Touring is where the money is at in today’s music business.
But it’s also where most of the expenses lie as well.
Creating a realistic tour budget can help your time on the road be successful, but it’s far from a guarantee that you’ll end up turning a profit. The band Pomplamoose famously lost almost $12,000 on the month-long tour they wrote about in 2014.
From transportation, to gear, to routing, to accomodations, to paying third parties… having a good idea how much touring costs is essential for musicians who hope to make their time out on the road worth their while.
If you’re confused about how much it really costs to tour––and don’t be ashamed if you are––then you’re in luck. We’ve broken down the costs of touring here.
Like anything else, these costs depend on what stage you are in your career. So we’ve broken it down into the expected costs of a one-month tour in three tiers of expense levels:
This expense level represents the most basic costs of touring––transportation to and from each show, gas money, paying band members etc. Things like cramming an entire band into a small hotel room each night and relying on the smallest outside crew possible is common at this level of touring. Artists and bands touring on a tight budget usually stick to this expense level.
Artists touring at the medium expense level are able to allocate extra funds to things like live show production features, more comfortable accommodations, and promotion efforts for their shows. Tours with a medium budget make life easier for artists, and shows can be more engaging for fans.
No expense is spared for artists who can afford to tour at this level. Elaborate stage productions, massive live-in touring rigs and dozens of touring staff members represent a level of touring only the world’s most successful artists are able to have access to. Featuring over 100 performers, technical directors and crew accompanied by enough props for 400 technological cues, Katy Perry’s recent 18-month long tour is a great example of touring at a premium level. For transporting all the stage equipment needed for the shows alone, her tour required two semi-trucks.
Now that we’ve explained the three expense levels of touring, let’s take a look at the numbers. It’s important to note here that even within these tiers, there’s a huge range of costs to consider. Every artist’s financial situation is unique, so there’s no single way to gauge touring expenses.
This includes equipment and transportation rentals, lights, props, costume changes, and sound engineering expenses. These are just a few of the many production expenses often involved with touring. For artists touring at the most basic level, these expenses are mostly covered by the venues where they perform, but prices quickly increase the more elaborate a tour gets.
A recent article in The Guardian profiled the manager of a massive touring act that wished to remain anonymous. He claimed that it cost the artist he managed over $750,000 each day to stay on the road whether they were performing or not. While not all that money goes directly to production expenses, it’s safe to assume a good portion of a major artist’s touring budget is spent on renting tour busses and stage equipment.
- Basic: $0-$5,000
- Medium: $5,000-$50,000
- Premium: $50,000-$10,000,000
The band and your crew have to sleep sometime, right? Accomodations usually prove one of the most expensive aspects of touring, especially at basic and medium levels. Young, unestablished acts are often fine winging it by crashing on any available floors each night out on the road. But things get expensive quick for artists who require hotels and AirBnB’s.
In 2014, the band Pomplamoose wrote an article detailing all the expenses of one of their recent tours. For a little more than month of staying in “Best Western” level hotels around the US, it cost the band just over $17,000. For a band touring at the most basic level of expense, at $100 a night on average, a month-long tour will run about $3,100 if all the band members can stand piling into one room every night. Expenses get slightly tricky to gauge at the premium level of touring because artists typically stay in big tour busses, which can also be considered as a production expense.
- Basic: $3,100-$6,200
- Medium: $6,200-$25,000
- Premium: $25,000-$5,000,000
From young bands venturing out on tour for the first time, to the world’s most famous musicians, no artist can avoid the cost of traveling from show to show. Transportation expenses vary wildly, as you’ll soon see, because they can include everything from a small artist’s gas and toll expenses down to the money it costs a major music superstar to fly between continents. There’s a lot of nasty hidden costs here to consider, including what it costs to park a big touring rig every night.
A 2015 article published by the American radio station WAMUexplains how ballooning gas prices make life difficult for small DIY artists: “Between June 1999 and June 2014, gas prices rose by 216 percent before they began to slide. The federal minimum wage increased by 41 percent in the same amount of time.”
- Basic: $3,500-$5,000
- Medium: $5,000-$25,000
- Premium: $25,000-$2,000,000
The risk an artist incurs on tour increases exponentially the more elaborate their shows get. Insurance is essential for helping artists to protect themselves from anything that could go wrong on the road: theft, audience members somehow getting injured, etc.
Costs here are all over the place, ranging from around $60 per show at the basic levelto prices ranging in the millions for a month-long tour.
- Basic: $1,860-$3,000
- Medium: $3,000-$15,000
- Premium: $15,000-$7,000,000
Crew Salaries and Per Diems
Members of your touring staff could include anyone from the musicians you hire to back you up on stage, to sound engineers, to choreographers and dancers. For artists touring on a bare-bones touring budget, a touring crew could be as small as a band or solo artist bringing one extra person along to man the merch booth.
But for massive touring efforts like the one Katy Perry recently embarked on, crew members can easily range in the hundreds. In the tour the band Pomplamoose detailed in a 2014 article, nearly $50,000 was paid out to four musicians, a front of house engineer and tour manager. Pomplamoose has undoubtedly found a lot of success, but they’re far from superstar status, which puts them squarely in the medium expense category of touring.
- Basic: $7,500-$20,000
- Medium: $20,00-$100,00
- Premium: $100,000-$15,500,000
Providing great merch options for fans is an essential part of profitable touring for artists at any stage of their career. More than just shirts, stickers and pins, an entire side industry has sprung up around the creative offerings artists make available for audiences at their live shows on tour.
Money earned from merch often means the difference between making a profit on tour or not. At the basic expense level, an artist’s merch booth might feature single options for shirts and stickers, but major artists offer dozens of varieties of everything from hooded sweatshirts to holiday sweaters like the one the metal band Slayer famously made.
- Basic: $500-$3,500
- Medium: $3,500-$25,000
- Premium: $25,000-$1,250,000
Marketing and Promotion
To ensure a successful tour, marketing campaigns are used to get the word out to the general public. At the basic and medium expense levels, marketing for a tour might consist of purchasing ads over Facebook and in alt weeklies.
But at the premium level, massive TV and radio commercials working in tandem with expert PR campaigns are often used to spread the word. For an artist promoting a tour at the medium expense level, $10,000 isn’t an unreasonable amount for a modest PR campaign and some pre-tour marketing.
- Basic: $250-$2,500
- Medium: $2,500-$30,000
- Premium: $30,000-$4,000,000
Commissions and Third Party Payments
The larger the tour, the more outside commissions and third parties there are to split profits with. Concert promoters, managers, booking agents, and of course the venues you’ll play in will inevitably take a sizeable cut of your profits if you’re touring at a medium or premium level. It’s even common for the profits from merch sales to be split among third parties like venues and promoters.
This is an unavoidable part of touring for virtually all established artists––unless you’re legendary rock band Nine Inch Nails. Frustrated with outside promoters making it harder for their fans to purchase affordable tickets for their shows, the band is requiring audiences to purchase tickets in person three weeks before each show on their upcoming tour. Respectable as it is, this is a bold, complicated move that simply won’t work for most artists.
- Basic: $500-$5,000
- Medium: $5,000-$20,000
- Premium: $20,000-$15,000,000
Month-long tour cost estimates totals:
Don’t let your tour turn into a money pit. Smart budgeting, and planning expenses ahead of time, can make the difference between a meaningful payday or a career-ending debacle.