The London School Of Economics published a recent study saying that somehow all the revenues from live performances and merchandise have offset revenue lost from music piracy. If that's really the case, then touring bands must all be raking it in, right? For a scant few, perhaps. But let's look at a few and see if reality holds up.
There's a band I've been listening to a lot lately called DTCV, pictured above. the name is pronounced Detective . They're a French-American band based in L.A., with Guylaine Vivarat (who was in Useless Keys and Tennis System), James Greer ( who played in Guided By Voices), and Chris Dunn.
Beyond having been in one of America's most important indie rock "lo-fi" bands in the the 90's singer/guitarist James Greer is also an author, screenwriter and critic. So I'm guessing he probably knows all too well the trials and tribulations content creators are enduring in an attempt to work in the so-called new business model.
In this recent Facebook post DTCV wrote this:
You may have heard by now that our Fall US tour came to an abrupt halt last week when our van hit a deer, and the van got totaled and Chris and Guylaine suffered minor injuries that made it impossible for us to continue. We’re back home now in Los Angeles and very grateful to everyone who expressed concern or just generally wished us well.
As a result of the cancellation of the last leg of the tour, however, we did suffer considerably in the $$ department, and so we’ve put a bunch of merch up at our store. We’re hoping to entice you to buy some of this stuff...
That doesn't sound like they're rolling in the dough from their touring so much as touring to put food on the table. If it's really so successful for the majority of musicians, you'd think DTCV would be able to take a few weeks off to recuperate, no?
And then there's Bootsy. Barely a month ago Bootsy Collins had a #IgiveaFunk Kickstarter up and running. He had high hopes to raise $100,000 to launch a mega world tour, with stops in off-the-beaten path places he hadn't been before. By all accounts, it was a rousing success on social media. Except for being able to raise the funds.
Put another way: On Kickstarter, Bootsy was asking for less than a tenth of what Amanda Palmer raised last year. He was unable to raise it. It makes me wonder if Palmer's 1.2 million milestone will ever happen again.
Bootsy's tours feature a lot of people, elaborate sets and costumes. It's expensive even with major label support. Without major label support, the price is the same. It's just now up to the band to raise the funds. Or not.
When I asked my friend Rachel Kraska from Post Honeymoon , (photo below) if she could make a living touring, the first word in her email reply was "Hahahahahhahaha."
I wish I could make money touring. A band of our level of popularity could not live off of touring, at least not in the U.S. We'd have to be more popular, and even then, we'd have to be on tour all year, because a small indie band without a booking agent or a label doesn't make shit on tour (and I mean REALLY indie, not Urban Outfitters style). Even most of your Pitchfork bands (and that's the pinnacle of indie success, right? LOL) go home to their day jobs...
It's a labor of love. I have played many a show for seven people, in a shitty bar in a shitty town, then slept on somebody's floor or in a Motel 6 on my own dime and wondered, "Why the hell do I do the things I do??"
We've covered them before, too. In addition to being kick ass musicians, she's also in advertising. So is the other half, Nick.
Some of my other musician friends weighed in when I asked if they felt like in 2013 they could make a great living simply by touring.
One band I asked with two albums and a few singles out said simply "Hell, no."
A platinum artist said not only would their band not be able to make a living beyond lower middle class, but constant touring runs the risk of over saturation and diminished return.
Makes sense. Barring hardcore paying fans, most people aren't going to see you this month if you rolled through town last month. Too much supply and demand drops. (It's also why a lot of New york-based bands don't play New York all the time either.)
That's the problem with economic papers by eggheads. Studies don't tell the whole story. It may make make for a great read, but if you talk to the content creators it's a different story.
The wallet knows the difference between what works on paper and what isn't working in real life.