How Much Do Cover Bands Make? & How They Can Avoid Copyright

Updated on by Dedrich Schafer | There may be affiliate links on this page.

For anyone starting a cover band, two of the biggest questions are likely:

  • ‘How much does a cover band make?’ and
  • ‘How does copyright work?’

One of those questions is less complicated than it might seem, the other is a bit more complicated though.

How Does Copyright Work?

You might have heard about copyright before, but if you don’t know what it is, it’s basically a system to protect the things people create.

How copyright applies to music is that it prevents anyone from ‘stealing’ someone else’s music and profiting off of it.

This means that you can’t record or perform anyone else’s music and make money with it.

Of course, cover bands make money by performing popular songs by other artists. So, how exactly is this legal?

Well, technically it isn’t, with the exception that you can perform a copyrighted song if you aren’t directly or indirectly profiting from it. In other words, you can perform songs as long as you aren’t getting paid.

How Cover Bands Earn Money

If this seems confusing, don’t worry, it will in a second.

You might have seen some bars and clubs with jukeboxes or you’ve heard the radio being played.

The reason bars, restaurants, clubs, shops, etc. are allowed to do this is because they pay royalties through a ‘blanket license’.

This basically means that they pay performing rights organizations, PROs, a fee that gives them a limited license to have music played in their venue.

The four main PROs: BMIASCAPSESAC and GMR

This means that your band doesn’t need to worry about copyright, since any band that performs in the venue is also covered under this blanket license.

How Much Do Cover Band Make?

This is the slightly more complicated part and really depends on a few things:

  • Your level of experience and reputation
  • Size of your repertoire
  • Type of gig

Experience and Reputation

If you’re only starting out, you can obviously not charge too much, because no one is going to pay thousands for a new band.

As your experience, and importantly your reputation, increases, you can start charging more per gig.

Repertoire

The size of your repertoire, how many songs you can play, can have an affect on how much you can make.

Having a larger repertoire means you’re more versatile and can play different types of gigs. This also means you can play longer shows, longer gig = more money.

Many professional cover bands know somewhere in the area of 300 songs, and play multiple sets at the same venue.

Type of Gig

Small bars and clubs probably can’t afford to pay you more than a few hundred dollars. Whereas hotels, cruise lines, and big corporations can afford to pay cover bands basically what they want.

Depending on where you perform will determine how much you can charge and expect to make.

Conclusion

For small venues and if you’re just starting out, you’re probably only going to be making around $200.

As you become more experienced and work you way up to larger, more professional gigs, you can start expecting to earn upwards of $2000 or more per gig.

About Dedrich Schafer

Dedrich is a guitarist, sound engineer and writer. He grew up on classic 90’s and 2000’s rock and punk like Nirvana and Blink-182, but can never resist a good acoustic ballad or a catchy hip hop tune.

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