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Tour blog Pt 2 – This is The End (or ‘how we lost money on a successful tour’)

July 8th, 2011 | 7 Comments | Categories: Gig stuff · Music News · travel |

So we’re back in England, tired, jetlagged, weirded out by being away for 2 months. It’s the longest I’ve ever been out of the UK in one stretch, for sure.

So let’s look at some tour facts ‘n’ stats:

  • We did 19 shows, of which 2 were just me, one was me and Trip Wamsley in a duo, one was me and Julie Slick in a duo and one more was a bass clinic with Lo guesting on a song or two.
  • Four of the shows were booked after we started the tour, as other shows became less likely, so we switched
  • We did close to 8000 miles, in two rental cars
  • We stayed in hotels for about 20 nights, all of which were paid for with Paypal money from Bandcamp sales of both of our new albums.
  • We sold out of CDs 2/3rds of the way into the tour, but made most of our merch money from selling 4Gb USB memory sticks featuring our entire combined back catalogues (still available :) ).
  • We did shows with or alongside some remarkable musicians, including Steven Guerrero, Kira Small, Tiger Darrow, Trip Wamsley, Darren Michaels, Catherine Marie Charlton, Julie Slick, Neil Alexander and Trevor Exter.
  • We had a wonderful time meeting up with friends old and new, learning from them, sharing things with them, playing music to them, hanging out and generally having a great time.
  • We came home with less money than on any tour I’ve done in a decade.

That last one seems a little incongruous, I guess, given the apparent ‘success’ of the tour. And it was, by pretty much every metric that we value, a success. But it was only sustainable within the continuum of a career that usually nets us a lot more money per gig.

The reasons for this were manifold – we did little promo of our own for the shows, relying mainly on social networks to spread the word, and for the gig hosts to pull in their friends. Which worked to greater or lesser degrees. There are some places where a singer/songwriter and a solo bassist playing together is just too strange a concept to pull a larger crowd.

Part of the smaller scale of the tour was intentional – were were initially offered a lot more shows, which thanks to us touring with the 18 month old Baby Flapjack, we were reticent to book in case he got to the States and hated being on the road. So we only booked the shows we knew would be most understanding of us canceling if we had to.

As it was, Flapjack had a whale of a time, and would have been perfectly happy for us to do twice as many shows. We’ve learned that for next time, but his presence, and that of my mother-in-law who came along for half the tour to help look after him (and was awesome) meant that we were far less happy-go-lucky with accommodation that we used to be, and as often as not, we booked into hotel rooms to save having to find friends with enough space for all four of us… That upped the expense considerably.

We’re used to touring econo – Lo and I are experts at that, but with the family comes more complexity. Not as complex as taking a drummer on the road, but who in their right mind would do that anyway?

But, as I said in my first tour post, it’s still SO much cheaper than it use to be. Our gig hosts were amazing, we had a spectacularly great time, spent more time with wonderful inspiring people than anyone has the right to expect in 10 years let alone 2 months, and a heck of a lot of new people found out about us. We were unlucky with the timing of a couple of shows (national holidays), and our solitary festival appearance was marred by MASSIVE sound-spill from the mainstage (no merch sold there, not surprisingly) and were probably feeling the effects of the recession like everyone else, but we still proved that even at the margins, House Concert touring is more viable to relatively unknown acts than any other previous model of concert-ing, especially when you have a child in tow that would preclude a large percentage of all venue shows.

So, we offer up a massive thanks to

  • Everyone we saw,
  • All the musicians we played with,
  • Our gracious and generous hosts,
  • People who leant us their deliciously comfortable spare beds,
  • And those who came to listen and who bought CDs and USB sticks.

I still find as I have for 11 years that the audience at a Steve Lawson show are more likely to be my kind of people than pretty much any other social situation I’ve ever been in. Now THAT is success.

And of course, another gargantuan truck ladened with thanks to all those who ponied up for download music that you could otherwise have got for free. Your generosity and willingness to express your own sense of the value in recorded music is what made it possible for us to do this tour and not end up utterly broke at the end of it. Please, continue to support the music that means something to you – I don’t subscribe to the idea that art stops without money, but it’s certain that specific ways of presenting it are impossible without the financial support of those who care about its existence. There’s a school of thought that says that digital music ‘should‘ be ‘free‘ as promo for your live shows. To which I say ‘bollocks‘. There’s no ‘should‘ about any of this, there’s no preordained cause and effect between recorded and live music, our relationship with both is singular and of too great a level of complexity to attempt to reduce it to such a ham-fisted bit of self-justifying nonsense. Recorded music can be free in download form, it has no unit cost (save for licensing on cover tunes if you seek to distribute it legally) and no distribution cost – so conversely treating it as ‘online CDs’ is equally nonsensical – but it does have value, based on a whole slew of things. And those of you that pay for ours are part of the ongoing sustainability of a specific aspect of our project. For that, we thank you.

If you did see us and want to get some music, here are both of our latest albums. Have a listen, then pay what you think they are worth (more blogging on that concept in the next few days!):

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7 Comments so far ↓

  • Ariel Hyatt

    Hi Steve,

    I’m inspired and I agree with what John Worthington said on your Google+ “You look at it as losing money on a successful tour. I look at it as funding a 2 month family holiday by playing some gigs.”

    Kudos to you both for taking an 18-month old on the road, and think of the long-term successes and contacts and opportunities that will come from all of the people you met, touched and inspired. I loved reading about it as you went and I felt like you touched thousands (like me) who followed along via your blog, and tweets. Short term vacation… but I can’t wait to hear abut the long term.

    • Steve

      Ariel, thanks so much for that – it’s really encouraging to hear about people following out little adventures. There were so many great things that came out of this tour, so many good friendships, contacts, collaborations, musical ideas, and so many hours of great conversation in the car that Lo and I never have time for at home.

      It was a success on so many levels – and all that added long term stuff is really exciting to watch unfold :) x

  • Catherine Marie Charlton

    The long term stuff is pretty exciting usually. I’m thinking for example of a trade show I went to and thought I had lost lots of money and then two+ years later had my music licensed by Hemisync as as result of a contact I made- or a presenters conference which yielded a high profile concert two years later.

  • Catherine Marie Charlton

    …or I almost forgot! Going to the Future of Music Coalition conference in 2007 and hearing Ariel Hyatt talk about Twitter, causing me to join and then subsequently meet Steve Lawson and have an amazing collaboration with great promise for more!

  • Linda - @ponor

    Thanks for some more wonderful and honest reporting about the tour. (I followed you guys online, but did manage to miss the live ustream with Neil Alexander :)) So…The conversation continues about how artists are figuring out ways to make things work, what does and what doesn’t work so well and it’s both inspiring and helpful, thanks! I do think that people need to be reminded that artists can’t work for nothing and just give everything away.. Try suggesting that to someone who never pays for his/her music online.. trying asking that person to give away everything they work for. Anyway…Great stuff Steve – please know you guys are much appreciated!

  • Jim Bellizzi

    Hey Steve,

    Why don’t you do occasional lessons over the course of the tour? I am pretty sure bass players in the states would jump at an opportunity for a 30 minute session that doesn’t involve having to fly across the pond.

    • Steve

      Hi Jim – I have done that, on many occasions – this time, we kept our schedule freed up a lot to work out the logistics of touring with a toddler. That works, so next time, we’ll do more stuff :)