Think Musicians Can’t Make Money in Today’s World? Do Your Research
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Think Musicians Can’t Make Money in Today’s World? Do Your Research

January 27, 2015

Amanda Kantor

At the end of last year, Jack Conte of the indie-pop duo Pomplamoose wrote an article detailing the band’s expenses on their Fall 28-day tour, netting a loss of $11K. Now any grownup can tell you that a band that’s “trying to make it” doesn’t need a Mercedes Sprinter tour bus or private hotel rooms, but make no mistake—touring is expensive, and if you’re successful, it takes years after feeling like a rockstar to have a rockstar-size bank account.

At the end of last year, Jack Conte of the indie-pop duo Pomplamoose wrote an article detailing the band’s expenses on their Fall 28-day tour, netting a loss of $11K.  Now any grownup can tell you that a band that’s “trying to make it” doesn’t need a Mercedes Sprinter tour bus or private hotel rooms, but make no mistake—touring is expensive, and if you’re successful, it takes years after feeling like a rockstar to have a rockstar-size bank account.

“Being an indie band is running a never-ending, rewarding, scary, low-margin small business,” Conte says.  Like any entrepreneur, in order for a musician to survive in a rapidly changing world, he has to constantly adopt new ways of thinking when it comes to making money.  Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space” is catchy as can be, but if she thinks she’s doing indie artists a favor by hanging on to an ancient method of making a profit, she’s not.  Yes, artists should get paid for their work, but like with any business, it’s their job to figure out how to get paid based on the current landscape.  Step one: survey the landscape.

If a band is a business, then they should prepare for tour like a manufacturer prepares to launch a product.  Aside from learning how to balance a checkbook (or I believe today we call it logging into Mint.com), bands could benefit from market research to identify their audience and target that demographic across the country.  Say ASTR pulls mostly females 14-25 in urban areas who also listen to Lincoln Jesser and Jaymes Young (you know you’re an underground indie band junkie if…any of these names sound familiar).  Rather than touring with a band based on notoriety, two bands can tour together based on a proved common audience.  Rather than booking a venue based on the gut feeling of the artist and the venue manager, both parties can base their partnership and ticket sales projections in hard numbers.  Rather than mapping out a tour with well-worn stops, bands can spend their gas money going to places that house affirmed fans.

At a very basic level, market research takes away some of the guesswork.  Intuition and experience are vital, but they are romantic terms for a high level of knowledge of the landscape, which is exponentially increased with the effective use of data.  Bands take on a huge risk to go on the road to expand their fan base.  Maximizing the worth of every stop on tour would increase the likelihood that every day is making a difference.

Research might not sound like a sexy way to go out on the road, but a sold-out tour sure does.

Amanda Kantor

Manager, Research & Strategy

As a Manager of Research and Strategy, Amanda works with the diverse Kelton team to optimize clients' branding and communications. Having worked on projects ranging...

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