Live & Touring

Imogen Heap: “So expensive to tour!”

Is Another Source of Income Shrinking?

Touring was supposed to be the savior of music. Live concerts are something fans can't download, the story went, and thus will provide a reliable source of artist income to offset slumping profits from recorded music sales.  But while some artists do still make their livings from live performances, it's not always the panacea that some would have you believe.

At least that's what UK artists Imogen Heap, a successful artist by most measures, told her fans in a short series of tweets earlier this week.

image from "So expensive to tour! Just had a rather depressing meeting with tour manager. Record sales low (across the industry) really impacting me."

"Sad truth is touring US especially such a monopoly. Audience end up paying double ticket price to the venue @Seattle_D. Huge mark up."

"This may be the last tour in a while. A bit emotional. Ugh. Not easy keeping afloat in this climate!"

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  1. Did everyone honestly think most artists make money touring? It’s just not true.
    Only Bono, The Eagles, etc. make $$$.
    Most artists lose money on the road.
    Probably 70% of artists on the road are lucky to break even.

  2. This discussion is great. And as much as I understand Imogene’s problem (thus the post), I also run the booking agency Skyline Music ( we represent about 40 acts both developing (that have never had a big record deal) and established that make the vast majority of the income from touring and merch sales from the road.
    There are many sides two this discussion.

  3. It may be true that “70% of artists are lucky to break even on the road”, but that is mainly their own fault. Most of them want to tour in a bus (and still sleep in hotels), have multiple techs, a big light show, makeup, stylists, etc, and all the luxury that they feel ‘entitled’ to.
    It’s the same old song and dance, it comes down to proper management and business management letting the artist know their financial projections before the tour, and giving them options. Most don’t do that, just take their commissions and tell the artist “touring is a tough business”.
    There are bands who have been at it for years that are very profitable because they do things LEAN. The Walkmen still load in and out their own gear. Wolf Parade is out touring 2,000 seat venues, and doing it in a van and trailer. It comes down to humility, that touring is still work and a little sacrifice goes a long way.
    Think of all the Warped Tour bands that go out and work their asses off, set up their own merch (and in some situations even build their own stage every day), and really put in the time. It pays off when that happens as opposed to just a bunch of hype and expecting for the numbers to fall in your favor.

  4. Having seen photos of her stage setup, overhead is definitely part of her problem (and she admitted as much on twitter.) I mean, it’s beautiful, don’t get me wrong, but it’s also unrealistic.
    This is a good reality check for the Music 2.0 crowd, though, I’m glad to see this story getting some legs!

  5. I think that the touring industry needs to go through a major overhaul just like the record industry has in the last few years. The way Imogene is touring is weighted heavily in favor of the venues and the promoters, not the artist.
    I just got back from a two week tour with my band, The Jason Parker Quartet. We are a jazz band, for crying out loud, and we made money on our tour. So much so that I was able to pay my band 50% more than originally planned. We did it through a combination of things, eg. picking the right venues, playing a private event, doing a master class at a college, selling tons of CD’s, and all the while driving a nice rental van and staying in decent hotels.
    It can be done. You just have to rethink the model.
    I will be giving a FREE touring seminar this coming Wed., June 2nd, at 6pm Pacific Time. It will be on Ustream. Please join me if you can:

  6. When you all are talking about making money on tour, what amounts are you talking about?
    I consider $120,000 gross per year to be the minimum for a four-piece band to needs to make to give everyone $20,000 – $25,000 a year and have enough left over to cover expenses.
    So that’s $10,000 a month. $2500 a weekend. $1250 for two shows a week or $500 per show for five shows a week. I know a lot of bands aren’t bringing that in.
    So for those of you who are successful or who are working with bands who are successful, what annual gross are we talking about?

  7. I’ve also run some numbers on house concerts which are popular with solo singer/songwriters. Let’s say a performer can make $1000 per night, which tends to be on the high end of a house concert take. (I’d say $300 to $600 would be more typical). So if a performer plays 100 house concerts a year (which means a lot of traveling and pretty much playing year round), that’s $100,000 a year gross.
    Now that’s good money, but that’s probably the ceiling for a successful house concert performer.
    If you guys can throw out some general figures (you don’t have to mention names), that would be helpful.
    I mean, I know a band that thinks it is doing great when it can gross $500 for a gig. They pile into one van to tour and sleep in tents or in the van much of the time. They all have day jobs, too. So for them success is making enough money to get from one town to another without having to dig into their pockets. But I wouldn’t consider that successful touring myself.

