Opening Acts Are Losing Money on Tour, Now What?

Irvine locals Young the Giant recently opened for Kings of Lion last weekend. How much did it cost them?
Irvine locals Young the Giant recently opened for Kings of Lion last weekend. How much did it cost them?
John Gilhooley

For many new bands, opening for a bigger, well-established act seems like a no-brainer for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it means playing in front of way more people than they would have on their own. Secondly, maybe they'll become friends with said big band and perhaps capture the attention of influencers due to this coveted slot. Lastly, opening for a big band will ensure riches along with a slew of sex and partying, right? Isn't this the romantic version of what it's like to be a touring act that's on the rise. Well, romanticism and reality are two completely different things.

In a recent piece in Billboard, many eyebrows were raised when the trade magazine published the scary--and downright shocking--figures of what bands are likely to earn on the road. While fans grumble about the big business of touring that include rising ticket prices and t-shirts that hover in the $30-$40 region, it's the opening acts that should be the ones with the gripes. According to the infographic, bands are actually losing money by hitting the road with their bigger counterparts. Instead of being a springboard to fame and fortune, it appears that opening for a big band is a one-way ticket to the poor house.

So how can this possibly happen? For starters, if you're in a rising outfit, it's likely that A) you don't have the position for your agent to negotiate a huge fee, B) your guarantee is peanuts compared to the headliner and C) the production costs and getting from town to town will set rockers back at least several months rent (depending on the city of residence).

Who benefits from the dire need of bands who literally could be starving? Lo and behold, it's major labels. Swooping in like the cavalry, majors can offer these broke bands a way out, only if they agree to a 360 deal. In the music industry, a 360 deal is a business relationship between an artist and a music industry company. The company agrees to provide financial support for the artist, including direct advances as well as funds for marketing, promotion and touring. The artist agrees to give the company a percentage of all of their income, including sales of recorded music, live performances and any other income. When you're on the road and in dire need of cash, this doesn't sound like the worst solution. After all, being in a band, no matter how meager the total, one would expect to make money or else why tour at all? Thus, musicians get roped into a major deal, banking that this will increase their chances at fortune and glory and it's the same wash, rinse, repeat cycle that's doomed musicians since the advent of record companies.

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Is there a solution to rescue bands that are hemorrhaging money as they're taking a leap of faith to hit the big time? Judging by the numbers in the aforementioned piece, it looks pretty bleak. Though in all likelihood this won't - and shouldn't - discourage budding bands to hit the road in support of bigger bands. The minuses sure look bleak, but if you're in an outfit that is good enough, and believes in yourself, then it could be well worth the risk.

See also 10 Punk Albums to Listen to Before You Die 10 Goriest Album Covers 10 Most Satanic Metal Bands

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