Posted by Big James on November 27, 2014
Recently, the two piece band Pomplamoose, who have enjoyed some level of success through YouTube and other online avenues, released a financial breakdown of their most recent tour providing some insight into the inner workings of a band that most people consider to have 'made it'.
Their 28-day tour of the United States cost them $147,802. Their revenue for that tour totalled $135,983 netting them a loss of $11,819. This is painful to hear and potentially discouraging to aspiring musicians who have dreams of touring and one day filling the Fillmore in San Francisco, as Pamplamoose did on this very tour.
I am in a metal band called Endast, based in Montreal. My younger brother, Chris, has shared the stage with me in this band for 10 years along with three other amazing dudes. We've played over 1300 shows in that timeframe and learned every lesson the hard way. Nobody taught us how to tour, we just booked shows and drove. We've grown a lot as a band and seen some moderate success but absolutely NOTHING like Pamplamoose. To this day, our turnouts still fluctuate wildly from one city to the next from forty people to four hundred and so every tour is a calculated financial risk.
My brother Chris, who keeps meticulous records of each tour, pulled out the file on one of our recent tours to provide a breakdown of how an independent, underground band does things to provide a comparison to Pamplamoose's numbers. Our tour was one show shorter than theirs, but nearly a week longer out on the road because Canadian cities are very spread apart. The drives are sometimes gigantic, (15 hours and up) which means extra days on the road. So in total we played 27 shows in 35 days across Canada, all booked by me.
On this particular tour, we were using an 8 passenger van from 1989 pulling a 5x8 trailer that was packed so tight it was ready to burst. If we could have afforded a better, more fuel efficient van, we would have bought one. Believe me. Notice there is no parking nor toll charges included in this because we find free places to park and we avoid toll roads wherever possible.
Tour Manager: $600
We have reached a point where we absolutely must bring one staff member out on the road with us. We need someone who can drive, do merchandise, settle up, handle daily logistical tasks like getting food and booking hotels, and in the worst case scenario, do front of house sound for us. We have a very small budget for this, as you can see, so for this tour we chose someone who is self-employed and doesn't have to worry about leaving work for five weeks. We struck a deal where we would pay him a nominal fee to essentially cover his rent while we were away and we would feed him and shelter him while we were out. We've been EXTREMELY lucky to have found people to help us with this position for the past few years and all of them were amazing at their job and we would have been lost without them. They were mostly just stoked to go on an adventure and have fun with us on the road.
The general rule of thumb for us as a band is that we budget a $10 per diem to each band member and then we choose to work as a team and pool that money to get a communal meal. A couple of roast chickens with some salad and bread for supper, coffee and breakfast sandwiches for breakfast at Tim Horton's, as an example. If we had stuck to that budget of $60 per day for 35 days it would have come out to $2100. Truthfully there are days where we don't technically spend anything on food, and days where we go over that budget, but more on that later.
We very rarely stay in hotels. We have the good fortune of having many, many friends across the country who welcome us into their homes. We bring sleeping bags, pillows and self-inflating inch thick air mats so we can crash pretty much anywhere with a flat surface. When we started out and didn't have the network of friends we have now, we crashed in the van most nights in Walmart parking lots. Now that we are making a bit more money, we splurge on hotels sometimes if we don't have a friend who can put us up. We get one room for six guys and only tell the hotel we are two people and sneak the rest in the side door to avoid extra charges. Only once were we busted for doing this and paid a $20 fine. We ALWAYS choose a hotel that has free breakfast buffet so we can CRUSH it mercilessly in the morning eating as much as possible saving us half our day's budget on food. Often when staying with friends they will feed us as well, which we never ask them to do, but saves us our food budget for that day. If they don't feed us, we ask to use their kitchen to cook cheap meals, again saving us money.
We keep our merch designs as simple as possible, one or two colours maximum per screenprinted shirt. In addition to this, we screenprinted the shirts ourselves for this particular tour. We used merch sales numbers from previous tours to forecast how much we should make and didn't overspend and came home with next to nothing left in the t-shirt bins. This total also included the pressing of some CD's for that tour. We had some CD's and DVD's left from a previous tour that we brought with us to continue selling. Old merchandise doesn't have an expiry date on it.
