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The Road Is Fuckin' Hard

The road is fuckin’ hard,

The road is fuckin’ tough-ah.

There’s no question that-eh,

It is rough, rough stuff.

It’s the fuckin’ road my friend,

But it’s the only road I know.

- Tenacious D

I was in a band on the now defunct DreamWorks Records back in the early 2000’s. We recorded an album at a nice fancy recording studio where the likes of Fiona Apple, Incubus, and Linkin Park recorded before us. We were on the second half of the Ozzfest Tour in 2001. We thought we had made it. Our single “Beat the World” hit radio and we saw our video late one night on MTV2 while on the road. But then tragedy struck on 9/11, which put a damper on the promotion of our album and ultimately killed our band.

What I learned on tour

Tenacious D sings the truth, touring is fuckin' hard. It’s incredibly fun and gave me a lifetime of stories. But it’s not easy. Not only is it physically draining due to long hours and not enough sleep, but it is financially draining, as well.

This is a scanned image of a proposed budget for one of our tours.

Proposed Pressure4-5 & Alien Ant Farm tour budget

That was only one tour. And it was only two months long.

Those are daunting numbers. In our situation, as a major label band, we were contractually obligated to recoup those expenses through album sales. That was a difficult task considering the huge effect 9/11 had on our promotional efforts. I realize now why our management team had us do this tour in a van instead. At least we were able to negotiate a new 15 passenger Ford Econoline van into our record deal.

Most bands don’t have it so easy. They hit the road in a crappy, cramped van for months on end with little to no financial support from their label, if they even have one.

From the outside looking in, it looks like bands are living the life. Sure, they usually get endorsement deals for free clothes, music equipment, and other things, but that hardly makes up for their low pay otherwise.

What the finances looked like for Pressure4-5

After signing with DreamWorks, we also took a publishing deal with EMI. They provided a large advance of money in exchange for half of the royalty rights to our music. They, in turn, used their distribution connections to try to get our music into TV shows, movies, commercials, and the like. In fact, I made more royalty money off of the Regis and Kathy Lee Show than anything else. I never saw how they used our music. If anyone ever saw an episode that played our music, let me know. Think of the publishing deal like an insurance policy in case the album was a flop. We were glad we took the deal.

We recorded our album at NRG studios, which cost roughly $350,000. We also shot our video at Universal Studios, which cost roughly $250,000.

Let do the math: $500,000 advance (we had a 5-piece band) + $350,000 recording + $250,000 video = $1,150,000. And we had not even hit the road yet!

Towards the end of my time in the band, I distinctly remember one of our managers telling me that we had to sell over 1,000,000 albums in order to recoup all of the money spent. In the end, we only sold 80,000.

All told, I personally made roughly $100,000 on both the record and publishing deals before taxes. Sounds like a pretty nice chunk of change, right? Well, keep in mind that it had to last until we made a second album, which usually happens 1-3 years after the first. I left the band two years after we were signed. We had just started writing songs for a second album. The band was dropped from the label before they ever had a chance to record it.

So, what do bands do to get by?

They hit the road… a lot.

We were lucky compared to some of our fellow musicians. We were young, none of us were married, none of us had kids, and our personal financial obligations were minimal.

We met the band Nonpoint when we were on Ozzfest. They’re still going strong to this day. I have kept in contact with their drummer, Robb Rivera, over the last couple of years on Facebook. This excerpt from a recent blog post of his exemplifies how fuckin' hard the road can be for someone who leaves a family behind every time he goes on tour.

At home after another month long tour. This time we get to be home for about 3 weeks with a few shows in between. I appreciate every single minute i can when i am at home. Been watching my daughter dance to mickey mouse and baby einstein videos. As long as she is happy doing it i am happy. Her little face when it smiles makes me a very happy father.

Well to those that do not know i am having a new baby in February and we found out it is a boy. Could not be happier! One of each and everything is full circle. Unreal how my life has changed in the last 4 years but i would never trade it for anything in the world. Looking forward to meeting my little man.

Touring. Yea a lot of touring. Never seems to stop when it comes to us. The bills have to get paid you know.

Bands hit the road almost constantly because they need to create revenue and accumulate as many fans as possible. The easiest way they can create revenue is through selling merchandise. T-shirts, hoodies, hats, stickers, anything. We would play shows and immediately go out to our merch table, talk with fans and sign anything and everything they handed to us (yes, those too). It was the typical cliché: if we could convert one fan, she would tell five of her friends, who would tell five of their friends, and so on and so on.

Keep in mind, I was touring in the days before Twitter, Facebook, and even Myspace! We interacted with our fans via a message board on our website, which was kind of like social media back then. I kept a tour diary on the site, before I knew what a blog was too. Accumulating fans now is easier than ever, but really connecting with fans and getting merch in their hands is still just as hard.

Why am I telling you all of this?

I am working on an idea for a mobile app that will help bands connect more easily with their fans at live shows. It will help them sell more merch and create unforgettable experiences. The ultimate goal is to get that one fan to not just tell five of her friends, but her entire social network.

If you or someone you know is in a touring band and you’re interested in learning more, please shoot me an email or connect with me on Twitter.

 
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