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Assuming that

a) The income coming from touring, streaming and selling records/merch is independent from the number of members in a band;

b) It's hard for artists to make a living through music;

It seems to me that there is an economic incentive to have the lowest possible number of members in a band, so that each member earns more money.

Is this is a thing? It seems logical to me, but never heard anyone talking about it. If not a thing, why?

2 Answers 2

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Logically that's true. But musicians are all too often not much concerned with money. Getting popular tends to trump everything else. Also, the concert stages are often so small, especially when you're starting out, that "just fitting everyone on stage" becomes a concern, too.

However, if you look at successful power trios, for instance (Cream, ZZ Top, Grand Funk Railroad), I think the original three decided that sticking with "power trio" as the sound they wanted was the reason, rather than "Let's not add another guy to split the money with!"

If you add another instrument, then that changes all your arrangements, unless they're just doubling someone else. More to the point, the group dynamics would be drastically different: you all have to agree on things.

You'd have to decide that the additional sound is worth all the hassle. I'm thinking now of Sufjan Stevens, who has a whole bunch of unusual instruments in his band, and he definitely decided the additional sounds he could get were worth it (I don't know if they all get salaries or a cut, though).

You see the phenomenon in songwriting disputes. Robbie Robertson claimed all the songwriting credit for The Band, and thus he gets all the money. Modern pop stars often make gratuitous changes to the songs the producers hand them, so they can share in the royalties ("change a word, get a third").

So I guess the answer is "Yeah, sometimes, but not that often a primary motivation."

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  • Citation needed for most if not all of this. Modern bands hire musician's for tours when they have extra instruments/parts in their music. For example Green Day while being a 3 piece almost always tours with a backup guitarist (and nearly always the same one) and that's not including extra instrumentation like keyboards. Bands are not "locked in" to always using members either or else you'd never have a guitars/vocalist solo song which a large number of bands do. So very much doubting the reasons you give are valid.
    – Dom
    Oct 14, 2021 at 18:46
  • And I've seen a 10 piece bands fit on a 5x10 stage so an argument that's a reason for less band members is not a practical one.
    – Dom
    Oct 14, 2021 at 18:50
  • "Citation needed" ? And yet I have more examples than you do. "very much doubting the reasons you give are valid" which also has no citations. Perhaps you're just being pedantic? Of course bands hire extra musicians for shows & studio work. That has nothing to do with what I said. Oct 15, 2021 at 19:35
  • I gave an example of a 3 piece band that tours with 4 consistently to get their sound that most people would consider part of the band, but are not and there are many, many more (solo artist don't just play alone). All of your arguments about band size are conjecture and based on things size of stages and sound of band, both of which are countered by many examples of local bands that play in closets and bands that constantly change their sound.
    – Dom
    Oct 15, 2021 at 19:59
  • Why do you even feel the need to argue about this? Oct 15, 2021 at 20:31
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This is transparently true. As you add members, you need to a) tour more often, b) book higher paying gigs or c) accept smaller pieces of the pie.

But for musicians, as for most artists, money is rarely the primary motivation. Many, perhaps most artists subsidize their own career as a way of creating the art they want to create. Some artists want to produce solo music. Others are happy in a small band, whereas others like to be part of a big musical family. That, in turn, drives the kind of venues they have to target and the touring schedule they need to maintain. A solo artist, for instance, can play bars and tiny clubs, and make enough to live on. A group like Funkadelic, which has a rotating pool of twenty or thirty members, needs to tour constantly, and play more profitable venues (usually the larger ones).

Big artists, like Beyonce, tend to book only arena shows not only because they're famous, and they can, but because they have hundreds of employees working on their shows, and they can't afford to put a show like that in a smaller venue (unless it's a billionaire's private party!). A pop idol is essentially the CEO of a corporate enterprise (or its most important employee) and often will feel responsibility/pressure for keeping all the many people under them gainfully employed.

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  • You book a bigger venue for the audience you can draw not the size of the band. Any local band will make themselves fit on any stage you give them. Bigger artist put on bigger shows to attract more people which do require more support. They are very important for the show itself, but I'm not sure they're consider by most part of the band more of an extension of the experience.
    – Dom
    Oct 15, 2021 at 20:37
  • There was an article in the NY Times, I think in the late 1980s, about the labor market for world-class opera singers. At the time, singing in an opera would pay between $4,500 and $6,000 a night, if I recall correctly, depending on whether the house was in the US or Europe. A singer's take from a stadium concert would be orders of magnitude higher. @Dom the point (in this answer) of booking a bigger venue is that by drawing a bigger audience you have more money to distribute among the members of the larger band. You can't support a 20-piece band playing 50-seat clubs.
    – phoog
    Oct 19, 2021 at 11:06
  • @phoog if you charge right you can. For example, I do a lot of sound for weddings and there's 10-15 piece bands that play for crowds as small as 30 people. I just think it's a logical folly to try and lump band size and venue size as they can be quite independent. You can have 3 piece bands and 30 piece bands play on the same stage and it seems to detract from the point of this questions which is less band members = more money for the band.
    – Dom
    Oct 19, 2021 at 18:29
  • @Dom I have edited to address your concerns Oct 20, 2021 at 14:54

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