Are you a musician? Is your group having issues? Ask Fan Landers! Critic Jessica Hopper has played in and managed bands, toured internationally, booked shows, produced records, worked as a publicist, and is the author of The Girls' Guide to Rocking, a how-to for teen ladies. She is here to help you stop doing it wrong. Send your problems to her — confidentiality is assured, unless you want to use your drama as a ticket to Internet microfame.
I've been the core of an act with someone for 10-plus years. We were pretty loosey-goosey on the money end of things for a long time, mostly because there wasn't much of it. I was putting up the front money, but I wasn't losing much, so I let it slide. Fast-forward to a couple of years ago when we formalized the business end of things between the two of us — I leveraged a loan to try and give things another push (in addition to other things I was
already covering) and am still not being reimbursed for the other guy's half of expenses. He seems to think his bar tabs even out for the travel and promotional expenses I've laid out for. And while we're on the eve of things getting legal, I've been getting advice from several people to go the “public humiliation” route — to make him look like the cheap, self-centered guy he really is. I find the suggestion astonishing — do you see any beneficial reason to proceed in that fashion?
God, the temptation for a public shaming after 10 years of stewing in resentment music be almost impossible to resist! But resist you should. First, some real talk before I get all Suze Orman on your azz. The reason this guy is getting a free ride after a decade is because you've decided to let him. The situation you are in is your fault, you acted like a doormat and let him skate with no consequences. Perhaps if he had just been a responsible adult, you both might not be in this situation, but then again, your band may not have lasted this long if it wasn't such an easy flight for your partner. Such is the nature of chronic mooches: they mooch.
By airing your problem publicly I can pretty much guarantee you will come off worse than he does. How would you do it? Facebook? On stage? Mass email to your mutual friends? Tacky and immature in each case. In shaming him you will look like an asshole and probably not get the results you want. We live in a country founded on puritanical values, and each of us grows up — even those who are entitled man-children in bands –harboring all manner of shame for being who we are, liking or lusting after certain things or not being rich enough. Shame is essentially the emotional currency of America — piling it on is not gonna make a bit of difference.
Be an example of how to act like a grown up and sit this dude down, privately, and put your cards on the table. You tell him that financially you cannot carry the band anymore. Period. You don't even have to substantiate why.
Tell him you've gone into debt to maintain things and that's no longer tenable for you and so he can become responsible for 50% of the bands outlay, or he can go down receiving, say, 10-15% for his participation. If you guys make decent money live and have some merch revenue coming in, I would say 10% of profit — if not, 15% of live show gross revenue.
Perhaps that mean he now makes $20 a show instead of $100, but if he cannot afford to be in a band, he needs to get a cheap hobby, like birdwatching. That should be a rude enough awakening. You sound like you likely have your books in order and you know what your current costs and expenses are. Tell him. And then make sure those get covered first and foremost before anyone can take a dime. I think you also need to be prepared for him to quit over this. I have a feeling that is what you're afraid of and why you've swept this under the rug since 2002.
There is another big issue here, aside from this dude hitchin' a free ride. You took out a loan to continue to have a band with a guy you don't even respect enough to be honest with. You getting your money issues together is one thing, but with that, you need to do some emotional housekeeping. What is this really about?
Lastly, the new rule is you're not going to incur more debt for your band unless you have a way to pay it off. No wishful thinking paydays count — i.e. getting signed. It's almost 2013, that dream is not to be counted on. If you need something for your band, Kickstarter it. Unless it's a trip to Africa.