Years ago when I started touring Europe I was not too financially organized. Primarily because I didn’t and still don’t “do it for the money” – I do it for the love of music and travel. However, deriving “feelings” from looking at your wallet at the end of a tour is a very inaccurate way to do this.
Whether you feel “good” or “bad” you really have no idea what went down financially unless you do the math. You could feel very rich (or extremely poor) looking at the money in your pocket at the end of a tour. What about all the money and credit card bills for the travel, hotels, food? Those expenses may have happened months before – so you cannot tell by looking in your wallet at the end of a tour!
On my first few tours back in the late 1990’s, I’d front the money for the band’s plane tickets, train tickets, food, hotels on nights off for the band, and of course – their pay was guaranteed. It was then up to me to sell CD’s and collect gig income and “pray for the best”.
I can remember feeling as though I was on an emotional roller coaster when I spent money, or when I felt I made some, and in the end – no idea whether I made or lost money because I had no system for tracking the income / expenses.
One year I decided to start keeping track of my income and expenses using a simple excel spreadsheet. If you are touring, and own a laptop this is actually kind of a fun little morning activity – assuming you didn’t party too hard the night before. Any spreadsheet program should be fine – Excel, Apple Works, Open Office – are a few available.
In just about any spreadsheet program, you can set up a whole region of several rows and columns to sum the numbers so your totals of income and expenses. I simply enter expenses as a negative number, and income as a positive number. I even got geeky and have columns for US dollars as well as Euros so that I can translate it all into dollars at the end.
The result? Well you start to see some very interesting things like:
– How much it costs to go on tour
– How much each gig “costs” so you get an idea of what fee you need to ask for
– Where you can cut expenses
– Did you break even and cover costs, and if so, when?
– Most importantly you can come home feeling good when you do earn money, it is inspiration and motivation for the next tour!
Note – even if you don’t earn money a tour can be successful, because the benefit can come from the relationships and fan base you are establishing. Think of that kind of scenario as an investment.
If you are paying band mates as you go rather than in a lump at the end, you can enter that as an expense on a given day – so that the 50 bucks here and there can all be accounted for in case of misunderstandings.
The numbers do not lie. It is totally enlightening to see the numbers added up, and if the spreadsheet does it properly, there is little room for error, as long as it’s set up right.
As musicians we think like artists and not accountants, so this activity may not come naturally. However as we move into the 21st century, we have to be responsible in new ways. By taking care of ourselves financially we end up taking care of ourselves emotionally and that becomes our physical and musical well being too!
These all are in support of the music, even though they may seem like distractions. So – fire up your spreadheet software (excel, apple works, open office – whatever) and start fooling around with this idea. You’ll be glad you did, and this will help your musical life too!