The economics of touring

Literally no idea how you’d make a living now being in a small to mid sized band where you’ve got to split everything 3-5 ways.

Even someone like Wild Beasts towards the end of their career were doing large Academy/theatre venues, festivals, etc and still were skint apparently.

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£25-50 quid
Actually that’d be for support more, but still.

A while ago I read an interview with No Age and one of them was saying they were being wined and dined in a mega fancy restaurant by someone from the industry having basically just been playing basement shows. He said something along the lines of “how long will this last?” and the label guy apparently straight up told him “1-2 years max so make the most of it and then we’ll ditch you”. Use and abuse based on hype through Pitchfork at the time. (This is from memory but I’ll try and find the interview)

He then said they basically managed their own expectations and finances on the basis that they’ll always be a semi-DIY band and not a full on professional outfit.

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There was an article with Field Music a little while back who I’ve always thought were a reasonably sized band - signed to a decent sized indie label, loads of critical acclaim, attracting decent crowds, playing festivals etc. Said in the year that they released their then most recent album, spent most of the year touring, (including festival dates etc) they had about 5k each to show for it. The only reason they could continue as a band was because they lived with their girlfriends who were extremely understanding and supportive. If a band their size can’t make enough to even live off, then the industry is obviously completely broken


Really think this is part of the issue. Honestly think a lot of people are of the view that being in a band should never really be considered anything more than a hobby and the idea that people should get paid even a living wage is anathema to them. There was a thread ages ago on here - might have even been on the old DiS - was miles before I signed up anyway, where a band had posted to their Facebook followers that it helped them out when people bought CDs or t-shirts at their gigs because they saw the money directly. 90% of the replies, on an ostensibly music site, were openly derisory accusing the band of “begging” and saying things like ‘if they’re not getting paid enough, they should find another job - you wouldn’t get this in other lines of work’ etc. If a band as good and popular as No Age are thinking they can never do it full time, seems like this sort of thinking may even be permeating down to bands, which is a massive shame

speaking for myself i think it’s more that it’s alien to me to think of it as anything other than a hobby and if you get into it thinking otherwise then chances are disappointment awaits. Like, i want to play music to people and tour and have fun, and that is possible even today with all of this shit. If you’re passionate you can make it work and have a wild time. Like i got into it for the fun and to do it for that. Fair play if you want to make a living but if you have an expectation or feeling that you deserve to get paid enough…nah.

I dunno, of course, artists deserve to get paid fairly and all of that - and this merch stuff and other fees etc are a disgrace. Its complicated, but definitely some of the discourse around this has a whiff of entitlement. AT what stage do you deserve to be able to do it? A lot of my favourite bands and records were done ‘part time’ if you will.

TL;DR - its all fucked basically. but shows in pubs and clubs will always happen


Yeh it’s so sad. I struggle not to get political at the moment with everything going on - the devaluation of culture over the past 10 years under the Tories has really contributed to this sentiment and particularly the conversation about Spotify.

How we’ve gone from people regularly spending £5-£10 on one album to spending £10 a month for most of the recorded music in history is an incredible turnaround in a few short years.


I think this is a pretty fucked up argument to be honest. If someone enjoys law, are we also saying they should do it for free? Unless they’re fundamentally awful at the job, the system is set up for enough paying legal jobs at all levels for most capabilities (from average to world class) to make a decent living from. That’s really not the case with music.

Imagine a very good lawyer at a very good law firm having to work behind a bar at weekends to survive whilst doing the job they enjoy. I agree with your point that they should not be entitled to make money from it (as people shouldn’t in law) but that completely ignores the systemic issues that have been created in the industry to screw over the workers.


Go on to, say, LinkedIn and see the innumerable people working for O2 - contact them and ask why their employer (them as individuals even) supports ‘unfair’ deductions, perhaps ask them as employees to support the removal of the deductions, see what response you get.

I wonder how such people live with themselves. Always justifying their actions - lets be honest we can blame ‘O2’ as a business BUT the actions are determined and actions by employees, by humans. People decide, people execute.

Shouting at companies will fail. We have to get to the individuals and ask them to justify their actions and beliefs. I never see such people here or elsewhere passing an opinion - so as with many (say) Twitter threads people are simply shouting in an echo chamber.

Perhaps the job of the employees (of any venue taking merch etc deductions) should be paid on the same basis as the musician…the venue and promoter and employee might put more effort in if any pay was determined by their ability to get paying customers through the door.

Side issue: I got an email last year from a venue manager (as requested by their ‘assistant’) for 6 GL. I asked for their names and contact details and their role in the industry as I’d want such ‘loss’ to be in some way beneficial to artist. No reply, so I figured ‘mates’ on the chug.
On the day, I see the GL from the venue - I had approved 3 (photo x 2, blogger x 1) - had 11 names on there.
I substituted the list for mine and said I’d be around if any problems.
The ‘box office’ personnel (one person) looked nervous but called me after shortly after…6 people coming together wanted in as ‘we are on the GL’…I said I didn’t now them and was afraid they’d have to buy tickets as I determined the GL and I hadn’t agreed to them being on the list.
‘But we always have a GL’ one said.
I asked if they got free drinks from the bar as well…‘Don’t be silly’ was one polite reply.
Such a disconnect.
Symptomatic of the prevailing attitude…music/entry to gig = free…food/drink (getting pissed) = pay.
So whilst I already knew it, getting pissed is ‘valuable’ but musician is below water on the value chain.

