Conventions & Awards

Challenges mount as indie musicians return to touring

Four indie music managers and the managing partner of concert discovery platform Bandsintown share the challenges they are facing as their artists return to touring.

It’s a preview of a panel happening this Friday, October 14th, on Live Music Day at MondoNYC hosted by Bandsintown managing partner Fabrice Sergent: Challenges & Opportunities as Indie Musicians Return to Touring.”

He’ll be joined by four independent music managers: Ami Spishock of Fort William Artist Management (Beruit, Fleet Foxes, Tamino, Grizzly Bear, and more), Pete Smolin of Upward Spiral Music (They Might Be Giants, OK Go, The Stone Foxes, and more), Cole Silberman of SB Management (Alex Page, The Wombats, Luke Wild and more) and Mike Scrafford of Start to Pretend (Car Seat Headrest, Beach Bunny, Gia Margaret).

As a preview, we asked the panelists to share their take on the current live music marketplace.

“Bandsintown’s community of registered live music fans jumped more than 14 million to 74 million in less than a year, and in the first half of 2022, twice as many fans bought tickets than in the same period in 2019,” said Fabrice Sergent. “We saw unparalleled levels of demand for major tours, which sold out quickly. This led fans to buy via resale and to buy these and other shows closer to the event.”

“2023 looks even stronger and with the same challenges in terms of competition,” added Sergent.

The managers identified three main areas of concern on the road: staffing and supply shortages, keeping the touring party healthy, and too many shows competing for the finite discretionary spending of concerned consumers.

“The most obvious challenge is keeping everyone healthy on tours,” said Mike Scrafford. “These days, when budgeting, you have to have some pretty high contingencies because there are so many costs associated with a positive test from anyone.”

“There is a concern with access to labor for touring personnel and venue staff,” added Cole Silberman. “I believe that if you pay the touring party a fair wage and set expectations for where you are as an independent artist, that resolves that issue.”

“The larger issue at hand is access to supply, for example, buses, merchandise, and gear,” he continued. “There are a lot of people touring and not enough touring essentials available.

“Inflation isn’t helping either, as we have a lot of shows that were booked in 2019 with pre-pandemic finances in mind that have been rescheduled several times over,” said Pete Smolin. “Nothing changes about the deals, but everything we pay for to pull off the show is more expensive now.”

Scrafford echoed comments by his fellow managers, adding, “Low ticket sales due to competition and show cancellations due to positive covid results obviously hurt everyone financially. It’s truly riskier than ever to tour, and it seems like everyone is just continuing to push for things to work the same way they did in the past.”

Silberman agreed and bemoaned the lack of innovation and creative solutions. “It feels as if the industry is looking to optimize.” he said, “rather than reinvent pieces for live shows and streamed events.”

But there are also bright spots. “All of our artists are totally independent, so we are the record label. The truth is we haven’t experienced a decline in revenue on the label side as a result of the pandemic,” said Smolin. “We’ve also had a lot of success financing projects through membership-oriented initiatives,”

“We’re focused on activating the biggest fans and giving them the best possible experience we can,” he added.

It‘s not too late to attend MondoNYC, and registration info is here.

The “Challenges & Opportunities as Indie Musicians Return to Touring” panel will on Friday, October 14th at 1:00:00 PM EDT.

Bruce Houghton is the Founder and Editor of Hypebot and MusicThinkTank and serves as a Senior Advisor to Bandsintown, which acquired both publications in 2019. He is the Founder and President of the Skyline Artists Agency and a professor for the Berklee College Of Music.

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