David Byrne Journal: 08.08.09: Edinburgh — So, How Does It Work on the Bus?
I went for a walk in a sheep pasture this afternoon and wondered to myself why it is that friends and acquaintances ALWAYS, without fail, marvel at how we get around by bus, while journalists NEVER ask about such pragmatic or mundane matters.
David Byrne on touring. We tour in a similar fashion, minus the hotel rooms. We get a hotel room every once in a while, usually on a travel day or day off, and sleep in the bunks. David Byrne may be a smaller fish than U2, but he is a much bigger fish than OL + LN.
On touring to sell albums:
In the past, live shows were viewed as loss leaders to sell albums, but I doubt that too many folks believe that anymore… though shows do make people a teeny bit aware of a new record. Record companies who espoused the loss leader approach used to advance money to up and coming acts to cover tour losses — but I don’t know anyone who does that now.
We saw a lot of other tourbusses on the road this Summer. Many of them were pulling trailers with gear. Bands might have used an 18-wheeler to carry band-gear, lights and sound equipment ten years ago, but now many use the venues’ lights and sound and only carry what fits into a trailer, pulled by the bus.
Here is a point I haven’t seen anybody make: from the Sixties to the late Nineties, buying CDs (or cassettes or LPs) was not unlike supporting a museum or funding the military with taxes, like building roads from gasoline taxes, in that the many people buying albums funded what the concert-going audience exerienced. Many people bought albums, which enabled bands to tour at a loss or barely breaking even. Concerts were seen as advertising and most acts did not expect to make money touring. In fact, as David Byrne mentioned, touring was often supported by advances from the record labels (((which had to be paid back by the artist, of course!))).
My point is that because bands sold a lot more albums in the Nineties, they could afford to carry their own lights and sound, a number of roadies and roll down the highway in two or more busses. One might say they could put on a better show then, since they had funding in form of album-sales. Take away the album sales in the 21st Century and suddenly most bands have to tighten the belt. So, while people save 15 bucks on buying an album that they can find for free on the interwebs, it also means they reduce the money a touring act can spend on their show. Like with taxes, many paid for the concert-going enjoyment of some. I am guessing that the people who used to experience a tour represented maybe 10% of the people who bought the album.
Then again, maybe we (((speaking of most touring bands))) trimmed some fat off of touring. While the musicians and crew may hear the difference between carrying sound equipment of a certain quality to every venue, the audiences do not generally hear that difference.