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How Concert Tours Work

Initial Planning of a Concert Tour
Teen star Miley Cyrus earned more than $45 million during her concert tour.
Teen star Miley Cyrus earned more than $45 million during her concert tour.
Jamie McCarthy/WireImage/Getty Images

Think your band is ready to start touring, or are you not sure whether a concert tour should be in your immediate future? Planning and performing during a music tour are complicated and time consuming. Probably the first thing you'll want to do is make sure you can answer that question with a strong "Yes!"

To reach a decision, you'll want to consider factors such as:

  • Do we have enough material ready to perform on a tour?
  • Can we handle the rigors of travel and the challenge of playing that material every night as if it's fresh and new?
  • Do we have a reason to tour now -- like a new CD to promote? Do we have copies of CDs to sell if we are on tour?
  • Are we getting enough club bookings and a strong enough response from fans to indicate that they will buy tickets to our concerts?
  • Can we get along well enough with each other to survive a tour together?
  • What do we want out of a tour -- greater exposure for the band, bigger paychecks for the band members or something else?

Miley Cyrus and the Rolling Stones aside, if you expect to make a lot of money off concert tours, you're likely to be disappointed. By the time the venue, concert promoter and ticket vendor take their cuts, equipment rentals and crew are paid, and transportation and living costs are covered, there may not be as much for the band as you'd expect. That's not even considering sliding CD sales and the move to digital music.

Limited profitability is nothing new for touring bands. Gerald Casale, a founding member of Devo, recalls that band members only earned $12,000 each from the new wave group's Freedom of Choice tour, which grossed $2 million during the group's heyday in 1980 -- and the take would have been even less if T-shirts hadn't sold well. The group began touring again in 2004 [source: Billboard].

If you've decided you're ready to tour, the next step is preliminary planning, probably led by your band's manager. Here are some questions to consider:

  • In which geographic area and at what specific cities and venues do you want to perform? What is your tentative itinerary?
  • What specific performing needs do you have in terms of instruments and musical equipment?
  • What specific stage, sound engineering and lighting needs do you have?
  • How much equipment will the band bring along, and how much will you need to have ready at the venue?
  • How many crew members will you need to have on site, and what skills or training do they need?
  • What's your tentative budget for the tour, including employee pay and equipment costs?
  • What are your limits in tour length and number of shows?

Once you have considered these basics, you need someone who can connect you with your audience. Perhaps your band has a music agent who handles your bookings. But whether you do or not, you or your agent needs to work through a concert promoter, or tour promoter, to put together a tour. Let's look next at what concert promoters do and how to work with them.