Do you have to tour/do concerts to survive as a professional musician?

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Before I talk about concerts, let me mention that Marla and I are going to be gone most of the rest of the month. We are going to Europe (a few days in Barcelona and then a cruise on the Mediterranean). This is not a music trip or a business trip (though it is a trip we won because of the kids’ business). I am going to do my best to do as little as possible and I don’t think I will be writing here much if at all. I am instead going to repost a few music articles from the past that have been popular.

This is another post geared toward professional musicians. I mentioned a while back that I would eventually explain why I have officially stopped doing concerts for the time being. What I am about to say is going to be a bit against the grain of course. The music industry at large disagrees with me and they have convinced most musicians that touring is necessary. I think it is a good strategy for some musicians but certainly not all and especially not for me. Here are the main reasons I decided to go off the road.

My back and eye surgeries
Really, those surgeries got me off the road initially and because I had many surgeries over a period of two years, it was for an extended amount of time. However, when I was ready to start again, there were more reasons that held me back.

I had to be honest and admit I was not enjoying it.
Most people do not understand how performing concerts quickly becomes not very fun. They see it as glamorous and it can indeed be that way. However, it is also a lot of work and a lot of logistics. From very early on, the only part of touring I actually enjoyed was the concert itself and eventually, even that became drudgery. I think I have said this before but the top psychological struggle a performing musician has is not nerves; it is boredom. It is very easy to get to the point where concerts become boring.

You may wonder if I am unique in that feeling but I promise you I am not. I know many touring musicians and most of them would like to either tour less or not at all. In many cases, they feel trapped financially, unable to earn a living outside of it. Even very popular musicians fall into that camp (Adele being a recent notable example).

There are however musicians who love travel and love everything about the process of concerts. If you are like that, go for it. I am speaking only for myself.

I was missing too much at home.
A particular moment has always stood out to me from touring and travel in general. Many times, my plane has touched down at Atlanta airport late at night and when I get off the plane, the terminal is virtually empty. The shops are all closed. As I stroll through the terminal, it always hits me that I have somehow missed out on something. A day had come and gone in Atlanta without me in it. My kids are getting older now but for a long time, I was missing out on a lot of things in their lives.

I was tired of playing with tracks.
As most of you know, while I have big orchestrated music, I never travelled with an orchestra. Churches could not afford that so I used tracks. It is not the end of the world; Dino made a career of that. However, I got to the point where I just felt strange playing with tracks. I felt unfulfilled as opposed to playing live real musicians. At one point, I began to explore the possibility of traveling with live musicians but quickly realized just how big a change it would be. My music would not change enormously but my entire method of booking/promoting concerts would have to change.

It simply was not necessary.
When people bring up the fact that I am off the road, I often just tell them that I don’t have to be on the road. I am not saying that to imply that I have “arrived” or am bigger than musicians that have to tour. I am just saying that in 2017, musicians have more effective ways (arguably) to get their music in front of people. YouTube is a great example of that. I would have to do a concert every day in front of many thousands of people to get the exposure that I get from YouTube without even leaving my house and YouTube is just one of many such outlets. The simple video I posted yesterday on Facebook got over 6,000 views in 24 hours. Pandora is even bigger than YouTube and Facebook and then there are outlets like iTunes and Spotify.

I am not discounting the fact that there is something intangible about live music and concerts that makes them special. I am just saying that what you can do online is pretty close to just as good and the gap is narrowing.

From a financial perspective, touring was profitable for me and I would suspect it is profitable for most musicians. However, it is not the easiest way to earn money in music. All told, my music revenue has not suffered a bit since I left the road a few years ago. Last year was my biggest year for revenue ever. It is a myth that you cannot make this work financially without touring.

Those are the reasons I left touring. I think that with time, I may change my mind and go back on the road again. When the kids have all left home in a few years, I may experiment with a different format using live musicians. I would change other things as well to make the process more enjoyable. Basically that would mean hiring people to do all the logistics so I just have to focus on performing. For sure, it would mean buying a bus and hiring a bus driver.

In the meantime, I am just enjoying being home.