Having just completed one of the biggest tours of their career, setting stages ablaze in 23 cities over 24 shows across 28 days, Californian duo Pomplamoose, who’ve garnered a devoted following via a constant stream of entertaining YouTube vids, were starting to get some funny questions from fans.
Namely, they were being repeatedly asked what it feels like to have ‘made it’. A fair question considering the success of the tour, which saw them selling just under $100,000 in tickets, including 1,129 tickets sold at San Francisco’s famous Fillmore, and their YouTube channel, which boasts a hundred million views.
However, as one half of Pomplamoose Jack Conte writes in Digital Music News, despite being wholly appreciative of being able to make a living as a musician with a solid support base, “The thought of Pomplamoose having ‘made it’ is, to me, ridiculous.”
According to Conte, “Being in an indie band is running a never-ending, rewarding, scary, low-margin small business.” So, just how low are the margins and just how rewarding, fiscally speaking, was the band’s recent 28-day tour?
Let’s start with the planning. “In order to plan and execute our Fall tour, we had to prepare for months, slowly gathering risk and debt before selling a single ticket,” Conte writes. The band’s expenses included lighting rental, booking hotel rooms, van rental, crew costs, road cases, and trailer rental.
“All of that required an upfront investment from [bandmate] Nataly and me. We don’t have a label lending us ‘tour support’. We put those expenses right on our credit cards. $17,000 on one credit card and $7,000 on the other, to be more specific. And then we planned (or hoped) to make that back in ticket sales,” writes Conte.
“We also knew that once we hit the road, we would be paying our band and crew on a weekly basis. One week of salaries for four musicians and two crew members (front of house engineer and tour manager) cost us $8794. That came out to $43,974 for the tour.”
“We built the tour budget ourselves and modeled projected revenue against expenses. Neither of us had experience with financial modeling, so we just did the best we could. With six figures of projected expenses, ‘the best we could’ wasn’t super comforting.” The tour ended up costing Pomplamoose $147,802 to produce and execute.
Speaking conservatively, that’s a hell of a lot of money. More than most people make in a year, in fact. So where did all these costs come from? Conte broke it down like this:
$26,450 – Production expenses: equipment rental, lights, lighting board, van rental, trailer rental, road cases, backline.
$17,589 – Hotels, and food. Two people per room, 4 rooms per night. Best Western level hotels, nothing fancy. 28 nights for the tour, plus a week of rehearsals.
$11,816 – Gas, airfare, parking tolls. Holy shit, parking a 42-foot van is expensive.
$5,445 – Insurance. In case we break someone’s face while crowdsurfing.
$48,094 – Salaries and per diems. Per diems are twenty dollar payments to each bandmate and crew member each day for food while we’re out. Think mechanized petty cash.
$21,945 – Manufacturing merchandise, publicity (a radio ad in SF, Facebook ads, venue specific advertising), supplies, shipping.
$16,463 – Commissions.
So that’s crew and equipment taken care of. But what about the band’s cut? According to Conte’s figures, they earned $97,519, 72 percent of their tour income, from ticket sales; $29,714 from merch sales, making up 22 percent of tour income; and $8,750 from a sponsorship deal with Lenovo.
“Add it up, and that’s $135,983 in total income for our tour,” writes Conte. Pretty good, huh? “And we had $147,802 in expenses.” Oh, right. When we mash the two figures together, Pomplamoose’s 28-day tour actually ended up costing the band $11,819.
“But this isn’t a sob story,” Conte insists. “We knew it would be an expensive endeavor, and we still chose to make the investment. We could have played a duo show instead of hiring six people to tour with us. That would have saved us over $50,000, but it was important at this stage in Pomplamoose’s career to put on a wild and crazy rock show.”
In fact, according to Conte, “Pomplamoose is just fine: our patrons give us $6,326 per video through our Patreon page. We sell about $5,000 of music per month through iTunes and Loudr. After all of our expenses (yes, making music videos professionally is expensive), Nataly and I each draw a salary of about $2,500 per month from Pomplamoose.”
According to Conte, he and Nataly are part of the newly emerged creative class, one that’s comprised of artists who have to work their butts off, but who end up actually making a living from doing what they love.
“We are the mom and pop corner store version of ‘the dream,'” writes Conte. “If Lady Gaga is McDonald’s, we’re Betty’s Diner. And we’re open 24/7.” And while Conte insists that the band haven’t ‘made it’, he’s happy that they’re ‘making it’.