Every artist dreams of hitting the road, meeting with fans in the flesh, and feeling that indescribable buzz. But, while exciting, this particular musical journey requires thorough preparation in order to turn into a money-making venture.
Touring is an important part of sustaining a music career – even more so in the digital age. Yet the cost of an artist's tour can vary dramatically, with expenses ranging from thousands to millions per show. There’s a multitude of things to consider, all of them demanding effort and funding: tour logistics, show fees, agent fees, luggage fees when flying, various legal fees, putting together a tour schedule, meals for everyone involved, fuel, accommodation, keeping track of ticket sales... And the list goes on.
Touring can be a fulfilling experience for musicians, but without a financially positive outcome, it can turn into a burden. So here’s all you need to know about how much it costs an artist to go on tour.
Finally on tour, but at what cost… literally?
First things first: Prepare a tour budget. It’s important to get at least a rough picture of what you’re getting yourself into. Sure, going on tour is a great way to share your music and grow your audience, but it can be costly – particularly for independent artists or up-and-coming musicians who don’t necessarily have a big team behind them.
It is crucial to do the math firsthand and factor in the multiple facets of touring. This initial budget projection must include:
- Transportation — includes rental costs, plane tickets, parking, gas, tolls, and transportation for all members involved.
- Travel — includes visa fees for international travel, baggage and equipment fees, costs of shipping or renting equipment.
- Accommodation — includes daily cost of hotels, Airbnb, or other lodging options.
- Staff Costs & Musician Fees — includes compensation for personnel and all musicians involved.
- Food & Provisions — includes daily cost involving food, beverages, and healthy sustenance.
- Fan Perks — includes fan perks such as merch of bundles you must invest in before they start generating revenue on tour.
- Incidentals & Contingencies — includes day-to-day expenses like toiletries, as well as an emergency fund in case of unexpected situations.
- Insurance — Coverage for all instruments and equipment is a must.
For many independent artists and musicians, this cost estimation and financial dilemmas might seem overwhelming at first. But always remind yourself that managing your finances on the road simply allows you to focus more on the art and delivering great shows. So let’s take it from the top:
1. The cost of transportation while on tour
In the fast-paced world of music tours, transportation expenses are hitting artists hard, leaving many in the red. Consider rental costs, plane tickets, parking, gas, tolls, and transportation for all members involved, as well as the crew traveling along.
A quick research will point to driving as the most economical option – at least for a domestic tour. But it’s up to you if this means renting a van, a tour bus (or more), a trailer, and so on.
2. The cost of travel while on tour
When planning a tour route, be mindful of potential hidden costs in air travel, such as seat and baggage charges before booking flight tickets. Make sure to research baggage and equipment fees, as well as the costs of shipping or renting equipment. For musicians, it's paramount to know the airline's weight and size limits for checked items.
A careful and methodical plan can make even international touring more efficient and affordable. Check visa requirements and fees, as well as phone usage details. It might be a good idea to consult embassies and consulates well in advance to understand visa fees and requirements. Don’t forget to review your phone provider's international call policies and data charges.
3. The cost of accommodation while on tour
When it comes to planning a music tour, the expenses associated with accommodation can arguably become the most significant. Factor into your budget the cost of hotels, Airbnb, or other lodging options (sleeping in a van or crashing on fans’ couches can only take you so far).
Do the math for the additional expense of having every person involved in the tour be comfortably set every night while on the road. If touring buses are your go-to, take into account that your fuel budget will need to be adjusted too.
4. Staff costs & musician fees while on tour
When calculating how much does it cost to go on tour, multiple factors need to be considered. From tour route to how big of a venue you have to how many lighting designers you plan on having. But one crucial element are all the people that make the entire endeavor possible.
Take into account compensation for crew and personnel, as well as for all the musicians – including travel and rehearsal time. From stage hand to your background vocals, they all have to be included in the tour budget.
5. The cost of food while on tour
Food expenses are inevitable but manageable with strategic planning. While affordable options such as shopping at grocery stores and buying food that does not require refrigeration are possible, it’s hard to completely avoid eating at restaurants when touring new locations.
While experiencing local cuisine is part of the journey, try to limit the frequency of dining out to keep costs down. Particularly avoid high-end dining establishments.
Draft an estimate of daily food costs and acknowledge the possibility of inflated prices in some areas, like airports or city centers. Keep in mind that purchasing drinks is a discretionary expense that can be minimized – particularly when taking into account all the crew members and staff involved.
6. The cost of fan perks while on tour
Yes, selling attractive merchandise is an effective way for musicians to make money on tour and leave fans a piece of yourself, all in one go. But physical products such as T-shirts, phone cases, posters, hats, and other branded items need to be designed, branded, copyrighted, and transported. All of which come with different price tags.
Merchandising is a tangible link for fans, just like VIP experiences or various passes. But before they start generating revenue on tour, these types of fan perks you must invest in to begin with.
7. Emergency fund while on tour
Don’t overlook the importance of setting aside an emergency fund when calculating how much it costs to go on tour. Unexpected situations or equipment failure can randomly occur during a tour. For instance, taxi rides might start piling up, you might need to rent another instrument, or you might have technical difficulties that need you to invest in a drive or device asap.
It’s wise to budget for these unexpected costs, as well as for everyday items that won’t lead to an emergency should they lack, such as toiletries or basic over-the-counter medication in case of sore throat or a sudden cold.
8. Insurance while on tour
Speaking of unexpected events, every artist should factor in adequate insurance when budgeting for the cost of going on tour. This guards against potential injuries and unexpected incidents involving audiences during live shows. These events are unpredictable – unforeseen set piece malfunctions to dramatic stage dives, mishaps can happen.
Insurance policies offer either per-show or annual coverage. Insurance isn't just precautionary; it's a wise investment in the safety and financial well-being of artists and their fans.
In an industry where, for many, breaking even means the hard work paid off, it’s hard to see making music as a viable way to live. Artists must combine the pragmatic side of touring with being creative and present enough to enjoy and remember the experience.