Jason Koerner

Louisville Rock Lowdown
By Jason Koerner

"It Ain't No Limo"

If you are in a band, chances are you have thought about how nice it would be to get famous, go on tour, have your own elaborate tour bus and live the easy life. But what you do not realize is that you could have it all right now!

It is a royal pain in the rear to load up all of your equipment into from three to five (or more) separate vehicles at a show. Everyone knows that this is the worst part about being in a band to begin with, so why make it even more difficult on yourself? "Band-Vans" are cheaper alternatives to tour buses. They do not have big-screen TV's, wine bars or groupies inside, but they do have lots of cargo space. That might be what you really need right now. Here's my story about it.

The Pros:

There's more space.

As I mentioned, having a van eliminates the need for driving several cars to the same place. That way, you have all your equipment in the same vehicle, so you know that you took everything you needed to the show and into the club and didn't leave that crucial cable or extension cord in the car.

Chester the van

It's a rallying point

You gather the troops, and head out. If there is one common vehicle, then everyone is accounted for. (This is for those of you that have unreliable band mates who tend to go to the store or to get something to eat at the precise moment you are ready to unload at the gig.) It can also serve a method of pumping yourselves up before a big show. When everyone rides together, the energy tends to be high (sometimes in more ways than one) and conversations often break out about ideas for the concert that night. Camaraderie can be a powerful thing.

It enhances a sense of ownership.

Having a "Band-Van" probably means that your band is serious about your music. The ownership comes from being part of something that is successful and that makes you happy.

It saves money in the long run.

You think it is cheap to drive five cars to a show? Maybe around town it's not that bad, but if you play out of town, even to a club in a nearby town (say, Marengo, Indiana at the Jungle), that's a forty-five-minute drive. It is much more efficient to have one mode of transportation that everyone can fit in (maybe even sleep in to save money on a hotel room), along with all your stuff. Gas is $1.19 per gallon, you do the math. Besides, road trips are more fun when you ride together. Are we there yet?

It presents a more professional look.

Showing up in separate cars suggests to the club owners that the band is a thrown-together operation. Not that I have ever been one to base what other people think of me as the deciding factor on anything, but nevertheless, it does look better to have a unified arrival.

Road trips bond - or break - relationships.

Along with professionalism, you will quickly learn if your personalities will collide or connect, and whether your band will last or not. Better late than never, but probably not the safest method of testing your future.

The Cons:

It's a second vehicle for somebody.

More space, yes, but more space means bigger, less efficient car. You still are saving money in the long run on gas, but you won't be driving this bad boy around town anywhere but shows. This means it will have to be a second vehicle to someone. We'll get to that later.

Decisions, decisions.

Democracy? Consensus? Dictatorship? One common vehicle means where one person goes, you all go. Otherwise, you simply don't go, or you walk. It proves difficult to take the van through the White Castle drive through for a quick bite to eat. Driving becomes a challenge when you have something that is about twice as long as your normal vehicle, no windows, and equipment stacked to the roof. Complicate that with your band mates and roadies arguing over who-owes-who money for food from last time or who gets control over the radio. A preview to parenthood or maybe a form of birth control (since being in the driver's seat during this encounter is often enough to detour anyone from wanting kids).

Keeping the books straight.

A sense of ownership? Who owns it? It's hard to convince someone to spend money on something they will not own. Makes sense, right? It will never be just my van or your van. It belongs to everyone, but there are things to be considered, such as insurance and changing band members. If someone leaves the band, should they be "bought out" by existing members? Should the "new guy" have to buy into the van when he joins so he can ride in it? Who's name will it go in? We will discuss this more in detail as well later...

Though it saves money overall, it can only save money if you are using it properly and handling the finances in such a way that it is fair to everyone. For instance, band money should go towards the band actions and purchases, such as the van. It takes money (lots of it) to maintain a good working car of any kind. A van is no exception. For my band Nemesis's recent van purchase, it cost $550 to buy, $50 to transfer the title and pay taxes, $25 to fill up the gas tank for the first time (and every time thereafter) and other money and labor to make improvements to it. Where does all that money come from? In short, it needs to be earned equally by the band.

Appearances can be deceiving.

It's professional looking, but the band needs to be professional, not look professional. Work on your sound, equipment and attitude first. Then get a van. It will tell a lot about your future if you can agree to this kind of purchase and pull it off without disaster.

The Means:

So how do you do it? Step by step, here is what we did:

1) Look online, in the Bargain Mart (and other classified ads), ask friends and find the best deal on a work van that suits your needs and meets your financial requirements.

2) Check it out as a group, and double-check the values online (Blue Book). It's absolutely essential to have a mechanic check it out first - the out-of-pocket cost can save you BIG bucks down the line.

3) Test-drive it. If it won't start, or it is not road-worthy immediately, keep looking. Don't buy something that would not make it to your next gig that day.

4) Negotiate a fair price.

5) Call your insurance company with the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) and add it to your policy BEFORE YOU DRIVE IT HOME! If you wreck it without being insured, that's bad.

6) Pay up in front of a Notary, have the notarized title signed over to you and get it transferred into your name at the Department of Motor Vehicles in the County Clerk's Office.

7) Make a project out of it with the whole band. Fix it up the way you want it. Remember that it belongs to everyone, so you all have to be a part of it.

The Legality:

It is wise to have it insured by the same person who will be driving it all the time. If someone drives the van who is not covered, it could cause major legal problems in the event of a wreck. Don't be convinced or pressed by your band mates to let them drive it somewhere if they are not covered as drivers on the insurance policy. Even then, a wreck may affect the person who the insurance policy's name is in. The van is my second vehicle, and it stays parked almost all the time because of the cost/risk of driving it. The van should go into the person with the cheapest insurance rate, and that is willing to assume the responsibility for being its caretaker.

Finally, who pays for it all? We touched on this earlier. We split the costs evenly for the purchase of it, out-of-pocket. (Well, I did. I am still waiting on some repayment...) But what if someone leaves? That needs to be discussed ahead of time, as well as the issue of a new member. It sounds odd to have a "start-up fee" to join your band as the new member, but with that much involved, it may a necessary choice. It will weed out those who are not serious, but you may also loose a talent, loyal, willing musician that just doesn't have the cash to do so. I would expect that you would make concessions to these scenarios like we have.

The insurance costs, gas, maintenance, improvements, repairs, etc. are band funded from money we receive at shows. In other words, we play to perform, not to make money. The van is an enhancement to the ease of our performance. It is a reward we can all share, without greed. It is just kind of cool.

Then again, maybe one of the band members is really the leader and everyone else works for him/her . . . but that's a whole additional column.

Talk it over with your band mates, and send me your feedback at JJKSLACKER@cs.com.

Rock on Louisville!