At the time of this tour, we had a management team working with us who we promptly fired after this tour. They are good people who mean well and do great work but as an underground metal band we were simply not a priority for them when some of their other clients bring in real money, which is totally understandable. This is, however, an expense we could have easily avoided, but again, we continue to learn these lessons along the way.
TOTAL EXPENSES: $10,389.77
As I mentioned, our turnouts fluctuate from city to city depending on a huge variety of factors. Because of the unpredictable nature of these turnouts, we agree on a guaranteed amount of money to get paid instead of a 'door deal' that would give us a percentage of ticket sales. Some nights our guarantee is $500 and other nights we get $150 and a speech from the promoter about how sorry he is that there weren't more people and how he can't pay us more. If you average this out over the 27 shows it comes to a whopping $225.55 per night. Which is cringeworthy when you consider that it sometimes takes us 17 hours to get to a show.
Merchandise Sales: $5675.00
T-shirt, ladies undies, CD and DVD sales all contribute towards this total. We have a number of items we give out for free at the table as well. There have been tours where this number is way higher and tours where this number is way lower. It's really difficult to anticipate, so it's always a gamble. This particular tour, our average sales came to $210.18 per night.
We are extremely fortunate to work with some incredible companies that help us keep our running expenses extremely low.
Jagermeister, our biggest sponsor, foots the bill for printed materials from posters to our stage backdrop, provides us with a ton of promotional goodies to lure people to our merch table, invaluable online advertising and social media shout outs that help sell tickets and (best of all) gives us a ton of bottles of booze which we use to barter for everything from oil changes to free meals to places to stay. And we pour it down our friend's throats at every after party, generating a whole lot of good will and fun times. Over the years, Jagermeister has bailed us out of trouble many times by lending us trailers when ours broke and even sent us guitars when ours were stolen.
Godin Guitars has provided us with quality instruments for years. We started a working relationship with them many years ago. They were our first sponsor ever. They had no other metal bands on their roster at the time and now they have a line of guitars designed for metal.
Los Cabos Drumsticks have helped keep our drummer supplied for a couple of years now and keep our running expenses extremely low during and between tours. Broken sticks add up quick and we'd be lost without their support.
We have a number of deals like this for various running expense like guitar strings, drum skins, the drums themselves and so on. All this to say, that if we, an underground, unsigned metal band from Canada with a small (but loyal) following can acquire some really amazing sponsorship deals with some great companies, pretty much any touring band can.
TOTAL REVENUE: $11,765.00
TOTAL PROFIT: $1375.23
Our profit is small, but it's a hell of a lot more than Pamplamoose made on their last tour. Essentially, this is a break even tour. Could we have cut back in certain areas and came home with more money? Absolutely. We made choices to improve our quality of life on tour because we can finally afford to. We tour very often and we have put in many years of touring hard, waking up with frost in our beards in Walmart parking lots, cleaning ourselves with baby wipes and eating Mr. Noodles, boiling the water with a kettle that we bring with us. We can do it again if we have to when shit hits the fan and the van breaks down or a gig gets cancelled. We are ready and willing to rough it because, at the end of the day, it's worth it. Touring is the best feeling in the world. Meeting new people every day, sharing music we worked hard to create and watching how it affects people. Honestly there's no better feeling than hearing a few hundred people scream when you're on stage with your brother and your best friends.
I encourage everyone to get out there and do this. There's room enough for all of us on the road and no matter what kind of music you play or how small your audience is, you can at the very least, break even. Anyone who says otherwise is just bitter and jaded. If you put in some elbow grease, make some small sacrifices in comfort and aren't afraid of quitting your day job and getting a new one when you get home, then this can be an extremely rewarding way of life. I cannot tell you how amazing the past ten years has been for me.
I hope Pamplamoose continues to make great music. Like the rest of us, their last tour was a learning experience for them and with every tour they do, they will continue to learn and grow and become more profitable.
All hope is not lost. Never underestimate the strength and spirit of the underground.
Top - Joe Arsenian
Middle - Derek Carr
Bottom - Blair Youngblut