Duff McKagan Reveals How Much Money He Made From His First Guns N’ Roses Cheque
“My twenties were tumultuous at best… I think. That’s what they say. I woke up in an ICU at 30 and there was kind of a line drawn down the sand whether I want to live or die. It was pretty basic. I decided to take the first one.
“I had a big family and a lot to live for, so the thought came to my head, like, ‘I’ve made money in my twenties – a good amount of money. I don’t know how much; I don’t know who has taken from me – how much they have, if they have,’ which they did.
“It was time for me to sort of arrest this portion of my life and gain some knowledge, so I got myself eventually through going through community college and courses.
“I wanted to go to Seattle [University]. I thought I could go in and write a check and just go to school. I got a GED, and I couldn’t just go in and write a check. I had to go through community college and get A’s in these classes and write [an] admittance essay…
“I got in, and just the accounting classes at the beginning alone were so valuable to me. I could read my financial statements that we were getting for the band – and my own personal financial statements.
“There was questions that arose from me being able to finally read these things – and some nervous people. I ended up moving accounting firms and matriculated through school…
“We formed this band called Velvet Revolver. At that point, I knew what I was talking about to a certain extent. Never assume you’re the smartest guy in the room, but I think they were assuming I was the smartest guy in the room, which is just fine.
“We did our record deal; we did our deal with agents, with a manager, with merch companies. I was there at every turn. We learned a lot from the Guns N’ Roses experience – managers commissioning off the gross… You live, you learn.”
Talking about learning the ropes of the music business with GN’R, Duff said:
“We had to basically take a crash course. There was – still is – this Donald Passman book on the music industry [‘All You Need to Know About the Music Business,’ now in its ninth edition]. We would read this thing.
“Publishing is a thing young musicians don’t know anything about because it means nothing to you, but we were getting offered money for our publishing.
“One guy offered us, at Denny’s, a $10,000 traveler’s check for the publishing on ‘Welcome to the Jungle.’ That was a lot of money for us, but we just thought if it’s worth something to him, it must be worth something to us.
“Later on when we got signed, we were offered a couple hundred grand for a big cut of our publishing. ‘Well, if it’s worth 200 grand to them, it must be worth 200 grand to us – and besides, it’s not their songs. We wrote them.’
“It was really kind of a street mentality. The money that we got from the label, we did understand that it was a loan. We started to figure out the bylines in the contract – the breakage [a term referring to a royalty deduction for the damaged physical product] and whatnot, [which was] under no control of us that we would end up paying for, or, we wouldn’t get paid for those records.
“We took a crash course in all of that. We got tour support [because] we weren’t making enough money to pay for a tour bus. We were borrowing money from our roadies to eat… [Eventually,] we did get paid.
“My first check I got – I went from poverty level to getting a check for $80,000 in 1988 [around $170,000 in today’s money]. $80,000 might as well have been a billion dollars. I didn’t know what to do with $80,000, so you begin asking questions about money.
“I didn’t know what a stock was, what a bond was. There’s nothing wrong with asking questions and saying, ‘I don’t know what that means,’ and I was afraid to do that for the next 10 years.”
Duff is currently gearing up to release a new solo album, you can check out the recent single “Tenderness” in the embedded player below.