Rae Davis booked Sara Routh's tour. All three legs of it, in fact. For this west coast swing, Davis focused on finding gigs close to friends houses, which allowed Routh and Davis to save a ton of money on lodging.
We've talked about it before, but one can not put too fine a line on it: indie artists know they aren't going to make money on their self-funded tours, so every expenditure becomes vital to track. Anywhere you can find to cut costs, and potentially extend your tour one more day, you do it. This is what most galled indie artists who read about Pomplamoose's horrendous debacle of a tour back in 2014.
For the uninitiated: Pomplamoose is a disgustingly twee indie duo who attained a level of success through savvy use of YouTube, an overly-saccharine Toyota commercial, and the fact that hipsters won't die. In November of 2014, the male half of the equation, Jack Conte, wrote a blog entry, detailing the band's recently completed, 28 day tour. A tour from which the band made $137,000 in ticket and merch sales...and finished over $11,000 in the red.
On the surface, it's another sad reminder of how tough it is to be an indie band in today's market. But then you get to the bit of the post that details the band's tour expenses and, if you're an indie musician, you start to die inside.
$17,589 in lodging expenses. Four rooms a night, in what Conte describes in a completely unironic and un-self-aware manner as "Best Western level hotels, nothing fancy."
My bar napkin breaks that down to $125.64, per room, per night, for an eight-person road crew. First off, anyone with common sense immediately sees that getting rooms with two beds and doubling up from two people per room to four, you automatically cut your lodging expenses in half. Without touching a single other thing on the tour, you've nearly wiped out the entire loss amount.
There are other things that make the average indie artist cringe -- the $17K figure is listed under "hotels and food," but there's also an additional entry for per diems for the crew to eat on (which came to another $4200); they were paying their crew roughly $1,500 a week per person in salaries; they somehow dropped $11K on parking and gas -- but for most people who have ever booked or embarked on a self-funded tour, it's that lodging expense that smacks them in the face. Make a friend. Sleep on a couple floors. Camp a couple nights. Think your band is too big to not have hotels of some kind? Look at that bottom line again. If Pomplamoose had constructed their 2014 tour with even half the common sense your average local musician has, they would have finished several thousand dollars in the black, even after paying everyone an effective rate of $78,000 a year.
Routh and Davis are not spending $125 a night on Best Western-level hotels. They are staying with friends when they can and, when they can't, they are driving through the night until they get to the next city.
Tonight is the one exception to the formula, and not because they splurged on a hotel. For the only night on the tour, Davis and Routh are staying in a city where they do not have a show booked. It wasn't for lack of trying, Davis spent weeks looking for a venue in Phoenix that could accommodate them on this date, and came up snake eyes. But the timing of the off day could not be better. After doubling their tour mileage in one day, and performing an average of once every 19 hours in the first four days, a chance to eat a home cooked meal, do some laundry and rest voices is about as heavenly a proposition as you could ask for. Before getting to Phoenix, however, there was a detour that needed to be made.
Turns out that Davis, a grown-ass woman with kids and a dog and responsibilities, had never seen the Grand Canyon. Seeing as it was kinda, sorta, more or less along the way from Santa Fe, it would have been ridiculous not to stop. If you've been to the Grand Canyon, you understand why. If you haven't, there's just no way to adequately describe it to you. So on this trip, it was decided that Davis would go to the Canyon.
It is a twisting, beautiful drive from New Mexico to the Canyon's southern rim. The angle the highway takes obscures virtually all of the Canyon from view until you get there, and even the parking lot doesn't afford you a clear look. Instead, you're left almost completely ignorant of the view you're in for, until you're practically right on top of it.
And when that finally happens...the first time someone sees the Grand Canyon, it's stupefying. It's so vast and so deep and so beautiful, you can feel your brain collapsing in on itself like a discount flan and you grasp madly for any words you can find that help get the idea across. For Davis, that amounted to: "holy shit, it's amazing, I should have peed before I got here."
And so, Routh and Davis walked along the southern lip of the Grand Canyon. They clambered out onto a jutting spur of rocks, took in the immensity around them; Davis lay down on the outcropping's edge, feet just dangling off into space, face open to the sun, and sighed.
This wild moment of Lil Wayne-esque largess cost them $30 in parking, and another $20 in gift shop trinkets. They might come home in two weeks, tally up all the money, and find out that they finished the tour minus $50. They'll be ok with that.
Conte still brandishes the term "indie band" like it means something to Pomplamoose. In that blog post, he uses the term in the same paragraph where he calls any band that doesn't get $9000 in tour sponsorships a hobby act.
Davis and Routh aren't hobbyists. Neither are the thousands of other acts from hundreds of other cities who are just like them, and who are self-funding shoestring tours all across the country. The crowds may be smaller, the miles a little longer, and the venues not as prestigious, but then again, they aren't losing five figures on this trip, either.
After leaving the Canyon, Davis and Routh continued on to the Phoenix area, where they stayed with the parents of a friend back home in Des Moines. They were welcomed in, fed, given a place to shower and wash clothes; given a soft place to sleep. Tomorrow, the road calls out again and the tour continues into California. But today was a day of rest. A day to be thankful. And on a tour that already neither artist will ever forget, it was a day for giving one of them the memory of a lifetime.
And nobody even got a per diem.
Miles traveled: 1,880