Viral SXSW Tweets Spark Convo On Touring Economics
For independent artists without trust funds or famous relatives, there is little hope that the accepted signifiers of success will bring substantial changes to material conditions on tour. “There’s this idea at play that’s like, you pay your dues and you eliminate them,” Smith notes. “Wednesday is a successful band. They still face that reality. So the idea that it’s a temporary condition, I think, is wrong.
Meanwhile, the pandemic has not only forced musicians to take responsibility for keeping themselves healthy and keeping their fans alive – like begging audiences to wear masks – but has also burdened them with new costs and pressure factors. stress on the road. After releasing Planet (i) just before the delta variant landed, Williams toured extensively throughout 2021 and early 2022 without anyone on her tour testing positive. But it required vigilance — she frequently tests and monitors COVID numbers in every city — and came at a financial cost.
“Buying rapid COVID tests really sucks,” Williams says. “They’re like $10 per test. And if you test a few times a week for five people, it really adds up. I think it’s kind of crazy that this is an expense that people have to cover. »
A group can potentially waive that cost by finding free testing sites, but it’s not easy to coordinate testing times and locations while traveling across the country, Williams notes. And that’s not to mention the loss suffered by countless acts when a tour member Is test positive and shows have to be postponed or canceled at the last minute. (The members of Wednesday’s tour ended up contracting COVID during their recent leg of shows.)
Still, for Williams, the hardest part of touring during the pandemic has been having to stand up for herself and her band even more than usual. Masks are a great example.
“There have been many places we walk into and no one is masked,” Williams says. “It’s stressful and also necessary for me to ask people to put on their masks. I’m here because I want to play music for people. It’s just shit having to make these calls because the government doesn’t will not.
When Stephen Burdick, the lead singer of Stone Eye, a Philadelphia neighborhood grunge rock band, saw Wednesday’s tour revenue, he responded with what he considered a helpful suggestion.
“You gotta do DoorDash/instacart on your days off,” Burdick, aka @TheStoneEye, tweeted. ” We payed [sic] for our 3 nights, $70 a night in Raleigh this way.”
Some fellow musicians were appalled. The idea of musicians juggling already grueling touring itineraries with low-wage stints in the gig economy seemed like a dark satire of late capitalism.
But when contacted for an interview, Burdick, who owns a small audio engineering business, confirmed he wasn’t kidding. He was very serious.
In their spare time at home, he and his bandmates took shifts on delivery apps like DoorDash and Instacart for two or three years, just as a way to earn some extra cash. During the band’s recent tour of the South, they decided to try using apps on the go to pay for hotel stays.
“This race was the first time we tried it,” says Burdick. “We ended up doing 14 days but only eight shows, so we have time to kill. Instead of spending $200 on a hotel and doing nothing, you’re like, ‘Damn, might as well make money, you know?’ And it worked. We ended up paying for our hotel.
The experiment was a success, in Burdick’s mind. But that was only feasible because the band had significant downtime between shows — and because the musicians already had experience with delivery apps.
Between gigs, “We don’t have any rush to go to the next town or anything,” Burdick says. “We’re like, ‘Okay. Let’s break up the shifts. Two guys go out for a few hours. Two guys go out for a few more hours. Spend about six, seven hours total doing it. Then come back and you’re like, ‘ Well, the hotel is covered, and dinner tonight!’ »
“That supplements the revenue,” adds Burdick. “Especially when it’s a tough market right now. It’s just what you have to do, I feel.
Isn’t all this a bit depressing? “Not really,” Burdick said happily. “I think it’s about knowing your worth. We are the Stone Eye. Who knows Stone Eye, you know what I mean? We play 30-person clubs. We can’t really demand a guarantee. The group tours in a minibus and recognizes that it is not big enough to make a living from music.
Other musicians were disturbed by Stone Eye’s solution to touring problems.
“I’ve never heard of anyone doing this. I’ve never considered doing this,” says Ella Williams, noting that she just wrapped up a West Coast tour, during which a day off basically means driving for 13 hours.” So, you know,” she laughs, “I haven’t really had time for extra DoorDash shifts.”
Zachary Cole Smith is familiar with other money-saving tour hacks, like what he calls “the free Chipotle trick.” (In short, call Chipotle, say you represent such-and-such a band, and ask to speak to a manager. Present yourself as if you have some kind of authority, and your band might get Chipotle for free… maybe?)
But he never encountered the delivery app solution. And he hopes never to. “It’s like, man, would you say that to anybody else working in any field? Like, ‘Damn, you didn’t make any money from your job, get another job! ‘ says Smith.
He found it particularly demoralizing that the suggestion for DoorDash came from a fellow musician.
“If someone in your field asks for better living conditions, they don’t do it for themselves. They do it for you too! exclaims Smith. “The industry is pitting us against each other, but we’re all in the same fucking crab pot or whatever. We can lift each other up.