The Many Realities of Touring as an Independent Artist: What’s Right for You?

Shutterstock_180210833By Chris Robley on CDBaby.com

Jack Conte of Pomplamoose wrote a blog post last week about how his band toured for a month and grossed $135,983, but still LOST money to the tune of $11,819. The piece is really interesting, going into detail about the band’s expenses, revenues, and what their attitudes are towards the “cost” of touring as an independent act.His article has stirred up a lot of different kinds of conversations around touring. A UK band called They Say Fall posted “The reality of low-level band touring,” an article that basically says mid-level bands such as Pomplamoose could turn a profit by doing with less on tour: no roadies, sleep in the van, eat cheap food, etc.

While that kind of touring might be “sustainable” for a 10-day stint every 6 months or so when you’re 25 years old, it’s not a great option for bands that need to play 28 days in a row, drive long-distances between gigs, and put on a smiling face for  journalists, DJs, promoters, and audiences every night.

[And if you CAN endure 'roughing it' on the road for a month at a time, repeatedly over many years, and with much frequency, while also playing in-stores and in-studios, doing interviews, setting up your own gear and lights,… well clearly you're The Butthole Surfers circa 1985 and you need to get back to when you belong!]

Anyway, all this talk about touring has reminded me once again that there is no one-size-fits-all solution for meeting your fans out there in the world.

Touring-as-an-indie-large* For new bands (and young bodies), touring the way They Say Fall does it might be a great starting point: get a week off work, sleep on people’s floors or in the van, play your hearts out! After all, many people in the music industry think that touring — even if it means you spend a bunch of money just to play in half-empty clubs in small towns across the country — is a crucial part of becoming a professional musician.

* Others believe that traditional tours no longer make sense, and have found other means of connecting with audiences, and other metrics to indicate when and where it’s right for a band to travel.

* For acts that crave intimacy with their audience, and who’d prefer to avoid the smokey, boozy, hazy, late-nights of touring rock clubs, perhaps a string of house concerts is the way to go. Check out how Shannon Curtis made $25k on a 2-month house concert tour.

* For musicians with more day-to-day obligations (parents!) or for whom traveling is difficult, there’s the existential question about whether you can even BE a professional musician without touring. For a great article on this topic, check out Solveig Whittles’ “Having Kids and Touring: Pro vs. Amateur Musicians.”

* Then of course there’s a whole bunch of musicians who never have and never intend to perform live, yet they still can effectively promote their music.

Different artists. Different audiences. Different needs. Different ways of thinking about touring. And there’s no single “right” way.

How do YOU think about touring as it relates to your music career? Let us know in the comments below.

Also, be sure to check out these touring resources:

How to plan your own tour: using the Internet and your fans

How to stay healthy on the road: simple tips for touring musicians

Touring abroad: tips for independent musicians on international booking, promotion, customs, merch sales, and travel

Do it anyway: touring advice from The Handsome Family

How to Make a Living Touring with Your Band, Pt. 1: Booking

How to Earn a Living Touring with Your Band, Pt. 2: Making Money

The DIY Touring Mentality: Advice from Martin Atkins

Touring is like Middle School: You’re Going to Need a Binder

Free Guide: Book Your Own Successful Tour

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