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Dream Job: Rock Star

Finally Getting Some Daylight

On April 18, the day before radio stations across the United States would decide whether the newly remixed song "Daylight" would see the light of day, singer/songwriter Mike Errico sent an appeal to his fan base via his Internet newsletter.

"This is a big day," Errico wrote, "and competition is tough, as always, with Pearl Jam and Matchbox 20 also looking for spots. Please help us out by calling in to your local station and requesting 'Daylight.' Your call-in vote REALLY counts, believe me. They love to know that they're playing what you want to hear."

What fans want to hear is Mike's sexy, ironic, sometimes biting, always soulful music, influenced by the likes of Stevie Wonder, Curtis Mayfield, and Ani DiFranco.

Mike Errico isn't a household name or a millionaire yet, but he's "signed" with a record label, and fans recognize him on the street. The New York-based artist has played at Woodstock, Sundance, and several artist showcases, in addition to writing the theme to VH1's "Pop-up Video." His contract with the Hybrid record label means he gets an advance, royalties, at least one more recording after his debut, Pictures of the Big Vacation, and an expense account that, among other things, lets him stay in decent hotels when he's on the road. To keep expenses down, Errico travels solo, taking advantage of his range of musical talents and his love of solitude. In his set, Errico sings and plays two acoustic guitars, harmonica, and a percussion instrument inspired by an African tongue drum. In the studio, Errico works with session musicians, performers who specialize in playing on other musicians' recordings.

"It's amazing how little changes when you're signed," he said. "I saw this MTV 'Behind the Music' show with Mötley Crüe. One of the guys said that if you calculated all of the time they put into the group and the money they made, at an hourly rate, they probably would have been better off working at Burger King."

Not Easy To Become a Millionaire

  • Gig Fees: College Circuit.
    According to Jen Cohen, a young, Nashville-based pop and blues vocalist who travels with a band, a group in the top tier in the college circuit can charge up to $1,900 per show if it's a standalone act, with discounts for multiple gigs in one trip. But for the performer who does not travel alone, there's a lot of overhead cost. Band members get $200 per gig, plus a $15 per diem. The agent gets 15 to 20 percent.
  • Gig Fees: Nightclubs.
    Bands tend to lose money on nightclub gigs, which pay $100 to $500 per show on average, according to Josh Dodes, founder of the New York-based Josh Dodes Band. Out of that fee, the band must pay expenses such as rehearsal space, transportation, and publicity. One mailing to fans can cost $200. But club gigs can build an audience, which helps a band work toward its goal of getting signed.
  • CD Sales.
    A good performer can sell CDs at shows to about a third of the audience, with an average audience of 30 people, Cohen said. If the CD is self-produced, the artist can keep the whole amount, breaking even after selling about 1,000 CDs. Performers who are signed keep somewhere between 9 and 20 percent of the suggested retail list price of CDs, depending on the label and the artist's popularity. But rather than selling a few CDs after a show, signed artists mostly rely on the vast distribution network available to the record label. The Internet has not yet transformed the music distribution system, although listeners can download songs in the popular MP3 format by both Mike Errico and the Josh Dodes Band. Cohen, Errico, and Dodes all use the Internet to market their music.

Where Else Can You Get Money as a Musician?
"The days are over where you can say, 'I'm an artist; I don't do commercialism'," Errico said. If you're signed, you can get money from touring, sales of CDs, merchandising, fashion, publishing songs, and writing television theme songs (Errico still gets royalties on the "Pop-up Video" theme). If you're not signed, you can do some of those things, but like Josh Dodes, you might just keep your day job. Dodes temps at an investment banking firm in New York City.

Where Do You Get Your Material?
Quitting your day job takes you out of the circuit that can feed the human need to be around other people and provide fuel for the songwriter's fire. Errico, who is in his early 30s, said that after temping at advertising agencies and law firms, proofreading lyrics for a major label, teaching guitar, and being a side man for other bands, he now loafs around a local café all day, ingesting too much caffeine and intently writing notes about the people who pass by.

It's no surprise that so many rock-and-roll songs are about the lifestyle of a performing artist, since life on the road more or less offers its own material.

"Chicks are this dividend you're supposed to get," Errico said. "But there are lunatics out there."

After a recent concert, Errico met a painter who said she kept the ashes of her ex-boyfriend, who had died of liver failure, in an overnight delivery box in her closet.

"She admitted that she was going to mix paint with the ashes and be Eve in the Garden of Eden. And she told me that to prepare herself to work with the medium, she had eaten it. We had theater tickets for 8:00."

So Did They Go on the Date?
"Yes - after all, the tickets were $25."