Until You're Headlining Sold Out Club Tours, This Is What Life in a Band Is Like
Are you a musician? Is your group having issues? Ask Fan Landers! Critic Jessica Hopper has played in and managed bands, toured internationally, booked shows, produced records, worked as a publicist and is the author of The Girls' Guide to Rocking, a how-to for teen ladies. She is here to help you stop doing it wrong. Send your problems to her -- confidentiality is assured, unless you want to use your drama as a ticket to Internet microfame.
We just returned from our two month tour. We survived, we don't hate each other, though the tour was not profitable we did not lose too much money. It was a very humbling tour because nothing really turned out the way we thought it would. I lost quite a bit of money just from feeding myself, and paying bills while away. In the next year we want to focus on writing our next record, but because we have a booking agent who is constantly scouting tours for us we still live under the impression that any month we might get a support tour that we can't turn down.
I'm torn because I just landed an interview for a corporate music position, and it is the kind of job that would be extremely difficult to leave on tour with. At what point do I stop postponing my own personal, professional development for my band? I'm also not the only band member making sacrifices. None of us like our day jobs and we all barely make ends meet, but we also unanimously want to record another record and keep this project going. Do up-and-coming bands take a break from touring, or does that kill momentum? We have already done two national tours behind our first record.
Some of this is just run of the mill post-tour blues, when you come home and you are going to be broke for the next six weeks--and for what? But it is good you are asking these questions now because the kind of tours you are doing now are what tour is like. You are actually on the middle rungs of the ladder--album out, agent, national tours, living on $12-a-day per diems for a month at a time. Until your band is headlining sold out club tours, how you are rolling is how it is. And when you are in that place it's easy to rationalize sticking out the struggle with the idea that it will change and someday it will be not-as-hard. What the next few years of your band's future (barring sudden and real popularity) looks like is basically the tour you went on but maybe you stay at Travelodge on the nights you do well with merch.
Would you rather have that and the attendant struggle or would you rather have this job? Would you be willing to have the band be nights and weekends if it meant you got to pay your rent and start a career that is not waiting tables or bike messengering or delivering weed? Because that is the choice. It's seductive to posit this between the unknown band future and the known desk job; your Van Halen-grade future-dream will always win. Also, you have not even interviewed for the job--don't sabotage yourself.
Your whole band needs to talk about where they are at. There are a lot of work arounds, and if they are sick of coming home from tour and eating Ramen for weeks at a time, they might be thinking the same thing you are. Open yourself to the prospects, this isn't a simple either/or. Paying your rent doesn't mean you have to give up all your dreams.