Post authored by Communications Intern Olivia Brown and Communications Associate Kevin Erickson
Last week, we were dismayed to learn that friend of FMC, singer-songwriter-multi-instrumentalist Franz Nicolay was robbed of his computer, tour cash, and passport while on tour in Paris. Franz has long been generous in sharing his insights on the life of a working musician with Futureblog readers. We encourage residents of Europe to go out and support Franz on his remaining tour dates, and everyone else to consider supporting him with a purchase through his Bandcamp page.
This unfortunate episode underscores a point we’ve been making for some time: as journalist Maura Johnston has memorably quipped, “being on the road doesn’t involve plucking bills from Cash Trees lining the highway.” In reality, touring is relentless hard work, and even for streamlined, no-frills acts, it’s not cheap. Even if they plan frugally, many artists ultimately wind up in the red. And it can be risky: thefts like the one Franz experienced are frustratingly common.
Casual observers frequently opine: “If musicans aren’t making money from recordings, can’t they just tour?” “Touring is where all the money is going to come from soon.” “Tour until the wheels fall off and you’ll be fine.” Our Artist Revenue Streams research has soundly debunked these misconceptions regarding the economics of touring, but they still permeate the discussion about sources of income for artists in the digital era.
Living on the road carries with it many expenses that people may not even think about until they actually have to pay them. Costs obviously vary based on what kind of touring act you are, but the list is potentially extensive. A car, a van or a bus, plus fuel and toll money. Food, multiple times daily. Accommodations, if you don’t want to sleep in your mode of transportation. Plane tickets and baggage fees if you need to fly. If you’re a solo artist touring with a backing band, you have to compensate the band. Depending on what you can handle on your own, a sound tech, a lighting tech, a road crew, a merch person, a tour manager, a personal manager, a booking agent or other personnel. Equipment and instrument rentals. Repairs. Upfront venue rental fees. Merch production. Venue hospitality. Hall fees, which can come out of your merch sales. Day-to-day necessities like toiletries, medicine and clothing. Other incidentals that you couldn’t possibly predict until you actually need them. Those expenses add up quickly, especially in an age where label-provided tour support is in steep decline.
And that’s without taking into account the potential for catastrophic losses, like theft, medical problems, cancellations due to weather, etc.
Of course, musicians like Franz who love nothing more than forging connections with audiences will continue to press on, despite these challenges. Our hope is that as fans become more educated about the less romantic realities of life on the road, they’ll join us in working to support touring artists any way they can.