Slipknot's Unique Business Model
Back in 1999, one of my favorite songs was Wait and Bleed by Slipknot. At the time, Slipknot weren't one my favorite bands, but I had a respect for the gang from Iowa. In my head, (at the turn of the millennium,) they were about as popular nationally as Cleveland's own Mushroomhead. Did I ever believe that in a generation Slipknot would be one of the biggest rock bands in the world? No. No, I didn't. What is most surprising to me, using the hindsight of time, is how they can cram the stage with so many rock musicians and they all don't kill each other.
What in the world is Slipknot's business model?
I was reading an excellent article at Vulture and Lead Singer Corey Taylor said "You do the work, you get paid. That’s straight-up it. We split merch equally. We split live equally. We do everything equally." There's 9 guys in Slipknot, they split everything equally? Then I went back to Wait and Bleed, 20 years ago, and looked at the songwriting credits.
Songwriters: Michael Shawn Crahan / Christopher Fehn / Paul D. Gray / Craig A. Jones / Nathan J. Jordison / Corey Taylor / Mickael Thomson / Sidney Wilson
Wait and Bleed lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC
What are those specific 8 doing today?
Crahan: Still with Slipknot, multiple roles.
Fehn: As of 2019, no longer with Slipknot. Complex legal reasons.
Jones: Still with Slipknot, multiple roles.
Jordison: Drummer with Slipknot until 2013.
Taylor: Still with Slipknot, lead singer.
Thomson: Still with Slipknot, guitarist.
Wilson: Still with Slipknot, multiple roles.
Let's start with Paul Gray. If he didn't die of a drug overdose, I'm 99.9% sure he'd still be in Slipknot. As one of the founding members of the band, the doctor that was treating Gray was tried for involuntary manslaughter. Though found not guilty, the doctor lost his license nonetheless.
The core of Slipknot has remained intact for 20 years. It's hard enough to keep 2 people on the same page in a rock band, let alone five. (Or nine.)
Whenever I think of many of music's classic rock bands, I think of squabbles over money. The Eagles were the boys next door singing harmonies in a country-rock band. Behind the scenes, what partially tore the band apart is that not all of the members of the Eagles were on board with getting paid the same. I'm not speculating, Henley and Frey said it themselves in their own documentary History of the Eagles. When the Hell Freezes Over tour convened, Henley and Frey only returned with the understanding (in writing) that they would make triple the other members' shares.
That's easy math to figure out.
You can see where animosity would fester between bandmates. Not all band agreements are common knowledge. Usually the media catches wind of such agreements through court papers.
Sting was basically a egomaniac that didn't want to split the Police's revenues three ways. You could argue that Sting was a genius and didn't need Copeland and Summers. I disagree. I want you to leave this site and check out Sting's discography. Name one great song you can sing along with in your head from Sting after he left the Police. You can't. I think Sting lost his creative counter-balance when he left the Police.
Just last month, we wrote about the financial disparities in the band Kiss. Why were we talking about Kiss in 2019? Stanley and Simmons were still pissed about perceived Rock Hall snubs. Not for them, but for Thayer and Singer? They didn't seem to mind screwing Criss and Frahley. (Because Thayer and Singer knew that they were hired guns.)
And possibly the most egregious of them all, Jane's Addiction. Alternative Press once said that if Nirvana didn't exist, it would have been Jane's Addiction that would have been the face of the Alternative Music Movement in the early 90's. I want you to re-listen to one of the greatest songs in the history of rock music, Ocean Size by Jane's Addiction.
Here's who wrote the song: All lyrics written by Perry Farrell; all music composed by Jane's Addiction. Now how do you break that up? In my mind, and then listening to the song yet again, you would break that money up into quarters, 25% for each band member. My understanding is Perry Farrell gets 50% for lyrics, and then each member gets 12.5% for music. Meaning the Jane's Addiction actual business model is
Whomever at Bass 12.5%
If you look at each member's net worth, it is feasible that those numbers are correct. (Dave Navarro did make a fair amount of money outside of Jane's Addiction.) When I was a kid, I couldn't figure out why Jane's Addiction couldn't get along and just put out great music. As an adult, I don't know how Dave Navarro didn't stab greedy Perry Farrell in his sleep.
