So you want to be in a rock band?: Make $ as a tribute act
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,” along with other notable acts including Shania's Twin, Practically Hip, HELP!, and Mandonna (an all male tribute to the material girl).
A tribute performer of over 20 years, Dimoulas 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 band mates), 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 U.S., 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 Dimoulas, 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.
Typically, Hotel California plays about two to three shows per week with 80 per cent 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 resultantly propagated.
With going rates between $1,000 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 per cent). 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 sales pitch 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.
Similar 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. 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 www.bookinghouse.com
Next Week's Topic: Alternative Sources of Revenue Pt III: Licensing & Songwriters.