How Much Do Tribute Bands Make: Tribute Act Overview

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Have you ever found yourself driving past a local venue, noticing excited fans lining up for tickets, only to spot a slightly tweaked name of a familiar band on the marquee and then remember, that band isn't even on tour!? It's probably not the original rock legends they're queuing up to see, but rather, a tribute band, recreating the glory days of their music icons.

Tribute bands have become a popular alternative for fans who crave the experience of seeing their favorite bands live, even long after they have disbanded or retired. If you're a gigging musician, you've likely wondered if you could pull off such an act. And then, of course, you've probably also wondered... How much do these bands make for their impersonations? How does their paycheck compare to the cover or original band I play in? In this article, we'll take a backstage tour of tribute bands, exploring everything from practicalities, legalities, to the million-dollar question about the financial side of impersonating a rock legend.

What is a Tribute Band?

A tribute band is a group of musicians who specifically aim to recreate and emulate the music, appearance, and overall vibe of a famous, often iconic, band. Unlike cover bands, which perform songs from various artists, tribute bands dedicate their entire act to a single band or artist. They strive for authenticity in every aspect, from the way they dress to the way they perform on stage, mirroring the mannerisms, vocal styles, and musical techniques of the original musicians.

Such devotion to a single act can be seen as a form of flattery or a way to keep the music and spirit of the original band alive, especially if they are no longer performing. It's also a way for fans of the original band to enjoy their music in a live setting. Tribute bands span all genres, eras, and artists, from classic rock legends like The Beatles or Led Zeppelin to pop icons like Michael Jackson or ABBA.

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"1964 the Tribute" a Beatles tribute band performing at the Poncan Theatre in Ponca City, Oklahoma on June 6, 2008

Are Tribute Bands Legal?

In general, tribute bands are perfectly legal. The performance of a song in a live venue typically falls under the venue's public performance rights, which they secure from Performance Rights Organizations (PROs) like ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC. These rights allow songs to be performed live in public by any artist.

However, this does not mean that tribute bands have carte blanche to do as they wish. They cannot claim the original music as their own or record and sell the music without obtaining the proper licensing, known as a mechanical license, from the copyright holder. Misrepresentation can also be an issue; it's essential that tribute bands clearly identify themselves as tribute acts to avoid misleading fans into thinking they are the actual artist.

Do you need permission to be a tribute band?

Being a tribute band doesn't require explicit permission from the original artist or band, as long as they adhere to copyright laws. However, tribute bands need to ensure they are clear in their marketing and promotion that they are a tribute act, and not trying to pass off as the original band. This is not only ethically right, but also important to avoid potential legal action for false representation.

When it comes to recording and selling covers of songs, tribute bands need to obtain a mechanical license. The same rule applies if they wish to release live recordings of their performances. Licensing agencies like Harry Fox Agency in the US can help bands secure these rights.

Do You Need Permission to Cover a Song?

Yes, an individual can sing a copyrighted song. When it comes to live performances, the responsibility of securing public performance licenses typically falls on the venue, not the performer. These licenses, obtained from PROs, cover the performance of any song in their repertoire, which comprises millions of songs.

However, if the performer wants to record and distribute their version of a copyrighted song (in video or audio format), they need to obtain a mechanical license. It's important to understand the legalities of performing copyrighted material to avoid infringing copyright laws.

Can You Get Sued for Covering Someone Else's Music?

In general, simply covering a song live in a venue that holds a public performance license from a PRO won't get you sued. However, recording, distributing, or selling your cover without obtaining a mechanical license can lead to copyright infringement, which can result in legal action.

To avoid legal trouble, musicians should always ensure they have the necessary permissions and licenses before recording or distributing covers. It's also a good practice to give credit to the original artists when performing their songs. Tribute bands are often going to pretty great lengths to imitate and pay homage to the original band, so this is rarely an issue.

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"The Cureheads" a Cure tribute band, live at Glastonbudget 2018

How Do Bands Make Money?

In the internet-driven 21st-century music industry, there are countless ways to boost their earnings, regardless of whether you're playing originals or covers. But before we dive into the financials of a tribute band, let's first take a step back and recap how bands make money in general. Many of these revenue sources apply to tribute bands as well, while others strictly do not.

Digital platforms such as Spotify, Apple Music, and Bandcamp have stepped in to fill the gap left by the decline of physical album sales, offering new revenue streams to artists by paying them per stream - a sum that can rapidly increase for hit tracks. But this doesn't apply to cover or tribute bands since the music they play is not there own. As we mentioned in the previous section, playing someone else's music live is fine, but recording it for resale requires specific licensing and permission.  Other lucrative opportunities that only apply to original artists exist in licensing music for use in commercials, films, or TV shows.

