Not everyone is Taylor Swift or Beyoncé.
Issues with Ticketmaster and Live Nation surrounding Swift’s sold-out “Eras” tour led to a Senate hearing in January on the companies’ dominance in the music industry. Beyoncé's “Renaissance” tour announcement earlier this month quickly dominated internet conversation as fans argued over concert locations and how much they would be willing to spend on tickets. But other smaller artists are facing tour issues of a different kind that have only worsened since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.
For the last several years, the touring industry has been a chaotic ride for artists and ticketholders alike. Musicians sat at home as the world went into lockdown, hoping to get back on the road. But since then, many have openly talked since then about how money and post-pandemic issues have directly affected their ability to do so. Artists such as British rap star Little Simz and indie sensation Santigold have canceled their scheduled outings, citing finances as a major problem. It’s a systemic issue, as touring has always been a major source of artists’ revenue, according to Business Insider.
Independent artists in particular have a tougher time making a living compared to well-known acts, so many have to think outside of the box in order to make money. For big names “at the very top level, it [touring] works out fine,” Santigold told Variety in 2022. “But at my level — somewhere in the middle — it’s … rough.”
Ahmad Davis, a music industry expert and manager of rapper Young Crazy, specifically cited inflation from the pandemic as the cause for a lot of the problems that artists now face.
“Pre-pandemic shows were a lot more chaotic and loose when it came to rules and access for people,” Davis said. “Now, I would say both ticket prices and food and drink prices in the venues are higher. Also, it seems like many more artists are on the road than ever before.”
Davis takes all this into account while handling bookings for Young Crazy, negotiating mandatory necessities for his artist to make the most money. At minimum, travel costs have to be included for anything over a two-hour drive, and performances that require flights must also include hotel accommodations.
Baltimore indie rock band Moon Tide Gallery recently toured for the first time, performing for $300 a pop in 23 different cities. (That’s higher than the average pay for an opening act for 200- to 500-person capacity rooms, which is $250, according to industry expert John O’Connor.) Instead of splitting the money among their five members, Moon Tide Gallery opted to use their pay to cover the tour necessities, such as gas and food.
Since they were required to purchase a van, plane tickets and hotel rooms for the tour, they were essentially in the hole for $6,000 before they even played a note. “We shared beds every night” to save money, laughed Mason Gainer, the band’s lead singer.
Tour-related expenses have increased in general, too. According to Kylie Filiatreault, the owner of entertainment transportation company Village Coach, coaches are now rented starting at about $2,100 per day, which is $350 more than in pre-COVID times.
Popular recording artist Mick Jenkins and his musical director and drummer, Noah Hyppolite, both said that while touring has definitely changed since the pandemic, adapting to the new climate is worth it.
Jenkins, who has been touring since 2014, is used to frequent adjustments. “Things like travel and stay are just way more focused, streamlined and low maintenance ‘cause I like it that way and I now know how to do it that way,” he said. “The pandemic changed everything about live performance, including peoples’ consumption patterns, and there’s so many variables to a reality like that, that affect touring as a whole.”
Hyppolite, who estimates he’s gone on 11 tours, said fan engagement levels during performances are higher now, too. “I used to really notice it during shows over in Europe, but now it’s basically everywhere. People are always losing their mind now because they didn’t have this opportunity to see shows for like two or three years,” he said.
While touring is no longer a viable option for some independent artists, fans are still a large driving force in making the sacrifice to perform anyway.
Moon Tide Gallery’s touring situation “wasn’t ideal, but the experience was great,” Gainer said. “We had four or five kids running up to us in San Antonio, where I didn’t even know we had fans. They were fanboying so hard that they could barely breathe, so that was really cool to see.”