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FEATURE: Jem Collins interviews The Dead Betas about the financial pressures on young bands

By North Devon Journal  |  Posted: November 01, 2012

STRUGGLED: The Dead Betas say money is still a huge problem for smaller acts.

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ALK into the back of a Dead Betas concert and the first thing that hits you is the noise. As this North Devon band sear their way through an extensive catalogue of synth punk you can almost feel each strum of the guitar strings.

The second thing you notice is the sheer volume of movement happening, both on and off the stage. Jamie Harper writing in soundCHECK described the band as "ritalin-dodging, adrenaline-fuelled, synth-smash, electronic-smattered punks". They weren't wrong.

The third thing you notice, if you haven't already been caught up in their infectious performance, is the distinctive smell of sweat and spilt booze. It's clear the audience are having a great time. But for the band themselves, there's much more to worry about than drink and jumping around.

Tobias, Aidan, Martin, Charly and Greg started The Dead Betas two and a half years go with a dream of making it their career, but have had a constant struggle for funding.

Lead singer, Tobias Kennedy Matthews, explained: "An average gig for us is more like a series of questions.

"Are we all free? Can we afford the petrol if we don't get paid? Is it worth doing if we're not being paid? Can we make money on merch? Only if the answer to these questions is yes, do we do the gig."

Over the years they've used dole money, wages, student loans and fan and community donations to help fund their progress.

Tobias added: "We whore ourselves out for birthday parties, we put a 'fund our tours' box around for change at gigs; we've even run down a beach naked at midnight for a tenner.

"We do what we have to do to fund ourselves from the nothing we have".

While The Dead Betas have been lucky enough to break through and support Mindless Self Indulgence on their October tour, they still maintain money is a huge problem for smaller acts.

Tobias said: "Money is definitely a huge factor. If you had infinite money you could buy your way onto the best tours, pay for the best PR, advertise in the best places, have the best gear, record to the best quality and most importantly of all have a nice van and gig to your heart's content without having to worry about being paid.

"Without money you have to wait for all these breaks, work hard, record in your bedroom and hope it's good enough, put up with your rubbish guitar which you've bodged the circuits on because you can't afford a repair and keep the same set of strings on for eight gigs in a row until the rust finally snaps one."

He added: "Money is by no means everything, but it would certainly make life easier."

The Dead Betas are not alone in this situation.

Music Think Tank estimated that there were 600,000 unsigned acts in the United Kingdom last year and that only 15 could be called financially successful.

It also predicted that only 20 will ever make the top 40.

A band is deemed to be financially successful if each band member can take away £18,200 a year. In contrast the average unsigned band will notch up a little under £2,500, before expenses.

Such bleak odds have been reinforced in a new report by Musicmetric, showing over 43 million illegal music downloads in the first half of the year alone.

The survey tracks the usage of popular file sharing software BitTorrent and even records the most popular artists for illegal downloads.

There are potentially millions more missed sales through other software and download websites.

The government is currently working towards stricter laws on the issue and is backed by many high profile artists such as Lily Allen, Gary Barlow and Taio Cruz.

The new rules are expected to be passed by January 2013 and will include notifications to persistent offenders.

However, Tobias is dubious as to whether combating illegal downloads is of any real use to musicians. As he explained: "For bands like us there is very little money to be made in downloads. There's more money in selling CDs, vinyl and T-shirts at gigs. That's where the real money is.

"People illegally downloading our music at this stage in the game just means that people can't afford to buy it and we know their pain – we've struggled financially for years."

The band have now made their entire back catalogue free and downloads have since increased tenfold.

Tobias added: "If we're selling CDs at a gig and some poor 14-year-old can't afford it, I'd much rather send him away with a free download code than say no, because one more kid with your music on their iPod is one more free walking advert."

The average unsigned UK band will only make £120 from download sales, as opposed to £2,340 a year from gigs.

Even some big name artists concede that online downloads earn them little money.

Ed Sheeran, who topped the illegal chart, told the BBC: "I'm still selling albums but I am selling tickets at the same time. If there is a decent balance you can live off your sales and also allow people to illegally download it and come to your gigs. My gig tickets are £18 and my album's £8 so it is relative."

Tobias added: "If you can charge what he is for gig tickets and merch, and have a number one album, you can afford to lose a few sales.

"To have people everywhere willing to break the law to hear him sing, he should be proud."

For more information about The Dead Betas, visit www.facebook.com/thedead betas

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