The following comes from Tomas Barfod, drummer in the band Whomadewho.
Pomplamoose wrote a nice, well-written and honest article about their 28-day US tour which ended up costing them more than $10,000. And I get it, they are a studio duo that wanted to make a great show for as many fans as possible.
I’m fortunate to be part of a band that has around the same crowd size as Pomplamoose, but the difference is that we in Whomadewho have been making a profit from our first show and have supported 4 (including our manager) full-time salaries for many years now.
Firstly, we have always traveled light (mostly just a guitar, a bass and some drumsticks). Lately we have added a sound engineer and a bit more equipment, but we still fly around without paying overweight.
Second, a few years ago we started getting good at analyzing our career, which kept us from doing many of the things that everybody said was the ‘thing a band in our position should do’. So when a label told us to make Franz Ferdinand-like hits, we made a dark, partly-instrumental album, and when we where told that we could only get a certain amount for gigs, we said okay, but we’ll only play for double now, and somehow we started getting those fees.
I’m not saying that everybody should do that, but the music scene in this era is not something fixed, you don’t have to tour in a mini-van, you don’t have to have tour manager, you don’t need to play all cities in whole world. Some don’t even have to tour, but for most it’s an amazing way to meet the fans and get more.
For Pomplamoose, I’m sure they could have cut down 50% of the 28 gigs, but still have gotten 80-90% of the income and pr value (if we take the spin-off from their article out), and be making a profit.
I don’t know their specifics, but I have tried this myself so I know the drill. A band like Pomplamoose, even though playing 900-1,200 capacity venues in some cities, might have been playing 50-100 people at other gigs. Those people are still important, yes, but sometimes after a gig like that I’ll do the calculations, and in some cases, It would have been cheaper for us to pay every fan at the venue $30 each than actually showing up and playing.
No matter what perspective you come from, it’s not good business.
But I actually don’t care that much about losing money on gigs, if those gigs make a difference. It’s more about what money-losing-small-gigs take away from you:
– Having money worries usually isn’t to good for creativity, it makes people think short term;
– even though mostly being fun, touring is also hard work, so you waste a lot of creative energy waiting for a rental car or sitting backstage drinking warm beer, instead of making what matters so much: amazing music.
– and besides that, almost all bands deliver a better show when they play a big sold out venue, rather than a half empty bar. And I’ll argue that someone seeing a band playing to a big happy crowd is more likely to become a loyal fan that brings their friends next time, much more than than the ones that witnessed a slightly humiliated band in a bar. And yes, some fans get the opportunity to say ‘I heard them play for only 30 people in Manchester’, but again that’s only relevant if the band actually made it afterwords, not if the band is still playing for 30 people (and if the band made it, I’m quite sure it wasn’t the gig in Manchester that was the turning point.)
So what I’m saying with all this is: if you are a band, nobody is gonna tell you to cut down on gigs, because that’s still the easiest and cheapest way to ‘make’ a band for the label. But don’t be naïve about it, because it’s also the easiest way to break a band, and you might wake up in few years, having done everything by the book and with decent success, but still the band breaks up, because it doesn’t really support a ‘normal’ life.
At some point, either you or your bandmates want out.
I still make stupid choices, and still occasionally somehow end up in a venue with 50 people or less. But I just wanted to share some of my thoughts that have helped me to live well off my music for many years.