The Tiring Tale of Touring Musicians

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Spencer Wu
Staff Writer

Ever since the advent of music streaming sites, album sales have significantly dropped. Gone are the days people regularly go out to record stores to pick up the newest album or vinyl. Gone are the days people went out to get new music at all. With a plethora of music at the fingertips of any user of the internet, it is no wonder that album sales have declined dramatically since the turn of the century.

Numbers back up the sentiment that purchasing albums is an antiquated method of acquiring music. In 2000, $785 million was made through album sales whereas only $326.15 million was accrued in 2010. This steady drop off can be accounted for by illegal and legal streaming websites and torrenting online. Now, people can get essentially all the music they want for free, so why would they pay for an album?

To combat this paradigm shift, many artists are taking to the road. They have to rely more heavily on touring and merchandise sales (a projected $225,000 a show) to curb the lack of funds from album sales. Enter sites like Bandcamp, an online music store geared towards independent artists and their promotion. Artists on Bandcamp put their music into the world for free, since most songs are available to stream even without an account, but users can also purchase songs or albums. Internet sharing sites like these, that cater towards smaller markets, foster the growth of a dying industry.

Music is still as popular as it was before, possibly even more so now, but it’s interesting to see the evolution of how people consume it with the advent of streaming sites. It shifted from mostly a typical consumerist mentality to more of a donation-like “pay as you wish” landscape. This radical change prompted artists and bands to stack up on tour dates, subsidizing their bank accounts from the money evaporated in album sales.

Stacking up tour dates not only provides artists with a heftier bank account but also takes a toll on the musicians. And this is not a little known fact in the music industry. David Bowie himself stated, “Music itself is going to become like running water or electricity. You’d better be prepared for doing a lot of touring because that’s really the only unique situation that’s going to be left.”

For a man climbing up in age, it’s not difficult to see the apparent drawbacks from prioritizing touring as a form of monetary sustenance. It takes countless hours of travel, preparation, and practice to perfect a set on stage. This strain is compacted exponentially when they are faced with back-to-back shows on the road.

Further, it costs money to tour as well. Take the indie band, Pomplamoose, for example. In 2014, they did 24 shows in 23 cities over the span of 28 days. They estimated that they garnered about $100,000 in ticket sales, but spent around $147,802 in expenses, ranging from production and equipment to hotels and food. These numbers obviously vary from artist to artist, with factors like popularity and reception being considered, but it simply goes to show that constant touring is an incredibly tough lifestyle. It’s not what the media makes it out to be it’s not all glitz and glamour.

So, with album sales only providing about 10 percent of artists’ income and touring being so difficult, it’s tough to predict what musicians will take up in the next few decades. One thing’s for certain, however in this business, nothing is.

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