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The venues are owned by Academy Music Group - O2 are effectively a sponsor.

But either way I wouldn’t really suggest harassing random members of staff via social media is an effective tool tbh


Yeah would be a bit like giving McDonalds drive through staff grief for McDs business practices like.

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I assume Covid and inflation have fucked things even more at the start of this decade but how much more could a mid sized band or even a fairly cult band (50-100k per copies per album let’s say) in the 90s make a better living than an equivalent band in the 10s could before covid? That old Albini article suggests how difficult it was back then but I take it it’s even more dire on average now?

Think this is a really interesting topic (not least as we also have a running thread right now about the scale of increases in live music pricing over the last few years).

I think it needs to be recognised that being in a band has always been a hard graft for a lot of bands. If you go back and watch The Decline of Western Civilization, there’s a bit where they interview members of Black Flag and they’re living in cupboards. It’s absolutely wild.

And still the DIY end of the industry everyone does effectively unpaid labour - bands, labels, promoters. It would be absolutely lovely if all of those people could make a living out of it, but I just don’t know how that is possible?

I ran a small label in the mid 00s, around the time Spotify was kicking off but when CDs were still the main way. The internet was in it’s ascendancy and getting reviews and press coverage was really easy, and email etc meant bands could line up pretty solid tours themselves if they wanted. The label broke even (without paying anyone) and some of the bands made a little money but never enough to support anyone.

There’s obviously a tonne of predatory practices in the industry that doing away with them would make everyone’s lives a lot easier.

But also a lot of the time even without these the economics just isn’t there for probably the majority of bands.

(Also I think consumer attention spans make it hard for bands as well - less so than it was ten years ago but anecdotally it still seems very hard for bands to remain “relevant” with listeners when they’re 5+ years into a career and everyone still endlessly chases the new things)

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I think people in bands need to show solidarity to and work with the bar workers etc to make it so venues are paying properly and fixing the conditions for all workers.

bands even have microphones and speakers and a captive audience and stuff if they want to speak out on this stuff. it’s not hard to go “btw we’re making a loss playing this venue and the bar staff are on poverty wages - this is a bad venue”

in my experience bands, promoters and the music media aren’t too fussed about the conditions for workers in venues. The bands and promoters should consider themselves as workers for the venues that they get involved with


No of course there are people for whom making music is a hobby (for lack of a better word) and there will always be DIY scenes and such like where people don’t want anything other than to play music with their friends which is totally cool and great. What I’m saying is that a lot of people seem to have the attitude that all music should be considered in this way. I also don’t think it’s entitled for people to want to pursue their art as a full time occupation. The music industry makes billions every year and is obscenely bloated. I don’t think many artists “have an expectation that they deserve to get paid” or whatever, just that the economics are currently ridiculously skewed against them and that there should be some form of re-alignment, rather than the vast majority of revenue generated going towards making billionaires even richer


I wonder if that’s true that the economics aren’t there? What if you took the total amount spent worldwide on gigs, merch and music and started from scratch in divvying out the money in a more equitable way?

I’m under no illusion that it won’t ever be like the legal industry but the predatory practices for profit at the exploitation of the worker feel so much more extreme than a lot of industries.

If you have to pay back the record company advance before making any money, how is that not the same as workers paying “recruitment fees” which amounts to modern slavery? In other industries, you have to invest without the guaranteed return.

Im not saying anyone should do something for free no, and i don’t think i am completely ignoring the systemic issues - they are there and are as plain to see now as they were donkeys years ago. IT’s an horrendous world stacked against anyone who isn’t connected in some way. Again though, does everyone who is passionate about making music deserve to make a living (ideally yes, but realistically?) After 20 odd years of playing gigs/making music/putting on gigs/releasing records should i be making a living, or do i deserve to be? Or am i not good enough to? but No age are?

And i know i’m stretching but you did make the comparison - a lawyer may make an ethical decision to go fully pro bono and then have to subsidise themselves?

I am not saying anyone should do it for free. Im not saying the system isn’t completely fucked against artists. It’s just can happen outside of that if audiences and artists were willing.

I mean, there probably is, but I think if you’re arguing that Ed Sheeran should tour so Black County New Road can get paid a living wage then that’s a massively different thing to be advocating for.

Like, I’d love to quit my office job and open a comic/record/craft beer shop but it’d almost certainly die a death because all of those markers are oversaturated. But retail is profitable, so should I expect Tesco or Boots to help me out? Probably not.

I don’t think it’s as bad as eg the care sector or the gig economy but it’s certainly one of the worst.

In ye olde days it was basically accepted because so many bands would never recoup, so would effectively get paid to make a record. But yeah this is tbf something that is looking increasingly fishy in the times of 360 deals.

But otoh I imagine it’s only the big labels that do this and nobody is under an obligation to sign to them. You’ve got other avenues to explore these days.


This is also what springs to mind a lot

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Wish you’d said that before I’d made 100 letterbombs

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