3 Reasons Touring Doesn’t Make Sense for Small Bands

Many bands dream of getting out on the open road. Playing night after night in clubs and venues, sleeping in a van, and taking few (if any) showers. A little over a decade ago, there were really only two viable ways to get your music heard. 1) Have a social media page on the web where people could listen to your music for free, and 2) Get out and play as many shows as possible. This often meant touring your state or region of the country. In more recent years, the formula may be changing. Doing the classic tour as a way to get your music heard by a larger audience may not be the most efficient use of time, resources, or energy. Here are a few reasons touring may not make sense for small bands.

Touring costs money, a lot of money…

Touring is fun. Who wouldn’t want to travel around with their friends playing music every night? Any band who has sat down and wrestled the details of planning a tour knows that it gets expensive quick. Rental costs usually include a van, a trailer, gas, food, supplemental gear, and lodging (if there’s enough left over for a night or two in a grimy motel). With that side of the balance sheet settled, you look at what will be bringing money in on tour: merchandise… and that’s pretty much it. If you’re a small band going on a tour, most venues won’t book out of town acts unless there’s a guaranteed draw, or if there’s a hometown band willing to host the night at the venue. If you do manage to get a show, there’s not a huge chance that you’ll be selling enough merchandise to cover the costs of your tour. In reality, the only way you’re going to be making money from touring is if you are absolutely sure you’re going to be selling at least a few dozen tickets at each venue you play. With all of this information, bands should look at touring as a marketing expense, because it’s almost guaranteed that you’re not going to make money (there are always exceptions, of course). That begs the question: are there more financially efficient ways to market yourselves?

You’re only getting exposure if there are people at the shows…

There are two ways to look at a tour made up of shows played to small audiences. The first is the romanticized image that successful bands put forward when they say, “Just keep playing, even if its or 5 people in a crappy basement, just keep playing.” And the second is the harsh reality of playing for two people in a Bakersfield, CA dive bar. While you are honing your live show during those performances, the same could be said for a rehearsal in your hometown that doesn’t cost gas money, food, and time. A counter-argument to this is: ”You never know who’s going to be in the audience.” Granted, I’ve played a show where there were seven people in the bar on a Sunday night, and one of those people happened to be from a local music collective that led to a couple of bigger shows, but this is far and away the exception. It makes so much more sense, and is so much more fun, to play a packed house close to your hometown with other local bands and make some money, rather than playing outside your market to 5 people and hope for the outside chance there’s someone important there.

Viral content travels faster than a van…

It’s completely understandable that bands want to be able to share their live experience with fans. While live shows seem to be the best way to do this, YouTube and other media streaming platforms present a way for bands to put out a real, but polished live performance. At the turn of the 21st-century music videos dominated the music media market. Currently, I would wager that more people are searching for live videos of their new favorite band than the most recent music video. As one might expect, the rise of “studio magic” has led to the distrust of albums. The first question most fans will ask after hearing an album they like is, “How do they sound live?” Bands can use this curiosity a to their advantage. Rather than play to an unknown number of people in a small town with the hopes of impressing enough to get them engaged, why not create an honestly impressive video and audio recording to post on YouTube that can be potentially seen by tens of thousands of people all over the world, earning the band passive income. If something does go viral, you then have a captive audience to show other recordings to. Additionally, you also have a source of income that can be used to produce more high-quality content.

Contributor: Andrew Border


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