The pandemic has been rough on the live music industry, which is where touring bands get the vast majority of their income. In an interview with MetalSucks, Mastodon guitarist Bill Kelliher admitted that without being able to tour, “there’s no money coming in.”
He talked about how his wife and his side job investing in real estate are the real drivers of his income this year. With the music industry being how it is now, metal and rock musicians that are used to relying on touring revenue have needed to turn to other sources during the COVID-19 quarantine.
“If it weren’t for my wife and her stable job for the past 20 years, I don’t know how well off I’d be,” Kelliher began by saying. “We’ve been lucky and we’ve been smart, we didn’t waste money; we put money into buying houses in our neighborhood and being landlords. But still, that’s a whole other job, that’s half the things I do in the daytime — mowing people’s lawns that are my tenants and fixing leaky roofs and trying to get to the bottom of strange smells coming out of the toilet or whatever. [laughs] That’s reality.”
Kelliher said he knew to take investments seriously because that’s what people older than him always advised.
“Because I’m not going to be able to do Mastodon for the rest of my life and I knew that at an early age. It’s like, this is going to run out at one point, something is going to happen. Hopefully we can do it as long as we can, but I haven’t worked in over a year. There’s no money coming in. There’s not big royalty checks that just come in every month. And that’s the truth… because people don’t buy the music.”
He explained what he meant by ‘nothing,’ “I mean, there’s a little bit of residuals from publishing and stuff but it’s peanuts. It’s nothing. It’s quarterly payouts of a couple thousand dollars… if we’re lucky. And it’s all taxable money, just like everybody else.”
Thinking of Mastodon the business is different than thinking of Mastodon the superstar metal band. “Mastodon is a business and we have employees. We’re all out of work,” Kelliher related. “And we had the option to apply for unemployment; we pay into it [through corporate unemployment taxes], [so we] might as well use it if it’s there because if I didn’t have it, I wouldn’t have ANY income at all.”
That’s just Kelliher’s personal situation during the pandemic. The entire live music industry is struggling right now, and Kelliher made sure to explain the situation at large as well. Since it’s normal for bands like Mastodon to be constantly touring all over the world, he speculated on the future of live performances.
“In some capacity [we will be able to play live again], but even if they can get everybody’s shit together as far as promoters and booking agents and venues and all that stuff, it’s going to be like two years [from now]. And when they do, if they’re even still open, how are people going to pay their rent on a club that they own [during the down time]? If no one’s going there for a year, two years, I mean, these places live paycheck to paycheck, I know they do. They’re not just owned outright by the promoter or whatever, it’s a whole network of people.
“[Even] by the time COVID is under control, hopefully, fingers crossed, promoters [will still] have to pay all these bands in advance. But they’re not going to have that money to pay bands in advance at least 50% — that’s what we ask for so that we can guarantee we’re going to show up, to guarantee we’re going to play — and then they pay us the rest, the other 50%.
“That’s what it is everyday: you get one band in and you’re waiting to pay them until the next band comes in and makes your money, so that’s going to fuck everything up and you’re going to see a lot of these cool venues going under. The big places like Live Nation, even they’re hurting. If they’re hurting then the little guys gotta be completely dying.”
Kelliher detailed how Live Nation would need to recoup money first to be able to pay anyone. “And it’s like, yeah… OK, well, where do we start with that? We all need to recoup. We’ve all been unemployed. All of us are hurting. We all have businesses, we all have mouths to feed.”
Mastodon released a rarities compilation called Medium Rarities last month for a little extra help. mxdwn interviewed bassist/vocalist Troy Sanders about the compilation (and more) shortly before it came out. Before that, they recorded and released a song called “Rufus Lives” for Bill & Ted Face the Music.
Photo credit: Boston Lynn Schulz