This week I got back from an 8-day tour with my band. I’ve toured extensively for the last several years – doing trips with with fellow singer/songwriters, with my sister who is a hand- drummer, and on my own. But touring with a band at this capacity was a completely new experience. I learned quite alot so I thought Id share a realistic look into the financial world of touring. Proceed with caution. It might cost you something!
Instead of my customary Honda Fit (it can normally easily accommodate all that I have), our challenge was finding a vehicle that was big enough to hold everything – a keyboard, a full drum kit, an upright bass, electric bass, a djembe, auxilary instruments, a sound system, merch, and luggage.
We needed a vehicle large enough to make it all work while also fitting 3 people. So I began looking for minivans and extra large SUVs. It took some serious digging but I was able to find a few locations that could rent us something. The only catch was that the average rental rate amounted to just over $1200 for the 8 days.That’s when i panicked! Enterprise, Budget, and every other company I contacted, blamed high prices and lack of vehicles on peak summer rental season. Large vans were almost impossible to find given that they were being rented by individuals moving in/out of their apartments. So I was completely stuck and told I had to either pay the high prices or find another way.
A friend suggested I consider getting a smaller car, and renting a trailer to attach to the car. To be honest, I couldn’t believe this thought had never crossed my mind before! So we decided to use my drummers Honda CR-V foregoing vehicle rental costs. Score! After calling Uhaul I determined that renting a small 4x8ft trailer would be roughly $15 per day…which amounted to a little over $180 after tax (ended up renting for 10 total days). Unfortunately my drummers CR-V didnt have a hitch. So I had to drop another $300 to get a hitch and ball, installed on the car. I also had to get wiring to connect the vehicles lighting to the trailer. I was told I could have gotten this installed for much cheaper if I had had more time and flexibility. I might have even been able to get someone to do it for free (a few ppl volunteered). But we were on a serious time crunch. And according to Advance Auto parts, they were selling the parts for around $230. So I decided to suck it up and just pay the full $300 to have Uhaul install it (parts included).
At this point I was in the hole by nearly $500 and still 2 days out from the trip. We hadn’t even left yet! You can bet that starting a trip off with -$500 will put a bad taste in your mouth.
GAS + TOLLS
Because we were using a larger vehicle than I am accustomed to, and because we were lugging around so much weight in the trailer, the tank needed to be filled more frequently. Having to drop $45-50 for every tank of gas instead of my Honda Fit’s $33 was also very painful. And by the time the trip was said and done, nearly 2000 miles later I had spent $300 on gas alone – not to mention about $100 for tolls.
So now I was in the hole at -$900
Food costs on this trip weren’t as high as they normally are, thanks to the hospitality of a few host homes and the kindness of certain venues that provided food. We each also packed a ton of homemade things, fruits, and non-perishable items. But still there were some food costs – averaging at about $100 on my end. We each covered our own food expenses, so im not sure what the others spent.
So now I was in the hole at -$1000
Lodging was the one thing we didn‘t have to stress about! Between all of us, we had family in Boston, Central, PA and Philadelphia. We also had friends along the way who accomodated us in other cities. So this took a huge load off! Thankfully there are always people who want to pay it forward and offer a helping hand in this way. So this made life exponentially easier.
We only had one show with a guarantee. Every other show required depending on ticket sales, tips, and CD sales. We barely broke even on our weekday gigs. And even though we had packed the room at Rockwood in NYC, it was a free gig. We left with $75 in tips and a few CDs sold. Thumbs down. So when Thursday approached and we had our 4 bigger gigs (Thursday – Sunday) I was heavily depending on them to break even and come away with a little something.
PAYING THE BAND
Since this music stuff is pretty much my deal, my bandmates don’t invest any time in promo, booking, website maintenance, etc. So we choose to make our business relationship as a contract-to-contract type thing. In other words, when I have a gig I ask them if they can play, figure out how much I can afford to pay them and ask if they are willing and able to do the gig for that amount. We prefer it that way because it allows them to say no when they can’t do a gig instead of feeling exclusively bound to my career and calendar. They play with so many other bands so I think they appreciate the the flexibility of doing shows and still being able to dictate what shows they want to play/dont want to play. It also give me the ability to operate how I work best – as a sole proprietor who brings on contracted workers when necessary.
All that to say, I approached this tour in the same way. I told them how much I could afford to pay them for the 8 days, asked if they’d be willing to join me…and they said yes! So this basically put me in a position where anything extra that came from the tour (after paying them) was mine. And let me just say, it wasn’t much. I’m not going to divulge how much I was able to compensate my band, but honestly, if I could have pid them more, I would have. They’re good friends, great travel partners, and they put their heart into absolutely everything they do. I was so spoiled to have them with me…but alas my hope is that next time I’ll be able to pay them what they’re truly worth…and then some.
From a financial standpoint (strictly financial), going on this tour was a total waste of time. I might have come home $3-400 in the positive. But of course I haven’t even factored in the publicity of mailing posters to each venue, and literally the hours upon hours of work spent in booking and promoting this trip. Time is money after all.
But on the up side, I collected a little over 100 new emails for my newsletter, played for roughly 1000+ ears (thanks to a huge festival we did on Day 8), reconnected with existing fans, made many new ones, saw a large increase in my Facebook and Twitter followings, saw significantly large and consistent traffic on my website during the tour dates, and got a few show leads for future gigs.
Should I have done the tour solo? From the outside looking in, an intelligent person would say ”yes”. After all I would have been able to save at least $700 in expenses by taking my own vehicle, avoiding installing the hitch, renting the trailer, and paying less for gas. And I would have saved on the additional amount paid out to my bandmates. BUT I certainly don’t think I would have sold as many CDs on a solo tour. There were also 3 significant shows (the biggest ones) that would have gone terrible wrong if done solo. In fact, we probably wouldn’t have even been able to confirm those shows if they had been pitched as solo performances.
So ultimately touring with my band was worth it. I expect to see return in the form of:
- better turnouts at future shows in the cities we played in
- increased ticket sales given that over 100 new fans are now connected through my monthly newsletter
- increased Youtube hits given that we got some great footage that I’m hoping to upload
- better show opportunities – I noticed a significant difference in audience response between our shows on this particular tour and my past solo shows
Thoughts for the Future…
As these things normally go, we rarely ever see immediate return on investment, which can sometime make it seem like we’re wasting our time. But that’s not usually the case. It can feel like that, but it’s not always true. When touring with a band, its very difficult to break even. I’d heard this so many times in the past and then finally experienced it myself this month. So I’ve decided that one of the ways to resolve this is to use future band tours as my PR campaign (the thing that brings me bigger show opportunities, better stages, and more exposure) and to use other streams of income to fund these band tours. In other words, good money made off of solo touring (for example) can hopefully go into band touring. And as time goes by, our goal will be to get more shows with guarantees that will allow for a bit of wiggle room.
Lastly and more importantly, touring with a band is way more FUN! My bandmates are my close friends and I would give anything to be able to hit the road with them all the time! Viva la musica!!
Joy Ike is a full-time singer-songwriter based out of Pittsburgh, PA. She is also the founder of Grassrootsy, a music marketing blog for independent artists. She believes the greatest tragedy in the world is having a talent and keeping it to yourself. You can find her at www.joyike.com, on Facebook, or follow her via twitter: @joyike.