How Concert Tours Work


Bands need to consider other options besides simply touring. The Rolling Stones, shown here with director Martin Scorcese, made a bang with its concert movie, "Shine a Light."
Bands need to consider other options besides simply touring. The Rolling Stones, shown here with director Martin Scorcese, made a bang with its concert movie, "Shine a Light."
Michael Loccisano/FilmMagic/Getty Images

How profitable are concert tours? Very, if the performers are major artists with fans eager to see them. Newcomer Miley Cyrus, for example, brought in $45.3 million from her 70-show Best of Both Worlds concert tour in 2007 and 2008. Tickets sold out in minutes as fans of her "Hannah Montana" TV show vied for the chance to see the teen star perform live during her first music tour [source: MTV News].

But Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones, on stage for four decades, hold the record for most profitable tour. Their worldwide A Bigger Bang tour ran from 2005 into 2007 and grossed $558 million [source: Billboard].

Neither Mick nor Miley is relying on concerts alone for income. Their music tours both followed the release of a new album -- "Hannah Montana 2: Meet Miley Cyrus" for Miley and "A Bigger Bang" for the Rolling Stones -- and both earned more from concert films released after the tours. Disney's 3-D "Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour" film grossed more than $65.3 million before being aired on cable TV, while Martin Scorsese's "Shine a Light" documentary on the Stones' tour grossed $5.3 million [sources: Conde Nast Portfolio, Rolling Stone and Billboard].

What about performers more distant from sudden fame and reigning stardom? How complicated are concert tours to put together and are they worth the effort? What kind of planning is needed, and how do you work with concert promoters or tour promoters, negotiate a touring schedule and hire a tour crew? Keep reading to find out, starting with the initial planning you'll need to do.

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.

Working with Concert Promoters

Stars with longevity like Madonna are signed to long-term touring contracts.
Stars with longevity like Madonna are signed to long-term touring contracts.
Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images

You could try to set up your concert tour, but you probably wouldn't get very far. Tour venues work with -- or are even owned by -- concert promoters, also known as tour promoters. You'll usually need a signed contract with a tour promoter to set up a tour.

A tour promoter organizes a live music tour and makes sure it's profitable. That can include presenting, advertising and even financing concerts at arenas, clubs, auditoriums, festivals and other special events. The promoter finds the talent, the venue and on-site labor, and then handles advertising, marketing and possibly even ticket sales for the tour [sources: Berklee College of Music and Full Sail].

The biggest national promoters of music tours are Live Nation and AEG Live. Live Nation has begun signing major performers -- including Madonna, Nickelback, Shakira and Jay-Z -- to multi-year 360 contracts that can cover virtually all of the artist's output. This includes everything from music, concert tours and merchandise to endorsements and broadcast rights [source: Bloomberg].

Don't expect a 360 contract or a contract from a major concert promoter. These companies want well-known stars whose value should hold for the contract length -- which, in Madonna's case, is 10 years. Taking a chance on an up-and-coming band may be far too risky financially [source: The American].

Instead, your band's manager or music agent will sit down with a regional promoter to discuss the terms of a live music tour. Here are some ideas for finding a concert promoter:

  • Start with who you know. Word-of-mouth references may lead you to a promoter.
  • Check industry publications like Billboard and Pollstar, the concert industry trade publication, for ads and articles. Pollstar also sells industry directories listing information for booking agencies, concert venues and concert support services.
  • Check with venues where you'd like to play to see which promoters work with them.

Once you've found possible promoters, have your manager or agent contact them with information about your band, including genre, background, previous club and tour experience and a CD of your music.

If a promoter offers your band work through your manager, the next step is hammering out a contract covering the tour. The standard contract is the American Federation of Musicians' AFM Performance Agreement. Riders can be attached to handle specific tour details. While the contract itself is usually short, covering payment, profit splits, dates and locations, the rider may be 10 pages or more. Here are some details covered in a rider:

  • Promoter's expenses
  • Ticket selling policies, including how complimentary tickets will be handled
  • Headline billing rights for signs and publicity
  • An equipment breakdown detailing what'll be rented by the promoter vs. provided by the band
  • A breakdown of local crew that'll need to be hired
  • Dressing rooms, security, catering and travel
  • Cancellation policies

[source: Donald S. Passman and Randy Glass]

Price isn't the only important part of a tour arranagement. You also need to agree on a tour schedule. Keep reading to learn more.

Negotiating a Concert Tour Schedule

Once you've worked out a price, split percentage and other concert details with the concert promoter, you still need to agree on a daily work schedule for your band's concert tour.

