Jack Conte of indie band Pomplamoose recently released the musical duo’s tour financials on Medium, following a 28-day tour with 24 shows in 23 US cities. Conte and Nataly Dawn, known for their quirky covers and multi-instrumentalist leanings, have amassed a legion of loyal followers and, through the release of these figures, a lot of controversy as well.
Some have said the numbers show poor planning, while others pointed to alleged conflict of interest for a side business that Conte owns (seemingly negated by Conte’s statement that he neither draws a salary as CEO of said company, nor hid his affiliation), while others applauded the bands attempt at transparency.
The highlight of the tour, Conte says, was selling just under $US100,000 worth of tickets overall and 1,129 tickets for one night at legendary San Francisco venue, the Fillmore. While not exactly Taylor Swift numbers, that figure positions Pomplamoose in the music middle class, those people who, though not household names, are still managing to eek out a living with a strong following.
For a band that has 25 videos with over 1 million views on Youtube (at least three of which are closer to 10 million views), the online fame can be misleading. Conte says he often gets asked how it feels to have “made it.” He sees this as more of an old-industry adage, and that the term — making it, with its active and necessary agency — better applies.
The recent tour is case in point: By the time Pomplamoose departed for their first tour date, Dawn and Conte had already charged $US24,000 between two separate credit cards for tour-related expenses that required advances.
Here is the breakdown of the band’s tour financials (Note: Though the band is a duo, for this tour they hired 6 additional people to tour with them):
$US26,450- Production expense: equipment rental, lights, lighting board, van rental, trailer rental, road cases, backline.
$US17,589- Hotels and food: Two people per room, 4 rooms per night (Best Western level), 28 nights for tour plus a week of rehearsals.
$US11,186- Misc. Travel- Airfare, gas, tolls, and related car expenses
$US5,445- Insurance: Medical
$US48,094- Salaries and per diems
-$US16,463- Commissions: Booking Agency, Business Management and payroll, Lawyer
Total Tour Expenses: $US147,802
$US97,519- Ticket sales (after applicable venue fees): 72% of tour income.
$US29,714- Merchandise Sales (Hats, T-shirts, CDs, posters): 22% of tour income
$US8,750-Partial Sponsorship from Lenovo for technology that assisted with their light show
Total Tour Income: $US135, 983
$US135,983 Total Income
-$US147, 802 Total Expenses
A nearly $US12,000 loss in a month can be hard on any small business.
Despite the loss, the band does not see the negative number as indicative of a losing endeavour. Conte says he knew the risks going into the tour and sees various ways they could have saved money. He says they could have saved $US50,000 off the top by performing as a duo rather than touring with six people, for example. By touring with this size and delivering a bigger show, however, the band felt better positioned to “put on a wild and crazy show” that would assure concert venues asked them back and concert-goers returned with friends.
Which brings up another point, this is not the band’s sole revenue stream: At present, Conte and Dawn each make approximately $US2,500 off of iTunes sales per month. While not a windfall, it is a healthy pre-tax $US30,000 each for doing what they love. All for a band still on their ascent, making tougher gambles now in hopes of later payoff.
For his part, Conte says his hope in sharing these numbers “is not to dissuade, but to shine light on a new paradigm for professional artistry.” Though the tour taking a loss is not necessarily good, the band was able to pursue art on its own terms and earned enough to keep performing.
Singer Amanda Palmer — herself no stranger to controversy at the intersections of art and commerce — has offered her own take on subsequent backlash to the band with an article in The Guardian about the risks of even admitting that art and commerce ever meet. She says, “if there was any naiveté in Jack’s post, it wasn’t in how the band spent their money but rather in his assumption that a compassionate universe was ready to accept his transparency as an important contribution to the music information economy.”
Palmer argues that it is the art vs. commerce dynamic that fans have a hard time with, and which creates a double standard unique to art industries. She says, “you’re damned if you play by the rules, and you’re damned if you find a creative way to thwart them.” In music, there used to be a company that would stand between the artist and the end user, allowing the artist to seem clean and uninvolved in (or unconcerned with) business matters. The modern independent artist is allowed no such illusions. For her part, Palmer says, “transparency is beautiful, but it’s expensive.”
As more and more people start to weigh in on both the wisdom of how the tour money was spent and the reason for sharing the numbers at all, one thing is clear: Many would have paid far more than $US11,819 for the level of exposure Conte’s article has garnered for the band. If viewing this article as the last thing Conte did after putting away the drums — consider it your standard if public post-mortem — the tour was most certainly a success.
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