Vol 2, Issue 11: Alternative Sources of Revenue Pt II: Tribute Acts & House Bands

Last week as part of the kickoff to this month’s exclusive series on alternative sources of revenue for musicians, we explored a "day in the life" of music teachers, and special events performers. Continuing with our theme of potential part-time supplemental music related gigs, we will now venture into the world of tribute acts, and house bands.

Tribute Acts
To get an inside look at the world of tribute acts, I was lucky enough to get a chance to speak with Mike Dimoulas, frontman of Hotel California, the original Eagles tribute band, and his agent Roger LaPointe of The Booking House, "the undisputed leader and supplier of quality tribute acts since 1983"; other notable acts include Shania’s Twin, Practically Hip, HELP!, and Mandonna (an all male tribute to the material girl).

A tribute performer of over 20 years, Mike has seen many original acts come and go, and though he’s an avid writer of his own material (as are many of his fellow bandmates), during our interview, he openly conceded to me that it’s much easier to make it as a tribute artist. To this he added, that even though he is performing compositions written by other greats of the past, Hotel California’s dedicated and supportive following still allows him to experience the glory of being a "rockstar".

Acknowledging an unfulfilled niche in the tribute act arena, Mike conceived of Hotel California back in ‘86. His band’s consistent club gigging and touring of the festival circuit, both in Canada and the US, are a testament that his original inclination was indeed correct; that the guitar solos, inspirational lyrics, and challenging harmonies of The Eagles appeal to all.

According to Mike, there is a relatively small difference between cover bands and tribute acts; the variation being that the latter typically go "all out" in terms of mimicking the moves and the look of the band to whom they are paying tribute. However, being a perfect "look-a-like" is not a prerequisite. So long as the act is well rehearsed, professional, and has a dynamic stage performance, they should go far. Apparently, there are even festivals whose sole purpose is to celebrate tribute performers (who knew?) which would indicate to me that tribute acts get a lot of support from the music industry, and accordingly, have been able to create their own little monopoly.

Typically, Hotel California plays about two to three shows per week with 80% of their concerts taking place in the States, particularly in rural areas. The attraction to tribute acts is distinctly strong in smaller towns because, as Mike points out, most of the major original acts only hit the capital cities along their tour routes. Each standard show consists of several 45 minute sets a night, or for a theatre setting, a one hour set usually suffices. LaPointe also mentioned that performance engagements may be more extensive if the original act is on the road concurrently. Most original acts, who are "tributed", are welcoming towards the extra-exposure that is resultingly propagated.

In terms of payment, the per gig capital that independent original acts generate pales in comparison. With going rates between $1000 to an upwards of $25,000 for the top impersonators per show, along with opportunities for merch sales, the life of a tribute act can be quite lucrative. However, keep in mind, these rates refer to tribute acts who have agents negotiating on their behalf, and each band member is paid on a salary, after the agent has taken his/her cut (generally 15-20%). Self-employed tribute acts and cover bands may be expected to play just as many sets for as little as $80 to $125, the standard gig price imposed by the AFM.

When it comes to getting shows (and representation), the strength in one’s salespitch ultimately comes down to two factors: 1) being an "original" tribute act (pardon the oxymoron) meaning a tribute act of a popular, but not overly copycatted artist (ie: we don’t need any more Cher or Michael Jackson wannabes) and 2) having a professional looking performance video. Similarly to original independent artists, tribute bands need to build up their reputations, and over time, booking shows generally becomes easier once they’ve created the necessary "buzz". Developing one’s connections and looking for opportunities that will generate exposure is essential.

Obtaining agency representation is as easy as sending in photos, audio clips, and/or a live video. Again, if you’ve got "the goods" to back up your press pack, a live audition and in-person meeting will likely be co-ordinated, and shortly thereafter, you’ll be shimmy-ing your way up to the rock-n-roll impersonators hall of fame. However, prior to taking on your "alter-ego", LaPointe suggests checking out the current trends to ensure that your tribute act idea is in-line with what is popular.

The Booking House is presently seeking Hannah Montana’s doppelganger. Think you’ve got what it takes? Submit a performance video and find out! For more information on Hotel California and/or The Booking house, please check out http://www.bookinghouse.com/

House Bands
Congruent to the lives of those in tribute acts are house band performers. Though house performers may be afforded more leniency when it comes to playing their own material in conjunction with their cover sets, they typically maintain a permanent residence at a specified local venue or circulate regularly amongst two to three venues in their hometown, hence the name.

Some of London, Ontario's community house performers include Alison Brown, Village Blues Band, and Reverend Freddie & The Distillers.

According to Greg Simpson, local religion teacher, part-time musician, and accomplished producer, if one is interested in actively pursuing part-time opportunities as a house performer, the best way to get one’s foot in the door is to start participating in open-mic events such as those hosted weekly at venues such as Scott’s Corner, Rockwater’s, and The London Music Club. If you are able grab the attention of the crowd and impress the club owner with your ability, it may just lead to your permanent placement.

In fact, the exceedingly talented local singer-songwriter Samantha Hooey can credit her participation in several open-mic gigs to the jumpstart of her own in-town recognition, which includes two back-to-back nominations for "Best Singer-Songwriter" at the London Music Awards, 2006 - 2007.

Undoubtedly, the key to the success of house bands is diversity. With repertoires of literally hundreds of different songs and styles, professional house bands are able to entertain built-in crowds with a different show(s) every week. It is important, should you choose to pursue this avenue, to ensure that you are a competent player who is able to learn and memorize a wide variety of songs, often on limited notice or by the request of fans.

About the Author:

Rose Cora Perry is the frontwoman for Canadian hard rock band ANTI-HERO known as “The 21st Century Answer to Nirvana”, as well as the sole owner and operator of HER Records, a management company in which she offers marketing, promotion, publicity, tour booking, and artist development services.

Her band ANTI-HERO has toured extensively across North America playing notable festivals such as Warped Tour, Canadian Music Week, NorthbyNorthEast, Wakefest, and MEANYFest.

Voted “Best Rock Act of the Year” by numerous industry publications, their critically acclaimed debut album, "Unpretty" is available worldwide for purchase.

Rose Cora Perry is a dedicated promoter of D.I.Y. ethics, and an avid supporter of independent musicians.For more information on Rose Cora Perry and her band's accomplishments, please visit http://www.anti-hero.ca/ or http://www.rosecoraperry.com/