Getting an artist’s touring business off the ground is an extremely expensive endeavor.
Touring is thought of as lucrative business, and it can be, but at the beginning, most acts operate in the red for at least one tour, if not several, before they turn a profit on the road.
As show fees go up, so does the cost of investing in production to put on a more elaborate show.
At the most nascent level, below is the average expense budget of a small venue headlining or direct support tour across 16 dates or a four week tour for an artist traveling with four crew (three band members and one hybrid tour/production manager) based on data from taken from six “first” tours.
Salaries – $36,000
The above figure has the three band members at $1500 per week and a tour manager at $2000 per week across five weeks (four touring weeks and one rehearsal week). In our experience, this $6500 weekly rate is the standard amount to secure professionals. I also added in $3500 for per diems at ~$30 per day.
Obviously, there could always be a friend rate (or having a manager double as the TM), but it is not likely to be sustainable. There are also more experienced band members or tour managers who charge $5,000-$10,000 per week!
Most TM’s will often charge a half day for advancing a show or a full week for advancing a tour, which I have not included here.
Bus – $30,000-40,000
Depending on the type of bus, you’re looking at anywhere from $1000-$2000 a day with a driver and fuel. Since an artist can comfortably sleep on a bus, with a sprinter or other avenues of transport, such as trains or flights, instead of a bus, the cost of hotels and transport will rise as the cost of the “bus” gets erased.
Air and Ground – $4,000
The cost of getting to and from the first and last tour stops and any time the artist has to get around in the cities. If the first or last city is the artist’s hometown, this will help save in this area.
Hotels – $5,000 – $15,000
This number can vary even more than the above range depending on a) whether the band stays on the bus during off days and b) if the band members will double or triple up and share rooms. Even if the band stays on the bus, at least one day room will often be needed for off days. The driver also will legally need a room each night to sleep.
Airbnb’s can often be more efficient and cost effective.
Rehearsal – $10,000-$15,000
This figure depends on how many days of rehearsal are needed. Since we already factored in the salaries above (assuming an additional tech or performance coach is not needed for rehearsals only), the above range is the cost of the space and backline.
Miscellaneous Production – $10,000
This includes backline production. Additionally, while not required, you will usually want to bring at least a few accessories to spice up the stage, such as a simple lighting package and or a banner with the artist’s name on it.
NOTE: The ranges for each segment above are already averaged out with outliers removed on either end of the spectrum.
TOTAL EXPENSES: $95,000 – $120,000
The above expenses do not factor in commissions to pay the artist’s team who ensure the above gets handled smoothly in excellence – agent, manager, business manager, and lawyer, as well as a label if the artist is subject to a 360. While team members may be willing to take a hit at the beginning with production carve outs, eventually they will expect to be paid for their hard work.
Based on the above range, for 16 dates (4 shows per week), an artist is looking at expenses of $6,000 – $7,500 per show without commissions factored in, which will increase this amount significantly. International dates are also significantly more expensive. I have seen tours executed cheaper, but not comfortably – Touring is rigorous enough as it is.
The revenue generated on both headlining tours and support slots to offset these expenses can vary widely – It doesn’t always pay more to headline. Regardless of the revenue coming in, many of the touring expenses above remain fixed and should be considered in evaluating long-term touring strategy.
How many of these loss leader tours may be needed for an entry level artist before they become profitable?
That question depends on the trajectory of the artist… And sometimes even the genre. DJ’s and rappers typically have less production needs in their early stages of touring.
As the recorded music industry is evolving drastically through various new distribution models, the solutions to fund acts on the touring side are often less obvious.
In my experiences, acts are typically left to figure out the above for themselves – Unless they have a generous label willing to front the bill to get them started, they will have to go into personal debt, find a long-term promotion partner who can give them an advance to cover expenses or if they have a stable business, they can fund the tour out of their other revenue streams.
Regardless, touring is an expensive undertaking requiring investment from all stakeholders.
“We used the advance from the record deal to fund the tour. We rented a mini-van and a Nissan Altima and sold merch out of garbage bags.”
-Chris Zarou via Forbes (Manager of Logic and Jon Bellion, founder of Visionary Music Group)
For more on touring, feel free to check out my Do’s and Don’ts.