Making Ends Meet on the Road
Touring is hard. You end up stuck in close quarters with the same people and their weird quirks, habits, and smells for days, weeks, or even months on end. And on top of that there’s the added stress of uncertainty. Will you go overbudget? What if you don’t sell enough tickets or enough merch? What if something breaks and you have to drop a wad of cash on repairs? While that uncertainty is more or less just a part of touring (and life, lets be real here) there are some creative ways to minimize it.
For example, take a look at this sample tour budget. You may notice that the band is almost $6,000 in the red. This may be a familiar sight for you. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be. To be completely honest with you, there are nearly infinite creative long-term and short-term ways to save money as a touring band.
Just Make More Money, Duh
One way to do this is just to make more money. This may sound like the most obvious, even condescending thing you’ve ever heard another person say, but it’s true. Consider where you’re playing (both the venue and the geographical area) as well as when you’re playing. Is there somewhere else where you have a more dense fanbase? Are you playing 21+ shows when your fans are mostly underage? Is your acoustic band playing at a metal venue or vice versa? The devil is in the details, my friends, and if you’re not paying attention to them your fans will stop paying attention to you.
Merch is also tied to this. Ever heard of “finding your popcorn”? If not, let me give you this brief explanation. When you go to the movies you buy popcorn. It’s just part of the experience. When you buy your movie tickets for date night, you subconsciously understand that you’ll also be purchasing popcorn as well. What can fans expect to buy at your show? Off the top of my head, I immediately think of GWAR. If you go to a GWAR show you can know almost for certain that by the time you leave you’ll be drenched in fake blood. Therefore, it became the norm to wear a white shirt to a GWAR show to show off how metal you are all covered in fake blood. So what did GWAR do? Started selling white shirts for fans to wear and get stained in a concoction of corn starch and red food coloring to show off their brutalness.
Cut Those Costs
Speaking of brutal, the other way to make ends meet on the road is to cut down on costs. Start with the easy stuff: you don’t really need to stay in 5-star hotels every night or eat at 5-star restaurants for every meal. You can buy snacks, meal bars, water bottles, and all kinds of stuff in bulk ahead of time. Stop printing way too many t-shirts, print just enough and sell out of them at the end of your tour. Stop printing CDs that no-one buys. If you tour often, consider purchasing a tour van/trailer/equipment instead of renting it (you can also use this to make more money by renting it to your other pals who are going on tour or moving to a new apartment).
Then, if necessary, move on to the harder stuff. If you’re a small and not-yet-well-known band, do you really need 30 people to take care of you or can some of those jobs be consolidated by having people take on more responsibilities? This can get a little uncomfortable and feel a little personal, but your band is a business and it needs to be run like one. Be Ron Swanson for a few minutes, be ruthless, make yourself banners to wave as you chant “Slash it, slash it, slash it,” and decide which people are Leslies (necessary for your business to function) and which are not. Even if you can’t justify keeping someone on your team, you can always point them to another band or opportunity they would be perfect for.
As with all things in life, in order to survive you might have to flex those creative muscles of yours. Don’t shy away from thinking outside the box, working hard to find your popcorn, or making a smart but difficult decision.
Until next time,