THE live music scene is beginning to bloom. But places to play are still thin on the ground and the money groups earn is barely enough to keep their guitars in strings. The average fee per band member is $500, with most venues setting aside no more than $2,000 for a night's entertainment. Steve Laue, lead guitarist with heavy rock band AWOL explains: ''There's no way we could do it unless we had a day job to pay for it all. ''Necessities like guitar strings cost around $30 to $40 a set - we can go through two or three sets per night, especially at this humid time of year. We also need batteries for effects and tuners and things which will cost around $130. ''You can't lug huge, heavy amps in and out of taxis all night so you need to drive to the gig which brings fuel costs and tunnel tolls, plus payment for a car parking space which can be around $80 to $100 for the night.'' Jo Mehaney from Soul Commotion says although their asking price is a little higher than some - $700 per member - rising costs still mean the band has to pull together to make ends meet. ''We're a nine-piece band so we have plenty of equipment. Luckily some places provide some of the essentials such as a PA [public address] system, but we still need to pay for other things such as transport and rental of studios to practise,'' she said. ''We each put part of our gig payment into a kitty from which we take the money for any expenses. And we all work day jobs, of course.'' William Tembo, percussionist with reggae outfit Captain Mabulla, finds that using some of a club's own equipment can help to offset costs. ''We prefer to play in places where the basic equipment such as drums, amps and a PA is supplied,'' he said. ''Places like the Wanch or Brown Sugar.'' Solo artist Andy Ingkavet, who makes a living out of writing and performing his own original music, has even more problems. Said Ingkavet's manager, Richard Cooper: ''For someone like Andy to set up a full-blown gig, say for example at DDII, we'd need a backline [of amplifiers] and a good PA which will together cost around $10,000. A crew of four and publicity for the event would cost about $5,000. Plus payment for any hired band members. ''So in order to at least break even, we'd have to sell 400 tickets at $50 each at the door to pay for expenses of around $20,000.'' By far the biggest costs incurred by bands is the damage done by an excited audience. Venues such as the Wanch, where the stage is nothing more than an corner of the cramped bar, a few spilt beers can soon take their toll. ''Depreciation of equipment is the biggest problem,'' said Laue. ''Having all your stuff out in the open like that you get beer and sweat and vomit and things all over your equipment and that literally takes huge chunks off its value and working condition. ''Our bass player Graham once brought a brand new bass worth about $9,000 to a gig, only to have a broken piece of vase - thrown at him during a fight amongst a group of squaddies - slice a huge hole through the body. That rendered it virtually worthless.''