  8. Suzanne,
    I can only speak for myself, and I’m working in the jazz realm, which is a bit different than rock/pop acts or solo acts. That being said, touring is really only a small part of how we make our money. Most of it comes from casuals and private events, CD sales and club dates. However, on this tour we made enough that if we did it for most of the year we’d be making to that $120,000-150,000 threshold you speak of. But we will make more money doing what we do here at home and touring occasionally, which I prefer anyway.
    My point is that if you want to tour you can do it without going into debt. You just have to think outside the box. House concerts are one example of that. We do a handful of them a year and they are always some of our most profitable gigs.
    I’ll talk about this and much more in my Ustream seminar on Wednesday.

  9. This might be of interest since you mentioned the Warped Tour.
    Kevin Lyman, the co-producer of the Country Throwdown amphitheater tour, the country music venture from Warped Tour producers 4fini Production, has announced that four upcoming shows on the North American trek have been canceled because of low ticket sales. …
    In a statement, Lyman cited “low tickets sales and too many shows competing with one another” as the primary reason for the cancellations. “We are trying to bring a festival style tour with 21 artists, at a reasonable and fair ticket price (average ticket cost $31), but because most markets are currently flooded with shows, we end up cannibalizing one another and someone ends up with lower ticket sales,” he added.

  10. I agree that its hard to call $500 a night for a 4 piece band successful. But I also think that far less than $100,000 for a solo performer is just great.
    It’s important to also factor in merch and CD sales that would not happen otherwise. A smart band can almost double their $500 with merch.
    I suppose one’s perspective partially depends on age, cost of living where you are and other factors, but I always like to think about how it compares to a teacher or fireman’s salary.

  11. The $500 that the band made INCLUDED merchandise. They thought they were doing great if they made that total for a night.
    The $100,000 was a CEILING for someone who might be able to constantly play house concerts for top dollar.
    So what I meant was I didn’t think playing the house concert circuit was going to be all that lucrative for most people because it is hard to get booked all the time and make a ton of money, I’d say $25,000 a year from house concerts is probably more typical for a successful house concert performer. Less for someone who only does them occasionally.
    I know artists who have grossed $100,000 to $150,000 a year. One did it by playing about 100 college gigs a year. I think she was one of the most heavily booked college performers in the country that year.
    Another grossed $150,000 a year and from that paid her band about $45,000 (she didn’t need to pay them an equal split because she played a lot of solo gigs and also the CD and merch income were hers alone). She was able to do it by playing about 200 shows a year, a mixture of everything from coffee house gigs to private events to festivals.
    Both of those performers were atypical of what I usually see.
    What I want to know is what you guys mean when you say touring can be successful.

  12. To me “adequate living” means paying your bills as a musician. That means different things to different people living in different locations at different stages in their lives.
    As an aside, my hope is that new health care laws will help make that more possible. There are of course many other factors.

  13. Imogen seems to be playing 1000+ cap rooms, which means at a conservative ticket price she’s walking with probably 10K a night at the minimum, likely closer to 15K. If you can’t afford to tour at the level, the problem is likely your production budget, as BJ pointed out above. That or you have too long of a list of people taking points off the gross. Or, more likely, both.

  14. Imogen Heap is a major label act – Sony. With that corporate approach and mindset there’s lots of waste. Too much money is spent on too many non-essentials. Seems like only earlier this year Heap’s PR team was blowing plenty of smoke about her “successful” use of social media. If you look deeper into the story, it’s just another example of the old record industry model, pretending it’s new. It’s a money-go-round and does not represent much of anything outside the major label, bad-business, approach.

  15. I was under the impression that touring seems to be the only way to make money (mostly through merch sales) because CDs aren’t selling. Everyone needs to go on tours to pay the bills, leading to oversaturation in the touring business (which has its own repercussions). That’s the impression I got from following the metal community, anyhow. Of course many of these bands have to tour in vans so they don’t have to pay a driver or pay as much for gas.

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