You may have read about YouTube music video stars Pomplamoose exposing their tour earnings for all the world to see and comment on, via their blog. If you haven’t, its quite worth the read, so head over here to check it out.
The surprising detail, which has since become a viral topic of conversation among indie artists, managers, and touring gurus, is that they grossed a whopping $136,000 in total revenue for their 28-date tour and still managed to lose $12,000 overall!
Rather than coming off as frustrated or disarmed, Jack Conte of Pomplamoose adopts the humbling, heartfelt perspective of contentedness in his writing as he meditates on the idea of indie bands “making it” in a larger sense. He debunks his fans’ understanding that Pomplamoose has “made it big”, despite many of the shows on their tour being sold out and selling close to $30,000 in merchandise on the road. And he shines light on the notion that being an indie band means making tiny margins of profit, if any at all.
I respect Conte and Pomplamoose for having undertaken such an immense tour themselves. They handled so much of their production themselves, hired musicians and a crew, and worked out all their own logistics. From what it looked like, those shows were a total blast for the audiences.
But as someone who just finished writing a course on touring and who spends so much time encouraging people to tour, I disagree with the premise that you HAVE to lose money on tour to eventually be successful.
What strikes me as unfortunate is that Conte’s article seems to suggest they couldn’t have done it any other way, which several people have argued to be false in reactionary articles (that are admittedly a little harsh). Read Will Stevenson’s line by line account of Pomplamoose misspendings here, and Santos Montano’s Pitchfork op-ed on how to make money touring here, and if you really want to beat the dead horse deader check out NYMag’s ridiculous thesis on the artistic middle class.
Conte positions Pomplamoose as a victim of the inevitable plight of the “Creative Class”. He doesn’t seem to think it’s possible to earn a monetary reward that accurately reflects the hours of work and passion that go into creative work these days.
But creative work is not and has never been black and white. What works for one band rarely works as well for the others trying to duplicate it. It’s why major record labels have a fail rate of about 97% on their artist rosters, and it’s also why the 3% who become superstars make that okay.
My feeling is that this story points to that expansive and wonderful gray area that is the music industry and the touring circuit, and that this one story shouldn’t lead anyone to believe that we’re operating in a broken creative economy. Yes, some artists do make a living touring. Some artists have better or worse fans, sell more or less or no merchandise, make better decisions than others. Some do it for the thrill and some work so hard they can’t stand up in the morning.
Knowing your goals, your identity, and your audience makes it that much easier to navigate the complications of being on the road, but whether you succeed or fail is a question that should be answered against your own standards, not someone else’s. Pomplamoose considered their tour a success because they reached new audiences and made an investment in their future tours. Other bands might call that same tour a total failure. Knowing who you are and what you want to get out of a tour from the outset will help make sure your tour is as successful as you dreamed it could be.
Figuring out who you are is what being an independent artist is really, truly about and it’s what makes it so exciting. Have you “made it”, or are you “making it”? Share your story in the comments!