A young lady who was born about the year Wait and Bleed came out wrote an interesting piece for The Daily Beast: How Slipknot’s ‘Revolting,’ Class-Conscious Rage Became the Perfect Soundtrack for 2019. It wasn't the best read, but the perspective was intriguing, Slipknot, warts and all, are working class hereos.
Unfortunately for Slipknot, that's probably not by choice. Let's say that Slipknot clears a million dollars. Each member probably makes around $100,000 each. What does management make? 10%? $100,000 for those guys. Don't get me wrong, the guys in Slipknot are doing better than you and me, but they ain't makin' Gene Simmons money, Sting money, or even Perry Ferrell money.
They're releasing music in an era where album sales are nearly flat and Rock Radio Stations still play more Led Zepplin than anything else released in the past 20 years. New music on the radio is almost all pop, rap, or new country. Slipknot does work hard because they HAVE to work hard. A YouTube video can rack up ten of millions of views, but how much MONEY is that? A YouTube Video that has 1,000,000 views in a year potentially makes up to $5,000. Now split that 9 ways and you realize the dilemma of having a GREAT rock band that exists in 2019.
Slipknot works very hard and doesn't make the money that Rock Bands a generation ago made. I believe that resonates with listeners that work hard and don't make the same money that their parents made. And, deep down, I think those undertones lie beneath many of Corey Taylor's lyrics.
Their new video Unsainted is as good as what they were doing in 1999, but in a different way. The band grew as artists. When Sting was vacationing in the French Riviera, he started writing Kumbaya Songs that sucked. Mick Thomson and his brother got in a knife fight between the last Slipknot album and this one and you can tell that the band has not lost its focus. Unless you're Oasis, it's hard to keep that angry fire in your belly once you've become "successful." Few bands are able to hold onto their passion for decades, but that may be because most successful bands are able to cash into what we like to call F- You Money.
Who's the biggest Rock Band in the World today? If you said The Rolling Stones, you are over 70. Heck, all the Rolling Stones THEMSELVES are WELL over 70. Their 2018 No Filter Tour brought in $116 million. Very, very impressive, but let me ask you: In 10 years, where do you think the Rolling Stones will be? Let's just hypothetically say that they're all still alive (doubtful), and even if they're all still touring (very doubtful), most of their fans will be dead.
Ask an 18 year old who their favorite Rock Band is TODAY. They ain't sayin' the Rolling Stones. They might say Nirvana (not touring), Tool (touring now, but maybe not again for 15 more years), or Slipknot. According to Billboard, these were the top grossing performers in 2018:
1; Ed Sheeran
2; Taylor Swift 3; Beyoncé and Jay-Z 4; Bruno Mars 5; Pink 6; Justin Timberlake 7; U2 8; The Rolling Stones 9; Kenny Chesney 10; Journey & Def Leppard 11; Eagles 12; Drake 13; Depeche Mode 14; Foo Fighters 15; Celine Dion 16; Billy Joel 17; Luke Bryan 18; Luis Miguel 19; Harry Styles 20; Dead & Company 21; Andre Rieu 22; Elton John 23; Shania Twain 24; Trans-Siberian Orchestra 25; Jay-Z
You see many rock bands up there? No, you don't. You see absolutely zero rock bands under 50 on the list. (Sorry, Dave Grohl turned 50 earlier this year, Bono is pushing 60, and even Journey's replacement singer Arnel Pineda is 52.)
Depending on how long Slipknot wants to prolong their "We Are Not Your Kind" Tour, they could potentially break into the Top 25 for 2020. Tool and Slipknot are the faces of the next generation of Rock Stars? But Tool's Maynard James Keenan is 55 and could potentially retire to his vineyard at any minute. Which potentially leaves Slipknot as the Torch Bearers not only for Metal, but for all of Rock music with all of their members in their 40's.
One for All and All for One is their motto.
And their simple philosophy is: Not working in a factory in Des Moines? Priceless.
You want to argue with me and say that the guys in Slipknot are a pack of slick Multi-Millionaires in Halloween masks? The casual music fan may not realize how many grubby hands are in that Slipknot Pie. Slipknot is signed to the Roadrunner Music Label, which is a sub-label of the Electra Music Group, which is a subsidiary of the Warner Music Group. You know how many record executives just got paid in just that one sentence?
If Slipknot wasn't making money for their corporate overlords, they wouldn't have a label. Roadrunner currently has a small stable of artists. Roadrunner has a list of FORMER artists a mile and a half long. (Including artists as varied as Nickelback, the Steve Miller Band, and local favorites Chimaira. Go ahead and ask Steve Miller about the record industry.)
