The Cost (and Emotional Profit) of Rock and Rolling
Updated: Aug 3, 2021
When I got off the plane in Denver, I knew that on the flight home, the aircraft would be lighter. $5000 lighter.
I was losing money on this trip. A lot of money.
The Verve Pipe usually makes enough money for everyone to get paid, even me.
In case you're interested, here is how it works. A big-time festival happens and offers us $$$$ to fly to Denver, then drive 4 hours to Craig, CO, to play the show. We agree because the cost of the trip is one dollar sign less. Instead of pocketing the $, we decide to book more shows while we are out there, just because we like to play, and we always see comments on our social media that say, "Come to Colorado!"
So we accept $ to play a small-town club because we have the night off and why sit in a hotel room? Then, we book another show—this time in Wyoming—and they are offering $$, so hell yes, we are going in the right direction!
All the while, the Craig show is what we call "the money anchor." Craig is going to pay for us to tour around in the Rocky Mountains for a long weekend.
But since the weight of the pandemic has lifted, everyone is traveling these days. 12 passenger vans in Colorado are hard to come by, and though I find one, it's in downtown Denver (35 miles from the airport). So while the band retrieves their gear from baggage claim, I'll take an Uber to pick up the van, then come back to get them 90 minutes later. And because it's the only van in town that's available..well, you do the math, I'll do the weight: I'm $1500 lighter.
I get the call that the show in Wyoming does not have what is called 'backline’—amps and drums for us to rent. We don't travel with these pieces of equipment, the cost is way too much, and we count on being able to rent these items in the show town. We have no choice but to cancel—we don't have amps and drums with us.
The issue is that I already booked hotels that night in Wyoming on Priceline, non-refundable, because...why would we cancel? Now I'm $728 in non-used hotels lighter. And the band is out one gig, but we're stuck in Denver because changing our flights to a day earlier will be more expensive than paying the band. You see, the rest of the band gets paid for the night, no matter what. That's our agreement. So I'll pay them for a night off. Or, I'll take the band and crew out to a night on the town. They agree. 8 of them go easy on me for dinner and drinks, and I'm only $600 lighter.
This seems like a lot of complaining, I know. It's not. I could complain a lot more.
But here's the thing: The show in Grand Junction is fantastic. The energy in the room, palpable; people are just so excited to see live music again. And we deliver it. The promoter/sound guy/lighting guy comes backstage after the show to tell us how amazing that was, and he had no idea what to expect. "I was really surprised," he said. I let the backdoor insult slide; we are all really high on the moment.
The next night, the money anchor in Craig is even better. The band is tight, joyous on stage. The crowd, again with low expectations, is blown away and lets us know.
Maybe it's my ego. Perhaps I need to pay $5000 out of pocket to have it massaged a bit. Or, perhaps I just love it all. Love playing the shows, love the challenge of finding good deals on flights and hotels, love the loss of sleep the night before, the mind chatter at 2am saying, 'you have to get up in an hour, why not just get up now?' You're asking, "Why would anyone want that?"
Because I am challenging myself to do it with a smile on my face.
We have a new song called "Found." It explains it pretty well.
Here comes the restlessness again
Starts in my fingers, then it's bursting right out of my skin
My conscience whispers time to go
Born in my heart, it's the only thing I know
I am just a pin drop in the map of their hometown
Out there chasing melodies with madness all around
Anything worth finding is never easily found
I lose money playing The Verve Pipe shows. Sure, I'll make up for it at a 2,000 seat venue that's sold out, but I'm running a business where there is little or no profit for the most part.
That's not necessarily true, of course. My 'profit' is the opportunity to play with a group of stellar musicians, doing what we love most, performing for a crowd.
After all, I could still be in the Army or working at the Tuxedo rental store or stocking shelves with CDs and tapes at Walmart. I imagine if someone were to come up to me then and say, "For $5000, you can be a rock star for the weekend,” what would I say?
I know exactly how I would’ve responded.
”Who do I make the check out to?"
Brian Vander Ark is the lead singer of the multi-platinum selling band, The Verve Pipe. He likes to order expensive meals and pick up tabs for his friends. Yet, he still takes home those little hotel soaps, because...why not? You can see the premiere of the video for the new Verve Pipe song "Found" on Wednesday, Aug 4, by subscribing to the Rockstar Reinvention Youtube Channel. A full Verve Pipe record is due for release in October 2021.
Cover Photo by Anthony Norkus