Published on December 11th, 2014 | by Dylan Lott0
How NOT To Spend $147,000 On A Month Long Tour
Have you ever heard of Pomplamoose?
It’s ok if you haven’t. If you have, chances are that you’ve heard about them in the last 7 days.
Yeah, that band. The one that made $136,000 on a 28 day tour and still managed to lose over $11,000. They’ve made headlines recently due to an article written by their front man Jack Conte which detailed the expenses and income of their recent 28 day, 26 show tour.
For those who missed it (and may be living under a rock), the band recorded a gross income of $135,983, however, their expenses totaled $147,802, resulting in a net loss of $11,819. For the purpose of this article, I’d like to take a second and focus on the expenses column, because a band should very easily be able to make a decent profit with an income of $136k. So first, here is the band’s breakdown of their expenses:
- Van Rental (Mercedes Sprinter), Trailer Rental, Lighting rig Rental, Road Cases, Booking hotel rooms, and hiring a crew: $24,000
- Salaries/Per Diems ($20 per member, per day): $48, 094
- Hotels, Food: $17,589 (4 rooms per night for 28 nights)
- Gas, Airfare, Parking, Tolls: $11,816
- Insurance: $5,445
- Manufacturing Merch, Publicity, Supplies, Shipping; $21,945
- Commissions: (Booking Agent, Lawyer, etc): $16,143
Alright, let’s crunch the numbers now.
Everyone have their iPhone calculator handy? We’ll start with the things that are unavoidable: Travel costs and Commissions.
Gas and Tolls are ALWAYS going to cost a lot of money, end of discussion.
Commissions are also something that a band is going to have to get used to when they have a booking agent, manager, lawyer etc. These people work a tough job to ensure that the band doesn’t get screwed over by shady promoters or have shows drop.
At the end of the day they deserve what they get. That brings us to where we try to start cutting costs.
First, we’ll look at the $24,000 spent in pre-tour expenses. This was spent on van and trailer rental, lighting rental, buying road cases and hiring a crew.
First things first, why rent a Sprinter? On average, a 15 passenger van is over $5,000 cheaper than the sprinter option. Sure, the Sprinter is nice because it’s bigger and you can stand up in it, but really, you can’t get six people into a 15 passenger van?
For reference, my own band did a 27 day tour in January of this year, and there were 5 of us crammed into our drummers 1994 Chevy Suburban.
Set that notion aside because I’m going to reference that tour quite a bit. If you do decide to rent a Sprinter, there is sufficient room to get enough gear in there as well as six people. You really don’t need the trailer.
Again, not the most comfortable or convenient option, but it would save quite a bit of cash. As far as the lighting rentals go, most venues have adequate lighting rigs for what most mid level touring bands need. Since we’re cutting corners here, scrap the lights. Now let’s just assume that road cases should be something that every band has before even considering a tour. If you’re a “mid level touring band” and you’re just now buying road cases, you’re doing it wrong. Finally, part of these expenses was hiring a crew. I’m sorry but if you’re losing $11,000 on a tour you are in no position to be hiring a crew. No excuses. That’s just poor business sense.
Next up is one of the things that pisses me off more than ANYTHING with mid level bands: Salaries and Per Diems. I’m not against bands getting paid for their work, but paying yourself before the band is bad news.
The band decided to pay themselves and two crew members a weekly salary of $8794. That’s roughly $1,450 per member per week.
On top of that, they allotted an additional $20 per day for food budget. That’s $120 a day for food, totaling $3,360 for the length of the tour. $20 per person, per day…think about that for a second. A lot of bands survive on way less than $20 per day in total.
Granted, they don’t eat very healthy, but it would be almost too easy to cut that cost in half. Let’s give each person $10 a day. While you’re at it, let’s cut the salaries in half, just for laughs. That’s saving $24,000 while cutting minor luxuries. Right there your tour goes from in the red, to a profit right around $12,000. If worse comes to worse, wait to distribute the salary until the tour is over and you know how much you have to work with. This seems like the logical option to me,
Hotels are another thing that can usually go by the wayside when you’re trying to make a profit on tour. Showers are nice, as are beds, and air conditioning, but there is no need what so ever for four separate rooms a night for 28 nights. Two rooms would suffice at most since there is a girl in the band who likely would want her own room. My band has a female member and anytime we’ve stayed in hotels, we’ve survived with one just fine.