Cover and tribute bands can however, significantly bolster their income through merchandising, whether that's selling band-branded items like t-shirts, posters, and hats, at shows or online. They can also generate income via sponsorships and brand partnerships, especially for bands that have a large fan base.

But the most significant source of income for bands that perform covers is through live performances. Concerts, tours, festivals, bars, restaurants and private parties, provide bands with the opportunity to earn by performing. Bands playing a variety of covers and occasionally some originals, usually get paid a flat fee from venues that are leveraging them as entertainment to attract larger crowds, while tribute bands and established original artists typically earn from ticket sales. Either way, people love live music. The allure of this experience is why venues consistently seek out bands, including cover bands and tribute bands, to perform.

How Much Do Tribute Bands Make?

Tribute bands have become a popular alternative for fans who crave the experience of seeing their favorite bands live, even long after they have disbanded or retired. These bands meticulously recreate the look, sound, and performance of the original artist, providing an exceptional copycat tribute experience. They are in essence a cover band that only covers 1 well-known, highly sought after band. These tribute bands are often in high demand, which begs the question: how much do tribute bands make?

The earnings of tribute bands can vary greatly depending on several factors. One significant factor is the popularity and fame of the original artist being paid tribute to. Bands that pay homage to legendary names such as The Beatles, Queen, or Elvis Presley tend to command higher fees due to the immense appeal of these iconic acts.

Similarly, the demand for a particular tribute band can also affect their earnings. If the band is highly sought after and regularly booked for gigs at reputable venues, their earning potential will naturally increase. Additionally, tribute bands that have a strong online presence and a dedicated following tend to attract larger crowds, leading to higher ticket sales and ultimately more revenue.

Crunching The Numbers: Estimating Tribute Band Earnings

There are so many different factors impacting how much a band can charge, making it difficult to give precise numbers. But we can provide some ballpark figures that apply to many of these bands. Cover bands that aren't tribute bands typically have a lower price point with opportunity and demand, and are easier to estimate. These bands generally earn between $500 to $2000 per show at local bars and clubs, and $1000 to $3500 at festivals and private events. At the lower end are bands that are new to the scene and just starting out. At the higher end, bands often have a well-established reputation, a larger fan base, or a unique highly talented skillset, leading to higher earnings. It is possible to make more than this if you're extremely well-known, or on special high demand occasions, like New Years Eve. And keep in mind I am referring to a common 3 to 5 piece electric band, not larger ensembles like big bands, brass bands, or orchestras, which come in at a much higher price point.

As a general rule of thumb, tribute bands make about twice this amount. With new acts starting around $1000 per show, up to approximately $9000 for really well-known acts covering popular groups like The Beatles or Queen. The exact figure depends on the popularity of the band they're paying tribute to, the demand for their music, as well as the quality of the tribute band's performance and resemblance to the original band.

Tribute Band Cost And Ticket Prices

Ticket prices for tribute band performances can also vary based on factors like venue size, location, and the level of production involved. Larger venues with higher capacity tend to charge higher ticket prices, allowing tribute bands to negotiate better fees. Furthermore, tribute bands that invest in top-notch audiovisual equipment, lighting, and special effects can enhance their stage performances, allowing them to demand higher ticket prices to offset these production costs.

However, it's crucial to note that tribute bands also face expenses that can significantly impact their earnings. These expenses include rehearsal space rental, the costs associated with sound equipment and instruments, marketing and promotion, travel and accommodation, and the salaries of band members and supporting crew. Balancing these expenses with the revenue generated from gigs can be challenging, especially for tribute bands starting in the industry.

What Type of Venues Do Tribute Bands Play In?

Tribute bands can perform in a variety of venues, including bars, restaurants, clubs, private events, festivals, theaters, and even large-scale arenas. The type of venue often depends on the popularity of the tribute band, the demand for the music of the band they're paying tribute to, and the location.

Bars and restaurants often hire cover bands to entertain patrons and draw in more customers. These venues usually look for bands that play a wide variety of popular music. However, some might hire tribute bands if they cater to a specific audience or if the tribute band has a large local following.

Clubs, theaters, and larger venues are more likely to hire tribute bands. These venues often sell tickets to the performance, and a tribute band's ability to replicate a famous act can be a big draw. Tribute bands that focus on hugely popular acts, such as Queen or The Beatles, can often fill larger venues, capitalizing on the enduring appeal of these iconic bands.

