‘And now the end is near, and so I face the final curtain’
Next week I start the final leg of my Theatre Tour…my 2020 Theatre Tour.
Thank goodness back in 2019, when I was considering merchandise options for the live dates, I decided against producing one of those tour T-Shirts where they list the dates and venues. If I had gone ahead it would have so many crossings out it would have had to be the length of one of those old night shirts.
Although I might like to think of myself as an artiste I am in reality an SME, a Small to Medium Size Enterprise. The idea of flying to the Czech Republic to record the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra is tremendously exciting and whilst it might be a wonderful addition to the music I had already recorded in my shed, was it a sensible business decision? Could I afford to do it financially, could I afford not to do it musically?
The world was a very different place back in 2019 and into the start of 2020. Although we had left the EU we were still in a transition period so making arrangements to travel to Prague to record the orchestra were tricky, but really no more complicated than booking a session in London. The pound was at a pretty good rate to the Euro so the costs of food, accommodation and paying Czech musicians and studio bills were remarkably reasonable.
I had already had all of the publicity shots taken at The Hyst in Swansea High Street sat at my Grand Piano. Posters and flyers had been designed and printed. All in all, by the time I added up the costs of recording, design, advertising and CD production I had made quite a considerable investment.
I remember sitting at my desk looking at a spreadsheet. It’s all very well booking everything and hoping for the best, but the figures need to add up or at least have the possibility of adding up. One side of the spreadsheet was easy, the costs.
It was straightforward calculating air fares, arrangers fees and CD production costs but how was the project going to pay for itself? If it had no hope of balancing the books then in reality it was all going to be a very expensive vanity project.
This is where experience comes in and where you simply have to make educated guesses. What I have found over the past few years is the way we consume music is very different to 20 years ago. Back then people bought their music one CD or cassette at a time. By 2020 it was quite obvious that people had got out of that habit, well most people had got out of the habit.
I think it took some of us older people a little more time. Yes I had a streaming account which meant I had access to almost every record ever made but I still found myself wandering around the supermarkets looking at the special CD compilations which cost £3 on special offer.
When you make a record there are a number of ways you can make some money. If a record gets played on the radio or TV there is a royalty payment. It takes anything up to a year to come through, but the system is pretty solid and works. The only problem is you have no idea until the royalty statement comes months later as to how much money you made. I decided to look back at previous statements, hope for a 10% increase to reflect a new album release backed with a tour and added it to the spreadsheet.
Then there are the streaming sites. There is a reason that Daniel Ek, the owner of Spotify was able to make a bid of £1.8 billion for Arsenal back in 2021. Streaming services make a lot of money, sadly the artists themselves don’t make a fortune from each individual play. Having said that every half penny per play can add up so I made a guess and added it to the spreadsheet.
You can make money from YouTube plays. There are some people living locally who make a very good living from posting videos on subjects as diverse as computer games or reviewing new gear. As with all things its not as easy as it looks. It takes hard work, dedication and persistence. You need at least 1000 subscribers before you can ‘monetise’ your videos and then of course there is the cost of making the videos in the first place. Back in 2020 I had 500 subscribers, so I decided to put £0 in the YouTube cell of my spreadsheet.
My big hope was going to be touring. In the old days the music business model was you toured to promote your new record, these days you almost give your music away to sell tickets.
Spring Tour 2019
In the spring of 2019 my tour had included Swansea Grand, Wales Millennium Centre and Ffwrnes Llanelli. With a new CD we were confident that our 2020 Tour would include more dates and draw even bigger audiences. With that in mind we initially booked 13 venues and planned to extend the tour into the autumn.
I did say people don’t buy CDs anymore but that’s not quite true. People do like to take something away from a night out to remember a special event. At the end of my concerts I always go out to the foyer for a bit of a ‘meet and greet’, to chat and to sign the CDs. I also decided to buy all of my autobiographies from my publisher. ‘Old Enough to Know Better. was published in 2010 and they were down to their last few hundred so I made an offer they couldn’t refuse and took all the stock off their hands.
By the time I had added estimated ticket receipts together with CD and Book sales into the spreadsheet it looked like I had a fighting chance of making things work. I wasn’t going to be able to retire at the end of 2020 but hopefully all bills would be paid and there would be bread on the table……
Well, you know the rest of the story. Theatres closed and became Covid testing centres. Concert dates were postponed and then cancelled altogether. When theatres opened up for a short window in the summer of 2021 audiences were restricted and socially distanced and there were no opportunities for selling any merchandise at the end of a show. It was almost enough to make you give up.
I’ve always said to even consider becoming a musician you must be an optimist otherwise you wouldn’t give it a second thought. Next week I embark on the final leg of my 2020 tour. I start in the Parc and Dare on Thursday then on to Cardigan, Builth Wells and Ystradgynlais before the end of the month.
I suppose I must be the eternal optimist because when the tour ends I start work promoting the new Christmas CD and planning my 2023 tour. Now where did I put that spreadsheet?