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Making Money From Touring – Can It Be Done?

Pomplamoose have published an account of their financial losses on tour. We take a look at what went wrong and how you could avoid making the same mistakes.

Source: Official Facebook

The band Pomplamoose recently wrote an article detailing the money spent and made on a recent 28 day of the US. The tour saw the band play 24 shows in 23 cities, and published a breakdown of the $135,983 worth of revenue and $147,802 expenses that saw the tour make a loss of $11,819.

It’s a constant struggle for low and mid level bands to make ends meet without label support – and now it could be harder than ever. Less people are willing to buy their music, and they usually justify it with some variation of the sentence: ‘bands make their money from ticket sales and merchandise.’ So how true is that?

Pomplamoose made $97,519 (72% of their tour income) from their cut of ticket sales and $29,714 in merch sales (22% of their income). If you’re thinking those numbers don’t add up, you’re right – the remaining 6% ($8,750) came from a sponsorship deal with Lenovo, who also supplied them with three laptops to run their light show on. Now, Jack Conte, one half of the duo, is quick to defend the sponsorship, saying: ‘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.’ This is questionable, plenty of bands get by on tour without resorting to a deal like this, and it’s not the only thing about the tour accounts that should raise a few eyebrows.

Let’s take a look over some of the expenses that Conte lists. Top of the list is $26,450 for production expenses. This includes ‘equipment rental, lights, lighting board, van rental, trailer rental, road cases, backline.’ It’s a lot of money, and it begs the question – how much of this stuff was really necessary? What kind of venues were they playing that didn’t already have lights? Sure it must be fun to have your own light show on tour with you, but if you’re trying to work on a budget, you’d have to figure it’s not worth it. The same goes for backline, road cases, and a van. It just makes sense for a full time band to have these things already. It’s not a cost of going on tour, it’s the cost of being a musician.

The logic just doesn’t add up, and that’s before we’ve thought about the $17,589 spent on hotels and food. They say that this is ‘28 nights for the tour, plus a week of rehearsals.’ There are two questions here – did they really need hotels while rehearsing, and why didn’t they pick cheaper hotels? There’s a total of 35 nights, and they say they had ‘two people per room, 4 rooms per night’, so we’re looking at an average of $125 per room per night. It’s not breaking the bank, but it’s far from cheap. A lot of independent bands self funding a tour are happy to spend nights on floors.

The two piece band hired four musicians and two crew members (a front of house engineer and tour manager) to take on the road with them. In total they paid out $48,094 in salaries and per diems (a daily allowance for food). The reason they give for this is that: ‘it was important at this stage in Pomplamoose’s career to put on a wild and crazy rock show.’ A six piece band does not make a ‘wild and crazy rock show’. Remember Crystal Castles? If they’d even just cut out one or two of those extra musicians they probably could have at least broken even. This is before we even consider that food expenses have been accounted for twice on the list. Alongside this there are some understandable, unavoidable expenses – $16,463 rightly went in commissions to booking agents and management, $11,816 went on gas, airfare and parking and $5,445 went on insurance.

Source: Official Facebook

Towards the end of the article, we’re told that Pomplamoose are doing fine – the duo each draw an average salary of $2,500 a month from the band (that means they both get $30,000 a year) with leftover money being put back into Pomplamoose. It’s not big bucks, but it’s far from the ‘starving artist’ stereotype. When you know that plenty of bands you like still hold down day jobs, it puts things into perspective.

The plot thickens when you notice that Conte makes reference to the $6,326 the band make through per video they release through crowdfunding website Patreon (he also says they make two videos per month) – what he fails to mention is that he owns Patreon, a company which he founded in 2013 and has so far raised $17million in investments. So, yes, he’s quite right, Pomplamoose are doing just fine.

It’s obviously difficult for a band to get by while on tour, and it’s a shame that the band made a loss with theirs. We didn’t write this to try and make them sound stupid or discredit what they do. They wrote their original article to show people what goes in to putting on a nationwide tour, but we thought that it would be more useful to point out what they did wrong and how other bands could avoid making the same mistakes. Touring is difficult – sometimes you have to eat shit food, sometimes you have to sleep on a floor and sometimes you have to decide to leave the lighting rig at home.

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