Festivals also present opportunities for tribute bands. Music festivals often have diverse lineups to attract a broad audience, and a tribute band can be an appealing addition. Private events, like corporate functions or weddings, may also hire tribute bands, especially if the hosts or guests are big fans of the band being impersonated.

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The 2011 lineup of Osaka Ramones, a female Japanese Ramones tribute band

Who Are Some of the Most Popular Tribute Bands?

Tribute bands breathe new life into the timeless music of renowned artists. And the sheer number of great musicians over the years has resulted in an abundance of tribute acts. Below is a list of ten tribute bands making a notable impact. But even if your favorite band isn't represented, a little digging is likely to uncover a tribute act dedicated to them.

  1. Bohemian Queen: An LA-based tribute to Queen, renowned for their high-caliber musicianship and frontman Paulie Z's incredible ability to channel Freddie Mercury. Despite being relatively new, the band has already made waves across the U.S, selling out theaters with their impeccably accurate tribute to Queen.
  2. Michael Jackson One: A tribute show by Cirque du Soleil, Michael Jackson One showcases an unparalleled blend of live performance, glitz, and glam, delivering an experience fitting for the King of Pop's legacy.
  3. E5C4P3: Paying homage to Journey, this band features the distinctive vocals of Jason Kelty, a remarkable Steve Perry impersonator. Their dedication and high-quality performances have kept them in demand since their inception in 1993.
  4. Nervana: This Nirvana tribute band, led by Irish singer Jon O’Connor, has earned a reputable status among tribute bands. Despite developing original music under the name Freaks Like Me, they continue to honor the iconic grunge group.
  5. Britain's Finest: This California-based tribute to the Beatles focuses on the band's early years, replicating their classic bowl haircuts and charismatic stage presence. The band's performances have reached international audiences, covering all of The Beatles' greatest hits.
  6. The Rocket Queens: This all-female Guns ‘n’ Roses tribute band captures the spirit of the band's early stadium-filling rock days. Their performances focus solely on the "Appetite for Destruction" album, a fan-favorite.
  7. Zep-LA: This Led Zeppelin tribute band consists of industry veterans who reproduce both popular hits and deep cuts with remarkable accuracy. Members of Zep-LA have a rich musical pedigree, having worked with rock legends such as Poison and KISS.
  8. Purple Reign: Paying tribute to the unparalleled artist Prince, Purple Reign delivers a performance full of fun and interactivity, successfully embodying the magic of Prince's live shows.
  9. Dark Star Orchestra: Known to Grateful Dead fans as DSO, this tribute band meticulously recreates entire Grateful Dead shows, reflecting their love for touring and attention to intricate details.
  10. Enrage Against The Machine: The least known tribute band on this list, yet has to be mentioned for their tribute performances to the revolutionary rock band Rage Against the Machine. Enrage stands out due to an impressive ability to not only emulate the unique sound of the original band, but their high-energy performances as well.

Are Tribute Bands Worth It?

Tribute bands can strike a lucrative chord in the music industry, while also benefiting fans, venues, and musicians alike. They create unforgettable experiences for fans who crave the music of iconic bands that are sometimes no longer in action, while also providing a financially rewarding opportunity for musicians. Some surveys even suggest that many fans enjoy seeing a good cover band MORE than the original artist. They are more than just a cheap imitation, they are often highly skilled musicians and performers, paying homage to the enduring legacy of music legends. Tribute bands have proven to be a valuable asset in the history of the music industry.

If you're already in a tribute band or thinking about starting one, we'd love to hear about it! Drop a comment below about your act, and we may even mention them in this article. Band Pioneer exists to assist independent musicians, with marketing resources, advice, even AI tools, we're here to help you turn your passion into something lucrative and meaningful.

Leave a Reply!

Danny DeMartini

I'm in a Guns n Roses Tribute band "Night Train the guns n roses experience" we play a lot of large venues to huge crowds and have so much fun.

Infinity Watch

I'm sure there's good demand for GnR. If you have any material online, send us a link via the contact form, and we'll try to include it in an article to help promote.


Im a new Ed Sheeran tribute act. Full loop peddle, vocals and guitar. Id love to know the demand for my act. Im so committed and passionate about this. Would. Love to make this my. Full time career.

Infinity Watch

That sounds amazing. If you have any material online, send us a link via the contact form, and we'll try to include it in an article to help promote.

Michelle Jackson

Bars sometimes hire tribute bands to entertain customers, provided they play a variety of music people know.

Tribute Sally

I love tribute bands! All the energy with none of the hassle.

Lisa McMichaels

Someone should start an Foo Fighters Tribute, asap. I mean somebody somewhere probably has, but if there was one near me I'd LOOOOVE to see them.

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