Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

What’s the future for acts who can’t, won’t or don’t tour?

Touring may be how most acts make a living now, which is bad news for those who don’t want to get on the bus

Some bands didn't need tour buses

Wed, Jul 23, 2014, 10:35


In a music industry where the traditional model of making a living by selling your music has become a quaint notion, acts who, for a variety of reasons, don’t do the live thing must wonder what happens to them. In the past, there have always been acts, be it Enya, Kate Bush or whoever, who prefer perspiring in a studio to working up a sweat on the road. In the case of both of the above, they’ve sold enough records during the good old days to make a decent wedge (enough wedge in Enya’s case to own a nice gaff in Dalkey and live in splendid isolation) and not have to incessantly tour year in and year out (it’s unlikely that Bush’s forthcoming London run is a precursor to an 18 month world tour).

Yet acts who’d like to do an Enya or a Bush in 2014 might have to think again about what their reluctance to tour means. Indeed, per David Lowery’s recent post, chances are their advisers and counsels would prefer if the acts were touring and touring a lot at that. Of course, the acts make a living from touring, but it’s very much in the financial interests of managers and agents to have their acts touring because that’s when they make the most money. The headline on Lowery’s post may be about why managers and agents don’t speak out about low returns from streaming services, but the real meat is to do with touring.

One of the most striking lines in the post is how there has been a 200 per cent increase in the number of live gigs since the advent of Napster. Some of this seismic bump may be down to an increased number of bands, but there’s also no doubt that acts are now touring far more than ever before. “This would all be great news except that average attendance has fallen”, says Lowery, “and any gains in revenue appear to have gone to the top one per cent of acts.” More acts, smaller fees, less money for all.

Even a casual look at the summer festival schedules will bear out this skewering of the stats in favour of the one per cent. The acts who dominate the circuit are the acts who’ve dominated the rankings for the last few years and are likely to be the ones in poll position for the next decade too. As we mentioned recently, there’s no sign of new festival headliners coming through, despite the huge number of acts now regularly getting into their buses and touring until they lose all sense of rhyme and reason. Yes, the money is decent enough for the mid-level acts and beats working in a bank or office, but it’s not all beer and skittles out there.

If many acts were honest, they’d admit that the endless touring just does not suit them and their creativity. Some would admit that they go on tour because they think that’s what they should be doing because everyone else is doing it, but would prefer to do something else entirely. For most, it comes down to sheer financial necessity because touring is where the money is. It’s why some acts keep touring despite age and health reasons because they have medical bills to pay (Lowery cites the example of The Grateful Dead’s Robert Hunter) and not because they love the smell of the greasepaint and the roar of the crowd. Or even the smell of the crowd.

For the acts who’d prefer not to hit the road, the chances of making a living from making music can look bleak. They might be lucky enough to find a niche in films (like David Arnold, for instance) or pick up a lot of synchs, but the truth is that the road all too often beckons for even the unwilling ones. Another thing to add to the wishlist for the music industry’s next iteration.