It is a familiar exchange on social media:
Artist: I’m going on tour to these places!
Audience: Come to my town!
It’s frustrating for fans, and it’s likely most won’t be familiar with the behind-the-scenes discussions that lead to an Artist playing X place but not Y place. Here are some of the reasons:
1. The timing didn’t work
The Artist has only three weeks in which to tour in a specific time period due to other commitments. Maybe they’re writing an album, touring with someone else, taking their partner on holiday, have a family member in hospital, need to go into hospital themselves, or get some dental work done, have to hand their passport in at an Embassy to get a Visa for another country, undertake jury duty, take driving lessons, or just spend some time alone, in a dark room, away from the people they’ve been with twenty hours a day in small, noisy spaces (their band and crew). Artists and their audiences are exactly the same in that they all have lives that don’t involve work. And if the Artist has four other people on stage, the Artist needs to consider their schedules too. We’ve been offered a show in Croatia? Sorry, our drummer is getting married that weekend…
2. The routing didn’t work
The Artist’s Booking Agent and Manager plan the tour, sometimes in collaboration with the label (if there is one) to make sure that everyone gets what they want. This is how it happens:
– Each tour has a time period allocated to it
– The Booking Agent emails promoters and says “The Artist is touring in this time period. Would you like to promote the show?”
– Interested promoters reply and make financial offers, and say what dates they have available at the venue they want to use
– The Manager and Booking Agent look at the offers and work out which cities make sense based on logistics and money
– If New York says they can do a show on 1 March, and Philadelphia (close to New York) says they can’t do a show until 10 March, that routing isn’t going to work. The Artist needs to fill nine days with something, and that something really needs to generate money because it costs money to have a band and crew on the road even if they’re not playing a show. So the trick is to line the cities up in an order that makes driving between them possible and sensible.
Bus drivers have limits to how many hours they can drive each day, like truck drivers, and it’s stupid to have a tour criss-crossing a country or continent with a thousand miles/km between each show. It’s exhausting, costs a lot of money in diesel, and generates a lot more pollution than a tour that is booked smarter: DC > Philly > NYC > Boston > Montreal makes sense. The drives aren’t crazy and the cities are more or less all in a row.
So if the Artist really wants to play X place, but the venue they like isn’t free, or the stage isn’t big enough, or the production facilities aren’t good enough, and if there is no other venue in town that’s available on the day they’re passing through, it won’t happen, and they’ll have to look at it again in the future.
3. The Artist’s team can’t find a promoter who is interested or will/can take the financial risk
The live music industry is a financially risky business and someone has to front the money. Sometimes an Artist can see many people asking for a show in the same town/country on social media, but no promoter is interested in being the one to take the risk flying them in. In this case, the Artist just needs to wait in the hope that their profile rises enough that a promoter can see a show will be worthwhile. Or, if the Artist thinks the market is important enough to take the risk, they can consider putting on their own show, but very few will want to do that in a city many thousands of miles/km from their own.
4. The promoter didn’t/can’t offer enough money
Around the same time as the global financial crisis of 2008, the music industry was watching recorded sales collapse, and it began looking around for how Artists could make money, and many people said “Well, you can make money playing live”, which is true if you’re Ed Sheeran or Rhianna, but not necessarily true if you’re almost every other band. First, yes, many bands can earn money – even a show that sells one ticket generates money (from that one ticket sale) but that’s not the same as making a profit which is the start of making a living.
Say an Artist is paid 1,000€, but the show costs are 1,500€. They can’t pay their rent on -500€. Every Artist and every tour is different. That said, even if – collectively – promoters don’t or can’t offer enough to make a tour financially viable, that doesn’t mean the tour won’t go ahead. Some markets take a lot of time to break and if, for example, you want to be successful in the U.S. you have to accept that you’ll likely have to visit multiple times before you find success, if you ever do, however each Artist chooses to define it.
So, at the start, in most markets, for most Artists, it will cost them money to play the show in your town, no matter how much merchandise they sell. Promoters have to balance the risk of paying the Artist enough to make it worth their while, but not so much that if the show doesn’t sell enough tickets they (the Promoter) will lose a lot of money
5. It’s just not on the Artist’s radar right now
The Artist wants to visit but all the data they have shows that it’s not yet worth it. The audience seems to be small based on what they can see from streaming numbers, social media numbers and sales figures. The Artist’s team advises them that it’s best to wait, to focus their (often limited) resources on those markets where the prospects of success is better, or perhaps where the label has an office (which means people on the ground to help with marketing and promotion) or perhaps just where the label has decided (with the agreement of the Artist and their team) that marketing money would be better spent
6. Personal reasons
There are hundreds of reasons why an Artist might just not want to visit your town. Perhaps your country has a government that behaves in a way that is incompatible with the Artist’s core beliefs. Perhaps they allow whale-hunting, or are lobbying to be able to drill for oil in the Arctic. Perhaps they oppress a particular section of their society, perhaps they invest heavily in a specific things that the Artist does not agree with, such as weapons. Or maybe it’s more personal:
– That’s the town where the van was broken into and all the gear was stolen last time
– That’s where the police pulled them over and strip-searched everyone last time
– That’s where the bass player got attacked by two drunk fans last time
– That’s where they had that terrible show with the rude promoter and the audience that talked throughout the set on the last visit. Fuck going back there again…
7. The World’s just too big
Various governments recognise between 193-241 individual countries and states. Someone’s always going to be left out
8. They’re just tired
Touring is exhausting. It’s impossible to articulate how tiring touring can be, and in which specific ways it’s tiring, until you do it. How it burrows into your bones, no matter what the conditions are like. Your bed is probably in the same room as it was last night, and it doesn’t move. An Artist’s is now 9 hours from where they left it yesterday, and it’s bouncing all over the road at 70mph / 110kph while they try to sleep in often dangerous weather conditions. If you want to get some idea (and if you like long-form writing) you could read this tour diary or this one, both from very different tours, both gruelling and dispiriting (and fantastic!) in many different ways.
In short, while the Artist would probably love to play your town, it might just not be possible, and it’s not always in their control, and they’re probably as frustrated as you are about it.