Tour managers are finding creative ways to keep their acts on the road as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has seen petrol prices in Australia from $1.70 to well over $2 a litre.
One working for a major rock singer is currently weighing up options in getting his production from Adelaide to WA without blowing the budget.
One is to put the 22-ton truck on the train in case it’s cheaper, especially as the petrol bowsers along the Nullabor tend to whip up prices.
Another is to switch to a smaller truck and leave the crew behind, and pick up replacements on the other side.
Most small to medium indie acts on average put aside 20% of the tour budget on petrol.
With costs escalating, their tour managers are finding places where they can cut down costs.
Some are talking to clubs about paying larger guarantees to justify long drives, or slashing lighting and sound production, or pulling back on the length of runs or squeezing themselves and their acts into smaller vehicles, or risking taking more merchandise items on the road.
Multi-date residencies in one city could return to the fore.
Instead of one large venue, they split up into a number of smaller venues.
These could include playing the back garden or basement of a competition winner or superfan.
Let’s not forget more and more councils are amping their night time economies by introducing regulations which allow live acts to perform in shop fronts and empty government buildings.
These make economic sense. So too do multi-act bills, which means petrol costs are shared AND reach into each other’s audiences.
Even the most leftist capitalist-hating band might be forced to sulkily look for corporate sponsorship or government grants.
Will oil companies sponsor gas cards for touring acts as a marketing ploy?
Is it better to switch to using free parking at hotels rather than buying more convenient parking passes in advance?
These last two are ideas from the United States where petrol has leaped from an average of US$3.40 per gallon last December to $4.33 in March.
Tour costs have doubled, even tripled there.
A March report in Billboard magazine showed how the band alt. j were badly hit on their current arena and theatre run through the US with four trucks and four buses.
“It’s out of control,” their tour manager Maarten Cobbaut told the magazine.
“It’s going to cost us an extra $30,000 to $40,000 in fuel. That is significant. That is something I’ve never seen before.”
One cost-cutting measure by Cobbaut is to build in more overnight breaks between long drives, saving between $6,000 to $10,000 so they don’t have to hire a second driver to relieve the first.
It’s complicated, but, he says, “Basically, that’s what you need to do — be creative. It’s a lot of work and a lot of puzzling.”
This couldn’t come at a worse time when Aussie acts are finally returning to the road after two years of lock-ins, social restrictions and border closures.
Maybe Australian acts can take a leaf from the legendary hit makers from Dubbo, The Reels.
In 1980 the innovative band were the first to replace guitars with synthesisers as the lead instruments, and use headsets instead of traditional microphones.
In July that year they undertook The Reels By Rail Tour, using trains to get to all the cities along the East Coast and playing a live set when they arrived at the train station.
It was regarded as a brilliant marketing stroke by their manager Sebastian Chase, and gained amazing mainstream media interest.
Chase, a pioneer of Australia’s indie scene, went on to set up MGM Distribution which handles ARCA’s Desk Tape Series.