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Tour Expenses

December 2, 2014

Yesterday at rehearsal for the Michelle Schmidt Meals on Wheels benefit concert on Thursday, my brother, Anton, told me about Jack Conte’s article about how his band, Pomplamoose, lost money on tour. Before I continue, I should admit that I’m biased. Jack and Nataly have hired Anton and me numerous times to record for Pomplamoose, their solo albums, and their friends’ albums, and they recently hired us to perform with them at Stanford, their alma mater. I’ve always admired how they go about their business, and this article did not stifle that at all. What I have learned from my experiences with Jack and Nataly is that they are super smart, creatively resourceful, and talented musicians. From what I read in that article, they don’t seem to be worried, and neither am I.

It was interesting to read an article by Santos Montano on Pitchfork called “You Can Make Money Touring (But Not If You’re Pomplamoose)” who was not down with the way Pomplamoose toured. There’s a lot to his article I agree with, like “You Can Make Money Touring,” and a lot that I don’t, like “But Not If You’re Pomplamoose.” Like I said, they are smart. This tour is just a piece of the mosaic that is their careers and If it was about making money they would have done just that.

My main take away from both articles is that Pomplamoose’s tour was really expensive because they weren’t set up for it. Most bands that play 1000 cap venues are set up for some stage production and a crew. The’ve built their touring infrastructure over years of touring. I remembered a log I took of my own expenses during a 2 week tour with my band, Judgement Day, in July of 2011. In contrast to Pomplamoose, we were very set up for this tour. We were finally out of debt. We owned a van, had a bunch of merch (cd’s and shirts) stocked up, and even had a mobile kitchen. Most importantly, we had wits and experience with touring. Also in contrast to Pomplasmoose, we were not selling out the Fillmore. Like most tours, some shows were good, some were bad, and most were in between. We played a bunch of small towns in Norcal and the northwest like Redding, Eureka, and Bend, OR. In Portland, where we normally do well, our show was a dud. We had a fun show at a pizza place called Luigi’s in Sacramento. Our Eugene show was memorable because Rushad from Tornado Rider, our tour buddies, jumped from table to table out in the crowd while taking a cello solo, not because of the crowd itself. We cut corners as much as possible and basically never stayed in hotels. Friends, fans, promoters, and bands put us up. I would rather sleep in the van than on a floor, so I became the “Van Dweller.” I agree with Montano that “What’s hard about being a successful musician is getting people to come to the shows.” The more I think about how to be a successful musician, the more I see the importance of having a draw. Judgement Day is an experimental instrumental metal band. I have listened to people say that having a singer would make us 10 times more successful since 2002. Our draw was modest, but it was a still a draw, and by being extremely frugal I made money on that tour. Check it out:

jd tour log

Let me repeat, we were set up for this tour. Our instruments, gear, and personal items were tour-ready, and we traveled alone as a 3 piece, all original members. I think we did 0 rehearsals for that tour, because we were in a groove of playing all the time. I also had some cooking staples like rice, olive oil, salt and pepper, etc. Pomplamoose makes it happen by having an awesome internet presence, and they have done comparatively very little live performing. They now own nice touring gear and have musicians that know their music. They gained experience, which is invaluable. In his article, Montano talks about a tour he did with his band, Old Man Gloom, where they rented a van and gear to tour the west coast. Still, this is a band that was mostly set up to tour, having logged many months on the road. Do you think they paid top dollar for what they rented from their friends, or even market rate? In the rock world, especially the metal world, people are cool. They hook you up. I don’t mean to speculate and I apologize if I’m making false assumptions, and I’m not calling Santos Montano a phony or anything like that. I bet I would like him and his band, though I admit I don’t know their music. Let’s just be real. Pomplamoose wanted nice road cases for their nice instruments and it’s not like they could ask their buddies in Judgement Day for a good deal. We don’t have that stuff. They do their own thing, which I hope all artists respect, but because of the nature of their thing, they’re not tapped into a huge network of supportive rockers.

I agree with Montano that we should not take any amount of success for granted. It’s possible that these shows will be Pomplamoose’s biggest ever, but like I said, they’re super smart. I can guarantee that they didn’t plan their tour to be expensive so they could write an article about it later and pull some publicity stunt. They planned it that way because they have high standards for what they do, and they’re not afraid to take risks. I also agree that fancy lights are not necessary for a good show, but some people care about production value, musicians and fans alike. I mostly agree with Montano’s ideals, like “You should rely on your music to be good,” but to only rely on your music is very idealistic, and more to the point, not who Pomplamoose is. They’ve always incorporated visual aspects in their craft, and it is a huge part of their success. They filmed every recording session I did for them, and now I’m in some of their videos. I also think asking your bandmates to go in on a cut of the profits is idealistic and in this case, not responsible. THEY ARE SMART! They knew there was a risk of losing money on the tour, and it wouldn’t be right to ask musicians who have no stake in the band to take a deal like that. As a professional musician, I salute Jack and Nataly for paying their musicians and crew fairly.

A lot of the backlash from Jack’s article comes from the current sentiment of disdain surrounding the tech industry. I see many close friends struggling to find affordable housing in the Bay Area, and I can understand why people see tech as the bad guys, but not all tech is bad. Do you know what Patreon is? Prolific content creators make profiles and give their content to people who want it and pay for it. Is it lame to pay for music? Is it lame to support artists you care about? My other brother, Graham, an incredibly and uniquely talented singer/songwriter, has a Patreon page, and it helps him support his new family. Check it out and support the arts! Being a musician and being around musicians all the time, we think and talk about the future of the music industry constantly. I don’t know how we, the creative class, will specifically survive, but I do know that the we will have to be creative about finding solutions. Patreon is one such solution.

My favorite part of Montano’s article is when he says “They’re probably super embarrassed.” Very Pitchforky. Surprised? Definitely. Concerned? Probably. Embarrassed? I doubt it.

-Lewis

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One Comment
  1. Santos permalink

    Hey Lewis. Santos here, I wrote the pitchfork article. It’s interesting, this whole thing. I’ve been not paying a lot of attention since the article went up, and am only checking in on the whole thing now. I’ve become an internet hero and villain all of a sudden. It’s funny. I’m used to just being the drummer of a weird metal band.
    anyway, i appreciate your writing here, and it’s actually one of the few defenses of Pomplamoose that has resonated with me, including some of the things the band themselves have come out with. It’s a great point, they just weren’t coming from the place that we, people who ham and egg it up and down the coasts for years and years are, so they weren’t prepared. They kinda popped outta the internet. It’s a world I don’t understand, as it’s not my world. But hey, that does make a little more sense, in defense of the money they spent on gear.
    There are other things that have become even murkier in the last week about the whole thing from every angle, and mostly, i can’t wait for my name to not be associated with it anymore. Not that i regret writing it, There’s just too many strange details in the whole story. My article was a response to their article, which, within the information in their original article, I stand behind 100%. I can’t even navigate the turns it’s taken this week.
    I have to say, i tried very hard to come at this from a different angle, not just “be more punk”, or “this band sucks”. I tried to be productive in my take on it. I hope that came through.
    At this point, i have been told I’m an idiot, and i should suck any number of dicks, and i’ve been used overwhelmingly as a banner in tweets and shares for people against Pomplamoose. I’m not crazy about either, really. I just wrote my opinion. Maybe Jack and I both learned a lesson this week, when you put yourself out there, you’re going to get peoples shit, good and bad, right back at you.
    I may stick to my weird little metal world from now on…
    Anyway, thanks for reading.

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