Blake Snow

writer-for-hire, content guy, bestselling author

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Second class musicians: Why some bands hide touring members


A friend and I have been discussing touring band members and studio musicians today. After I complimented Phoenix’s rockin’ touring drummer, my buddy emailed this:

“I always have mixed feelings about the use of utility musicians in live performances. While I appreciate Phoenix having them all clearly visible on stage, it drives me a little spare to see The Killers or Muse bury their spare fellas off behind some speakers. And then you have Green Day, who have had a second guitarist helping them out for over ten years, but he still isn’t a member of the band.”

Here was my reply:

As for Green Day’s and formerly Keane’s approach — using the same musician for several years without making them a member — I believe it’s a money thing (as are most things in life). You have to be in the band to get merchandise and touring money. And you have to be the songwriter to get royalties. So keeping backups on salary or contract limits the band’s financial commitments.

I have no idea what utility musician’s salaries are — and I know many of them actively are pursuing their own careers, according to my bro-in-law, a commercial songwriter. But I’m sure some of the high profile ones make six figures. And who wouldn’t want to perform with some of today’s best acts for six figures?

Finally, I agree. The way Killers and Muse hide freelance performers in the shadow has always struck me as odd. I like how Phoenix and others do it, with nothing to hide. Not only that, the best Muse show I’ve ever seen was just the three of them playing in Orem. Like Keane used to do, Muse used a Macbook running Pro Logic to fill in the gaps that day. It freakin’ rocked! Same goes for Keane when they used a Macbook as their full-time utility musician. Better than even their subsequent performances with their former utility man, Jesse, now a full member of the band.

A side note: I’ve even seen an iPod playing back up parts at a live show. It was a very tight sound, the trade off being when performing live with computers, the drummer (at least) has to follow a click track. Can you imagine John Bonham being asked to play to a click track? I’d pay good money to hear that exchange.

Readers: How do you feel about hidden or non-member musicians, either live or studio?

See also: Why three band members are better than four or more