On August 19, Steve Johnson authored a cover story in the New York Times entitled “The Creative Acopalypse That Wasn’t”. He argues that even though disruptive technologies like the MP3 file and streaming have pretty much turned the Music Industry upside down, musicians have managed to thrive and adapt and make sufficient and growing income. The Future of Music Coalition, a terrific advocacy group based in Washington, responded with a series of arguments that question the validity and sources of the date used and documenting that unfortunately the number of full-time musicians has gone down, the number of musicians that need to find a second job is increasing and unfortunately many data sets only report the gross income without considering the rising expenses that most often make for negative net income for a touring band. The exchange extended over a second blog for each group and it became clear to me that it is very difficult to understand the issues that musicians are facing in this new economy and the real dangers of having cultural capital diminish and become more mainstream for the general public. Hence I decided to document the financial realities of the tour with The Whole World in Her Hands Band that I just completed as an example of how just looking at the income numbers provides an extremely inaccurate picture of the realities of touring. So – even though we had some substantial guarantees for our performances and CD sales and some very gracious hosts – I ended up having to come up with about $ 1,000 out of my own pocket, which is quite common for a middle-class band leader.
Ok – here it is:
I took a quintet on the road, including myself, which barely covered the range of the music, as some of the pieces feature three-part harmony. Nevertheless we had a flute and trombone front line of amazing musicians who were able to cover everything needed.
With a combination of club gigs, a concert series, and presentations by two jazz societies we had a total of $ 4,276. In addition, I sold 23 CDs for a total of $245 and received transportation support for $150. That makes for a total income of $4,671 – acceptable for five days of work.
But – here is the issue, keeping five people on the road for five days makes for the folllowing expenses:
Even though we were able to find some private hosts, used Airbnb, and had promoters help with hotel expenses we had $330 room expenses. The band came out of New York with an upright bass, several amps, drums, trombone and flute, suitcases, so the only transportation option was a mini van. Needless to say that it was extremely complicated to rent a mini van in Manhattan from Indiana, it cost me $1,027 basic rental and insurance, and with the extra driver and several gas fill-ups another $400. My gas from Indiana and back was about $100. Five people need to eat and even with buying lots of groceries at Kroger and using every opportunity for a free meal at the venue our food expenses were about $400. Then there are the issues of tolls on the Pennsylvania Turnpike and parking fees in big cities which added another $150 to the bill. Finally we had to get some music stands, batteries, replace broken charger cables, etc for another $100. And notice how this lifestyle is extremely frugal – no drinks, no elaborate meals, fancy hotel rooms – just bare minimum, and still after paying the musicians the total adds up to close to $ 6,000 in expenses.
I did not get paid a penny for my performances in this equation, I actually lost three gigs at home which would have paid $300 total and am liable for the negative balance of good$ 1,000. That’s the reality of touring for non superstars these days – it’s an investment with hopes of gathering new fans, developing the show and the music, and finding new presenters and supporters. I have to make my money back through local gigs and of course my teaching job. Writing this up in a business plan would look extremely bad – the profit margins are non-existent and the outlook for a sustainable endeavor over the years are slim. Nevertheless, we were able to touch many people and get to make some beautiful, enjoyable, and creative music. And most of all, I was able to provide this opportunity for a group of outstanding and dedicated musicians to be heard and to come together for a whole that is much larger than its parts!
And what’s the moral of the story? The Future of Music Coalition is absolutely correct – being a bandleader has become very difficult and if we don’t attempt to find more economical options and support structures to make this possible we stand the chance of stripping our environment from essential cultural experiences and means of communication. A big shout out to one of my dearest supporters who wrote me a check for half of the van rental fees just because – yes, patrons!!