Take a careful look at the schedule the tour promoter offers for the music tour. You'll want to make sure that:

  • The tour venues follow a geographically logical way instead of resembling a criss-cross, connect-the-dot pattern of overlapping routes
  • Enough travel time is built in, allowing for traffic and weather conditions, so that the band has time to set up and do any necessary rehearsing before a concert
  • Days off are worked into the schedule to give the band and crew time to recuperate after a number of hard days of concerts and travel.

Keep in mind, too, that concert tours involve a lot more than setting up, rehearsing and playing for an audience. A promoter or record label is likely to want the band to also do local promotions and interviews with media, meet with fans and sign autographs. There may be even more demands on band members' time.

You'll also want to be open to schedule changes. While the beginning of the tour may be thoroughly mapped out, the rest is likely to be more loosely scheduled. If not enough tickets are sold, one or more of the concert venues may drop out and be replaced with a concert in some other location. And if the tour turns out to be really successful, it may even be extended with additional concerts [source: MusicBizAcademy.com].

Make your requests regarding the schedule, but in the words of Mick Jagger, "You can't always get what you want." Concert promoters are in business to make money, after all, and they want to keep a band working, not taking days off.

With schedule set and contract in hand, you're ready to get on the road again. Right? Well, not quite. You'll need a production manager and tour crew to take care of the logistics and set-up the equipment on the road. Keep reading to find out more.

Hiring a Concert Tour Crew

Tour managers ensure tours run smoothly. Here Tour manager Brian Pimmon, left, chats with musician Blake Shelton, center, and Brian O'Connell, right.
Tour managers ensure tours run smoothly. Here Tour manager Brian Pimmon, left, chats with musician Blake Shelton, center, and Brian O'Connell, right.
© Frazer Harrison/ Getty Images for ACMA

Even though a concert tour contract probably provides for some local crew at every stop on the tour, you'll want to have your own crew that travels with the band from venue to venue. This tour crew is invaluable because, unlike the local crew, they know the band, its show and its equipment, and they're there every step of the way to make sure the concerts go smoothly.

Here are some crew members and their responsibilities you'll want to have with you on your tour:

  • Tour manager or road manager: Manages travel arrangements, pays bills and handles problems as they occur while the band is touring.
  • Production manager: Supervises the technical crew and coordinates their work with that of the venue's local crew. Supervises moving equipment from one venue to the next, as well as setting it up and disassembling it.
  • Advance person: Arrives at each tour location before the band and crew to help the road manager and make sure advance arrangements have been handled correctly.
  • Stage manager: Controls performers' movements and crew on and off the stage; gives crew cues for the houselights.
  • Sound engineer: Operates the front of house console, which controls and mixes the sound the audience hears during a live performance.
  • Monitor engineer: Operates the monitor console, controlling the sound the band hears during a concert through on-stage or in-ear monitors.
  • Sound crew: Set up, disassemble and run sound equipment, as directed by the sound and monitor engineers.
  • Lighting operator: Operates the control console for the show and supervises the lighting crew.
  • Lighting crew: Sets up, runs and disassembles lighting equipment. May also handle special effects like smoke machines and hoists.
  • Backline crew: Sets up and manages performers' instruments and equipment.

[sources: Berklee College of Music and John Vasey]

As you hire crew to fill these positions, look for people who are:

  • Flexible and adaptable. Something can and undoubtedly will go wrong during a concert, and you'll need someone who can deal with the situation calmly and quickly.
  • Team players who get along with the band and other managers to reduce friction on the road.
  • Skilled at the jobs they do and very familiar with the equipment so that they can run it effectively in unfamiliar venues.
  • Committed enough to the band and the tour that they will put up with the inconveniences of being on the road and stick with the tour until the end.

Finally, if you're looking to make it on the concert scene, here's some advice from insiders:

  • Don't over-play the same clubs, or your ticket sales will start to drop off.
  • Recognize the difference between a recording session and a live performance and give the audience a show to remember.
  • Re-invent yourselves and freshen up your act over time, like Madonna and the Rolling Stones, to keep fans coming back year after year.

And a final word of advice: Be sure to explore all the potential revenue streams (such as band merchandise, fan clubs, licensing for TV shows and video games, and more) to add to tour income [source: The American].

For lots more information about concert tours and related topics, check out the links on the next page.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links

Sources

  • "All You Need to Know about the Music Business, 5th ed." Passman, Donald S. and Glass, Randy. Simon and Schuster, 2003, page 341. http://books.google.com/books?id=VQcAY1u8zIMC&pg=PA343&;lpg=PA343&dq=negotiate+with+tour+promoter&source=web&ots=HnoStuHZeJ&sig=KBXNvUOLx5OhNHF6CEqrNLRX44Q&­;hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=5&ct=result#PPA340,M1
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