wasn’t in Slayer, he was a hired gun for Slayer, & resultantly, due to his contractual agreement, he only got to share in the crumbs after every single expense was taken out. Big mistake on Lombardo’s part.

Did the other guys know just how small an amount Dave would receive? It’s nearly impossible to draw any other conclusion, but sadly, for Dave, he did not have his own people looking after his interests, otherwise he surely would not have signed such an agreement. Perhaps he thought his friends, his brothers-in-arms would look after him? Reading interviews seems to indicate as much in my opinion.

WHAT WOULD FLETCH DO?

In retrospect, I would have advised Dave to negotiate a retainer as a hired gun of say $2,000 a show win/lose or draw, but certainly not to be left to the mercy of an accountant who has absolutely zero desire to protect his interests, as he did. I would realize after walking away from the brand for such a long period of time, that it is unreasonable to expect to be on equal footing to the guys that did the heavy lifting in keeping the brand moving forward for such an elongated period of time.

King/Araya (founding member Hanneman was out due to poor health since 2010) may have made $1,266 ea per show after expenses on paper, but it could be suggested a more likely figure of $8,000-$10,000 per member was what they really earned, before all the legal write offs, which, if was the case, makes Dave’s $750 vs $8,000 the true reason behind his displeasure. Dave screwed himself out of his rightful earnings.

THE RULES OF ENGAGEMENT

This type of behavior may seem horrifying to other small scale musicians, but it is very, very common place today. We’re connected with a major label band (can’t print their name due to confidentiality agreement) where the guitarist who has been with the band for 10 years-but not a founding member, nor a credited songwriter is paid $1,000 for a live performance, while the founding duo are paid upwards of $40k a show. Other iconic bands like KISS for example, have the same ‘hired gun’ arrangement with their non original members. This is how almost 100% of artists handle their business today.

When an original founding member leaves, the brand is now divided up financially, both profit & loss to the remaining members. New members brought in are paid on a salary basis. They are paid a wage to do live shows & any other duties that are requiring of their time & effort, like media, interviews, photo shoots etc. That is the extent to which the member gets to share in the ‘spoils of war‘. Mechanical royalties, merchandise, IP rights, publishing etc are  shared between the founding members only. The hired gun doesn’t get to see any of that action.

KNOWLEDGE EQUALS POWER

Moral of the story. Dave didn’t do his homework, which shows him to be a pretty nice guy to work with, & shows King/Araya as being the shrewd businessmen they’ve become. Again, by way of reprise, the quicker the talent understands the 2nd word of their dream ‘music business’ the quicker they will be on their way to a profitable, long term career.

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