Believe it or not, when my band goes on tour, we make money. It’s not a lot of money, but we certainly come out on top. This is a result of a couple years of groundwork and less profitable tours, careful planning, and grants. It’s also the result of being able to manage our finances with care and professionalism.
In fact, being able to manage your finances is not just important, it’s key if you want to start making money. How else are you going to find out what’s costing too much, where you’re making money, and what makes the most money?
Also, at some point you’re going to start paying taxes, and then this stuff becomes really important!
So today I’m going to share some road-tested advice on managing your tour finances with efficiency and practicality.
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An Independent Artist’s Budget When Touring
Before you go on tour, make a budget. It’s not very rock n’ roll but it will save you stress down the line. It also takes around 20 minutes, so no excuses folks.
In it, outline each of your expenses and your projected income for each gig.
What do you have under the expenses category? Here’s my checklist:
Vehicle/Trailer Rental: (in our case this is paid to a band member who provides the vehicle based on distance traveled)
Gas and/or Mileage: (get out Mapquest or Google Maps, figure out your total mileage – multiply it by 1.15 to account for extra city driving and getting lost, then divide that by your vehicle’s MPG)
Artist/Crew Fees: (if you’re hiring a musician or crew member, include their fee here)
Food or Per Diems: (either keep your food receipts or pay a per diem to your band/crew – count on about $35/day for each person)
Accommodations: (Hotels, etc.)
Misc. Travel: (tolls, taxis, parking, etc.)
Tour Promotion: (posters, Facebook ads, etc.)
If you’re an indie band you may not have those last three.
When you’re making an income projection, break it down into three categories:
Door: (how many people will get in the door, and how much it will make you)
Guarantee: (if you got a guarantee, put it here)
Merch: (an estimation of how much merch you’ll sell)
Doing a budget like this also allows you to review your tour itinerary. I often include set lengths, times, load-in, and soundcheck with the income projection.
Where To Cut Spending
With any budget, there's room for optimization. So let’s get into where you can get a little cheap!
Accommodations: nothing is going to sink your tour budget faster than spending money on hotels every day or even a couple times per week. Always ask the promoter if they have a place for you to stay. If not, don’t be afraid to ask distant relations and long-lost friends for a place to stay. If it’s nice out, hit a campground and pitch a tent!
Vehicle/Trailer Rental: tour in the smallest thing you can. I’ve toured nearly 100,000 kms in a Dodge Grand Caravan. It’s a tight squeeze, but you don’t need a big tour vehicle! The bigger the vehicle the worse it is on gas, the worse it is to drive in the mountains, the worse it is to park, etc.
Also, if you don’t have to get a trailer, don’t. Trailers seem like a good idea, but they actually are super inconvenient. For one thing, trailers are easily broken into. They also won’t be able to go into underground parking and will ruin your gas mileage.
Food: always ask the promoter for meals. I seriously push for this. I mean, if the place serves food, it’s really the least they can do. So do your best to have one meal a day covered!
You can also save money on the other two meals. We try to visit a grocery store every couple of days and stock up on fruit, non-perishables, baking, etc. You can make $10 go a lot further in a grocery store than in a drive-thru. Pro tip: you’re going to eat poorly. Take multi-vitamins.
Tour Promotion: don’t spend huge money here. Most of our tour promo budget is spent on Facebook ads. If a promoter requests it, we will send them posters. That’s pretty much it!
Equipment/Instrument Rental: the only way you should be renting instruments is if you have to fly somewhere. I don’t recommend renting a sound system. They are brutal to haul, and to be honest if you have to bring your own sound it’s probably not a great venue. Not always, but often.
Where To Splurge
There are certain cases where we will splurge and take the more expensive option.
For example, we don’t sleep in the van or camp. One of our band members gets pretty sick if he sleeps poorly, even just for a couple nights. So, if we don’t have accommodations from the venue or friends/family to stay with, we get the cheapest hotel/Airbnb possible.
I’m not saying you should do this, because I know tons of bands that do and actually like it! It can be fun to rough it on the road.
We also don’t skimp on van care and maintenance. If you pass 6,000 kms, get an oil change. Keep your tires fully inflated, and otherwise make sure you’re traveling in a safe, reliable vehicle.
The takeaway here is to take care of yourself. You don’t want to be sick on tour, that sucks. And you don’t want your van to break down! If you think it’s going to significantly impact your health or safety, I think it’s worth spending money on.
Strategies For Keeping It Straight
Making a budget is a great start. Then, assign one person to keep track of every single receipt. You’ve got time to input all the expenses when you’re driving, so sit there and make sure they’re entered. I use a handy little folder with 31 separate little slips to keep track of every receipt for every day.
Also keep track of every bit of income. All the door money, the guarantees, the donations, and the merch. Try to be as accurate as possible. See how well your budget matches up with your actual expenditure/income!
When you’re done your tour, take an hour or two and double check your results, type it all out and print out a copy. There are probably some lessons to be learned from your results, so share it with your band mates!
Be Smart And Be Safe
If there's one thing you should take away from this article it’s this: be smart and be safe. Keep track of your expenses. Keep track of your income. Be cheap wherever you can, but not if it’s going to impact your personal health/safety.