During an episode of Let There Be Talk podcast, Mastodon axeman Bill Kelliher talked about the prospect of earning money from touring.
He said (transcribed by UG):
“I’ve done the math. And sometimes it’s a well-paying job. We did this a couple of years ago, we flew to Australia and we were gonna make $120,000. That was the gross for like three or four shows. And that looks great on paper. ‘Holy sh*t! $120,000 for three shows? That’s great!’
“But guess what? When we ended up flying over there with our crew of 12 guys. Because we have to have our crew, our production, our lights, our sound, our sound guy, flying all your gear there, renting stuff, all the internal flights… By the time we got home, our management was making more than we were. They were taking 20% off the top, $24,000, and we were negative $2,000 I think.
“I was like ‘How can this f*cking be?’ This is so upside down that I’m just sick to my stomach. We would have never gone over there to do this tour if we knew we were gonna come home negative.
“Because it’s just so upside down. Because they don’t consider ‘Oh, it’s gonna cost you guys $70,000 to do the show.’ They don’t tell you that ahead of time really.
“But I don’t wanna talk sh*t because our management is some of the best in the business.
Who is it?
“RSE, Rick Sales. We love those guys. It’s business, that’s what they do, that’s what we do. They’ve made us who we are today. And it comes with a price obviously.
“But a lot of things have to change and I really feel strongly about that. Because it’s not like 1980 or 1990 even, it’s 2018 and there’s no money coming in from record sales. If there were, it would be a different story. It would be like ‘Okay, we could take a couple of losses on tours here and there because we’re gonna make up for it with the record sales at home.’ But it’s not that.”
He also added:
“Believe me, we do pretty well because we tour so much. But it’s like what happens that day when someone gets sick? I’m 47, I can’t do this forever. It’s too hard. I have a family, I have a life, I have kids growing up that I’d like to actually be there for the birthdays, take them on a vacation… Which we do, but I feel really like an absent parent most of the time.
“Again, I chose this life to do. And I know there’s guys that drive trucks for a living who are gone. They have families too. That’s how I feel – either I’m a truck driver or I’m in the service. Because I’m gone most of the time. My kids are out here now with me, which is great and I love it, but it’s not the same.”
He also reflected on how the fans might not always be aware of how hard touring is:
“It makes me frustrated. Because… I understand, when I was a kid and I saw like Metallica come through, or Overkill come through, or Obituary, or whatever… I just assumed ‘These guys are on a huge stage, they have a huge tour bus, they must be doing great.’ Little did I know all that money is really borrowed money from the record company and you owe every cent of it back. You’re watching those ‘Behind the Music’ on VH1…
“Look at like Michael Jackson and Prince – these guys owed money all over the place. Managers took advantage of them, it’s just sickening. You look at them and you think That guy’s set for the rest of his life. Why are they still touring?’ Look at Metallica, why are they still touring?
“I mean, I think they are an exception to the rule. I do believe that they’re very wealthy and do well. They were selling records back then and they were probably really smart about it and put into investments. A lot of young musicians, they see that false hope, it’s like ‘I just want to be on the stage, I don’t care, I’ll sign my rights away.’
“Our first couple o record deals, that’s what they wanted. They wanted 100% of all our publishing, they wanted everything. And we didn’t know how that worked. We were just like ‘We gotta get a lawyer but we don’t have any money for a lawyer. And we never knew the band would be this big. We just assumed we’d be in a van, I don’t know.
“They kinda try to force you and pinch you into that, you don’t know, you’re naive at that age. So that’s how they get a lot of these people.”