Multiple members of the AoaM community have asked me to write about live strategy. I will address headline vs. support and other key touring issues in the days to come, but here are my initial thoughts –
GET ON THE ROAD! Here’s three reasons why…
1) All acts need experience.
The more shows a band has played, typically the better they will be.
Even the most seasoned performers need to rehearse new songs and sets. New acts grow immensely from tour to tour. If your artist wants to be an amazing performer, then they must get on the road.
2) Touring leads to more show opportunities.
One of the best ways to secure future touring opportunities is by putting on a great show. Promoters, other managers, agents and even artists themselves go see shows on a regular basis.
These decision makers coming to see your act can lead to future tour or festival offers you may not have received without touring in the first place.
3) Live shows promote the music.
Many fans who purchase tickets listen to an artist’s catalog in anticipation of seeing them live.
Live shows are also the most powerful way to connect with fans and turn them into lifers.
As the music industry suffered over the last decade, acts built their touring business in order to generate revenue.
With the recorded industry on the rise again, touring serves another purpose too – A great live show and touring strategy can be the signal amidst the noise created from ease of distribution and an increased quantity of releases.
Know when NOT to tour… Here’s three times touring doesn’t make sense.
1) When your artist needs to make more music
Regardless whether an artist is on the road or not, the fans demand and rejoice in consistent music releases.
If your act doesn’t have new music to put out, then it’s probably time for them to get off the road and back in the studio, unless their record is on an absolute rocket ship which can only be capitalized through continued touring.
However, usually this momentum is even better served by continued recording instead of touring.
As a rule of thumb, if you say no to a festival and your artist is buzzing, the offer will likely go up right away or in the future. When you pass, you do run the risk of losing the specific opportunity altogether. If you artist is amazing and has built real fans, offers will be there when they return to touring.
2) When the opportunity is not the right debut or play in a major market
Major market stories are imperative to growing an artist’s live business across the country and the globe.
Foster the People played 35 shows in secondary and tertiary west coast markets before their LA debut. By the time they played LA, they were ready to do justice to their future #1 single as they became the breakout story of the year.
In addition to the standard hard ticket venue options, there are also a plethora of showcases and festival opportunities to consider in major markets. It’s important to be on the same page with agents about long-term major market options in order to make the best step to get there.
Sometimes a small sold out major market play at the beginning of a cycle can start the campaign off with a bang! Other times, it’s best to hold off on playing a major market in order to build more buzz or even start with a built-in audience festival performance first.
Every act is different. The most important thing is headline shows are sold out!
3) When the touring expenses are not worth the reward in the next 18-24 months
Entry level touring is outrageously expensive, especially for acts with hired players.
Touring can be done cheaper, but regardless of cost-saving decisions, it adds up quickly! Between transportation, backline, player salaries, etc. each show cost can make a dent in the bank account of the artist or the label fronting the bill in the early stages.
Acts with less members or crew can benefit from taking advantage of certain opportunities acts with higher fixed costs can’t afford.
Often times, entry level support options and small capacity venue headline fees do not pay well and tour budgets are in the negative as a result. This is fairly standard and the loss can be viewed as an investment.
The important thing to know when going on a deficit tour is what the artist will do next following this tour… If going on the deficit tour will most likely lead to the artist being able to sell out bigger venues (at higher fees) or receive profitable festival offers in the foreseeable future, then it likely makes sense to do it.
When discussing, the process for planning future tours can sometimes seem more like a crystal ball than a guarantee. The two types of artists who win are –
a) the ones who grow fast enough across all aspects of their career to achieve touring profitability quickly
b) the ones willing to tough it out over time and have long-term funding partners or other income streams (such as recorded music) which can balance their budget
Agents wisely recognize the more an act tours, the better they will be, the more their music will be exposed to new audiences, and the greater likelihood the artist’s touring business will grow as a result.
Since agents don’t typically invest financially with the artist or label, they have less to lose than whoever is funding the tour. In my experience, agents will often advocate for acts to tour, unless a different strategy has been put forth by the artist or management team.
This isn’t a bad thing. Touring is most artist’s most significant revenue stream, so it’s important agents are indeed focused on the live strategy and bringing forth touring opportunities.
It is a manager’s responsibility to weigh the cost and benefit analysis of the P&L with the business manager and decide how the tour may fit into the overall artist strategy.
It’s critical managers communicate this information transparently in real time to all team members, including the artist and the agents, and get as many opinions as needed to ensure the best decision is made for the artist.
It’s important to create a long-term touring strategy together with the agents, business manager, and artist that ensures the artist touring business will become profitable and continues to grow the act’s live career well into the future.
For more on live strategy, I was asked to speak one on one with legendary agent Tom Windish at the SXSW AWAL House at 1:00 PM on Thursday – You can RSVP here. I will also be doing another one on one with Kobalt’s Founder and CEO Willard Ahdritz on Wednesday – It is a private brunch hosted by the Music Managers’ Forum. If you would like to attend, let me know.
Lastly, we have two artists performing at SXSW this year. NoMBe (his debut album They Might’ve Even Loved Me comes out March 23) and Thutmose. Here is their full list of shows. If you’re in town, I would love to see you there.