The following is by 1/2 of the band Pomplamoose and Patreon co-founder, Jack Conte.
Pomplamoose just finished a 28-day tour. We played 24 shows in 23 cities around the United States. It was awesome: Nataly crowd surfed for the first time ever, we sold just under $100,000 in tickets, and we got to rock out with people we love for a full month. We sold 1129 tickets in San Francisco at the Fillmore. I’ll remember that night for the rest of my life.
One question that our fans repeatedly asked us was “what does it feel like to have ‘made it’ as a band?” Though it’s a fair question to ask of a band with a hundred million views on YouTube, the thought of Pomplamoose having “made it” is, to me, ridiculous.
Before I write another sentence, it’s important to note that Nataly and I feel so fortunate to be making music for a living. Having the opportunity to play music as a career is a dream come true. But the phrase “made it” does not properly describe Pomplamoose. Pomplamoose is “making it.” And every day, we bust our asses to continue “making it,” but we most certainly have not “made it.”
Being in an indie band is running a never-ending, rewarding, scary, low-margin small business.
In order to plan and execute our Fall tour, we had to prepare for months, slowly gathering risk and debt before selling a single ticket. We had to rent lights. And book hotel rooms. And rent a van. And assemble a crew. And buy road cases for our instruments. And rent a trailer. And….
All of that required an upfront investment from Nataly and me. We don’t have a label lending us “tour support.” We put those expenses right on our credit cards. $17,000 on one credit card and $7,000 on the other, to be more specific. And then we planned (or hoped) to make that back in ticket sales.
We also knew that once we hit the road, we would be paying our band and crew on a weekly basis. One week of salaries for four musicians and two crew members (front of house engineer and tour manager) cost us $8794. That came out to $43,974 for the tour.
We built the tour budget ourselves and modeled projected revenue against expenses. Neither of us had experience with financial modeling, so we just did the best we could. With six figures of projected expenses, “the best we could” wasn’t super comforting.
The tour ended up costing us $147,802 to produce and execute.
Where did all those expenses come from? I’m glad you asked:
Production expenses: equipment rental, lights, lighting board, van rental, trailer rental, road cases, backline.
Hotels, and food. Two people per room, 4 rooms per night. Best Western level hotels, nothing fancy. 28 nights for the tour, plus a week of rehearsals.
Gas, airfare, parking tolls. Holy shit, parking a 42-foot van is expensive.
Insurance. In case we break someone’s face while crowdsurfing.
Salaries and per diems. Per diems are twenty dollar payments to each bandmate and crew member each day for food while we’re out. Think mechanized petty cash.
Manufacturing merchandise, publicity (a radio ad in SF, Facebook ads, venue specific advertising), supplies, shipping.
Commissions. Our awesome booking agency, High Road Touring, takes a commission for booking the tour. They deserve every penny and more: booking a four week tour is a huge job. Our business management takes a commission as well to do payroll, keep our finances in order, and produce the awesome report that lead to this analysis. Our lawyer, Kia Kamran, declined his commission because he knew how much the tour was costing us. Kia is the man.
Fortunately, Pomplamoose made some money to offset some of these expenses. Let’s look at our income from the tour:
Our cut of ticket sales. Dear fans, you are awesome. We love every ounce of your bodies. You’re the reason we can tour. Literally, 72% of our tour income came from the tickets you bought. THANK YOU.
Merch sales. Hats, t-shirts, CDs, posters. 22% of our tour income.
Sponsorship from Lenovo. Thank goodness for Lenovo! They gave us three laptops (to run our light show) and a nice chunk of cash. We thanked them on stage for saving our asses and supporting indie music. Some people think of brand deals as “selling out.” My guess is that most of those people are hobby musicians, not making a living from their music, or they’re rich and famous musicians who don’t need the income. If you’re making a living as an indie band, a tour sponsor is a shining beacon of financial light at the end of a dark tunnel of certain bankruptcy.
The Bottom Line
Add it up, and that’s $135,983 in total income for our tour. And we had $147,802 in expenses.
We lost $11,819.
But this isn’t a sob story. We knew it would be an expensive endeavor, and we still chose to make the investment. We could have played a duo show instead of hiring six people to tour with us. That would have saved us over $50,000, but it was important at this stage in Pomplamoose’s career to put on a wild and crazy rock show. We wanted to be invited back to every venue, and we wanted our fans to bring their friends next time. The loss was an investment in future tours.
At the end of the day, Pomplamoose is just fine: our patrons give us $6,326 per video through our Patreon page. We sell about $5,000 of music per month through iTunes and Loudr. After all of our expenses (yes, making music videos professionally is expensive), Nataly and I each draw a salary of about $2,500 per month from Pomplamoose. What’s left gets reinvested in the band or saved so that we don’t have to rack up $24,000 of credit card debt to book another tour.
In 2014 Nataly and I didn’t take weekends off. Releasing two, fully produced music videos per month is way more than a full time job. Because Pomplamoose doesn’t have a manager, Nataly coordinated the logistics of the tour, herself. On top of that, we recorded and released a full length album. Our music video shoots often started at 9 am and finished at 2 am. That was the norm, not the exception.
The point of publishing all the scary stats is not to dissuade people from being professional musicians. It’s simply an attempt to shine light on a new paradigm for professional artistry.
We’re entering a new era in history: the space between “starving artist” and “rich and famous” is beginning to collapse.
YouTube has signed up over a million partners (people who agree to run ads over their videos to make money from their content). The “creative class” is no longer emerging: it’s here, now.
We, the creative class, are finding ways to make a living making music, drawing webcomics, writing articles, coding games, recording podcasts. Most people don’t know our names or faces. We are not on magazine covers at the grocery store. We are not rich, and we are not famous.
We are the mom and pop corner store version of “the dream.” If Lady Gaga is McDonald’s, we’re Betty’s Diner. And we’re open 24/7.
We have not “made it.” We’re making it.