On our January tour, we either slept in our van or spent the night with fans/friends who were nice enough to let us crash. We had a hotel one night out of 28 and we only got that because it was -22 degrees in Columbus, Ohio and it would be hazardous to sleep in the van. There are plenty of ways to cut costs, and there is absolutely no reason to spend $17k on hotels.
Honestly, there’s not much I can say about the merch costs other then I feel like they spent way too much. To recap, the band spent $21,945 and ended up making $29,714. Either they’re not selling that much, or they need to set their prices higher. In most DIY scenes, you’d expect to see profits almost double from merch. Put in $5, get back at least $10 in most cases.
Insurance is another unavoidable cost. Yearly insurance plans usually run around $5,000. If you’re paying $5,400 for one month of coverage, you’re getting ripped off.
All in all, there are a lot of ways to cut costs on this financial plan. Without doing a ton of mind numbing math (I hate math, that’s why I’m a musician), it’s easy to see. I’m fairly confident that Pomplamoose could have pulled this tour off for less than half the cost.
Increasing their profit and allowing them to splurge on more expenses for the next tour. The band did go on to state that they feel the tour was still a success in their minds, just not in their wallets. In that respect, I’m glad they feel fulfilled with it.
How You Can Avoid These Mistakes
Now I’m sure by this point you’re thinking to yourself “But Tyler, my band doesn’t make $136,000 on a month long tour! How the hell are we supposed to actually profit on tour?!”
Allow me to explain. Going back to the January tour, my band scheduled 26 shows in 27 days.
Now, we ended up in the red on this tour because we made a few mistakes, which are easy to avoid when you’re booking your own national tour.
1. Plan Shorter Drives
The longest drive we had scheduled on the tour was the first day, an eight hour trip to Tampa, FL for the first show of the tour. In retrospect, that was our first mistake. Long drive times and small guarantees do not go together well.
2. Bring Enough Merch
It’s kind of bittersweet to say that we underestimated our own popularity as well as people’s generosity. If people come across a touring band at a local show, especially one from very far away, they are likely to want to help you out. A $15 T-shirt not only helps the band out, but it gives the fan a pretty cool souvenir from the show.
A t-shirt can also help spread word about your band following the show. We left NC with 150 copies of our EP (sold out with a week left in the tour) and 200 T-Shirts (Sold out the last day of the tour). There were a handful of disappointed fans over the last week because we started running short on merch. This is just one point to remember
3. Have Emergency Funds Ready
I cannot stress this point enough. HAVE MONEY JUST IN CASE.
Vans break down, tires go flat, promoters fuck you over, people don’t show up and venues decide not to pay you.
Anything that can go wrong, WILL go wrong. On our tour in January we had three shows cancel because of weather. We had 3 promoters (not naming names) take all of the money from the show and leave while we were on stage.
Our van broke down twice, and somehow miraculously fixed itself. We blew a tire in Delaware on some backwoods highway at 4 am.
We joked about changing the name of the tour to “What else could go wrong tour?” and that became all too true.
We left with about 2 weeks worth of wages from our part time jobs saved up, and that wasn’t enough.
For a month long DIY tour, I would recommend at LEAST $1,000 in savings before leaving. If worse comes to worse, split it up at the end of the tour if you don’t use it. Chances are, you’ll use it.
4. Bring Your Own Food
My final tip is something we actually did right on that January tour: bringing food out with us.
Canned food is edible cold. It’s not a pleasant experience, but when you’re hungry, why spend valuable cash on fast food? Not only can you eat healthier (slightly), but you’re going to keep a good bit of cash in your pocket where it belongs. We took a lot of Tuna, Beanie Weenies, Chef Boyardee, Vienna Sausages, granola bars and cereal on the road with us. In the end, I still feel it was responsible for us having enough money to make it through the tour. At major bulk stores (Sam’s club, BJ’s etc) most can food is valued at less than $1 per can. It’s a great way to increase your profit on tour.
These are just a few of the ways you can save some extra cash and increase your profitability on tour.