You know who SHOULD be the one of the biggest rock acts today? Jack White. But long ago he pulled out of the record industry and started his own label, Third Man Records. Now Jack White's business model, that's a very different article for a different day, but whether it be classic rock icon Steve Miller or a cutting edge musician like Jack White, the music business is something that you have to learn how to navigate as opposed to embrace.
Another fold in the complex formula that devises how you're paid is writer v performer. Now we're talking about Slipknot here and not Marilyn Manson. What's the differentiation? Most of Manson's hits have been written by other others, which means the record company splits royalty rates yet another fraction between the artist and the writers. Since Slipknot is both the artist and writer, let's just throw some round numbers out for discussion's sake. Let's say you go up to WalMart and buy Slipknot's Greatest Hits. Let's be very generous and say that Slipknot gets 20% of record sales. Take $9.99 and give the guys from Slipknot $2.00. Then you split that 9 ways (actually due to different members being in Slipknot across different eras probably, like, 15 ways) and someone who's been in Slipknot since the beginning, like Shawn "Clown" Crahan, is making something like $.22 per album.
Now you're yelling at your monitor "NO ONE BUYS ALBUMS ANYMORE, FRED HUNT!" Okay, streaming examples are even worse. According to Rolling Stone Magazine, the average song on Spotify pays about $.007 per play. Unless you're the biggest of the big, like Slipknot, you ain't making crap. In July 2019, Slipknot had 6.36 million listeners on Spotify and were one of the Top 10 Metal Bands on the list. Let's just use one play per listener for, again, easy math. 6,360,000 times $.007, that's around $45,000 a month. Not bad, but does Slipknot get 100% of that? I don't think so. I think Roadrunner gets 80%, Slipknot gets 20% (estimated), which now drops the band to splitting $9,000 nine ways, which is now super-easy math. $1,000 a month take home for an individual in Slipknot.
Now don't get me wrong, I know there's multiple streaming services and multiple new media revenue sources, but when you break down the numbers, you can see why rock bands are a dying breed, you can't make a living off of being an average musician. Now you could argue that my numbers are way wrong, and I'll listen to that argument, I AM NOT AN ACCOUNTANT, but if you just kick around concepts, you can get an idea of what's going on.
Let's say that Slipknot, Inc made $100,000,000 in the past decade. If Celebrity Net Worth is correct, (which MAY or MAY NOT be accurate), Slipknot, the actual band, is worth $20 million. What numbers do they cite? None. How did they come up with that number? Apparently guessing. But the 20,000,000 number re-inforces the 20% theory. And again, split that number 9 ways. If Slipknot is worth around $20 million, that's the band all together. Well then how is Corey Talyor supposedly worth $10,000,000? Don't forget, he's also the driving force behind the band Stone Sour.
I am confident that the Stone Sour business arrangement is not the same as Slipknot's.
Slipknot is basically in the same tax bracket as a room full of top doctors, not a room full of top professional athletes or top professional actors.
My kid bought a Slipknot shirt at Hot Topic for, I believe, $20. Bands list merchandising and touring as the two ways that they really make money. But that band t-shirt did not send $20 into the Slipknot coffers. Maybe...MAYBE, $10 went to the band. (Part went to the t-shirt manufacturer, part went to Hot Topic. And then, of course, split the remaining money 9 ways.)
Touring? Don't forget, there are still production costs for touring. Now a band gets a much bigger percentage of touring revenue than the percentages they make for recording, but unless you're touring small venues in a van, you still have to pay for transportation and stage costs.
Just a reminder of some of Slipknot's achievements.
Every album has gone Gold or Platinum (when no albums go gold or platinum)
10 Grammy Nominations / 1 Grammy Victory
2 Dozen Charting Singles
Multiple Awards: Best Live Band
Every line I write, I just can't believe they split everything evenly 9 ways.
Being in a band is hard, because adults have a tough time pulling in one direction that may or may not be the same direction as the other adults.
9 possible directions in this case.
Don't even get me started on how little the Mushroomhead guys made....
I think that one of their old guitarists lives a block away from me.
No, really, I'm not using hyperbole.
I think he really does.
I don't live in the new part of town.
I live in the OLD part of town.
The lead singer of Chimaira lives across the way from my Parents.