Gas Prices Will Stifle The Music World Too

(Oil prices have spiked over $15/barrel in the past week amid turmoil in the Middle East, with gas prices to follow. This is a guest post from Jeremy Mackinder, the bass player and manager for the honky tonk band Whitey Morgan & The 78’s)

So, everyone is feeling the pinch at the pump today. I’m going to do my best and avoid the politics of this here, because there are a ton of them, but, this is how it directly affects the music you are hoping to see this summer.

Gas prices are expected to reach a national average of $5 per gallon by mid-summer. Even at $3.25 (which is what I paid this morning), it’s still hard. As my band budgeted this last tour we got hit by it. You work out your estimated gas cost, overestimate a bit and hope nothing on the van breaks so you come out a little ahead. Of course, that didn’t happen this time as gas prices shifted throughout the week, and like everyone else, we have to reassess summer tour plans over the next few days.

To put it in perspective, we’re based in Flint, MI. To hit the road from Flint and play in Chicago, IL where our label is based and we play frequently, its approximately 275 miles. According to at this moment with our van and trailer, it comes out around $110 to get there. That’s just to get to a show in the next major city west of us. By the middle of the summer, we’d be looking closer to $170.

A $60 increase is huge. It’s the cost of a hotel room. A cheap motel room after taxes actually. When you consider that into your budget, doing a 30 date tour will cost the typical band at the level we are (bands not in a bus, traveling by van and trailer) you have to find another $1800 in your tour plans to stay at the same level you were at.

We don’t exactly live in the lap of luxury on the road. It isn’t caviar dreams and champagne wishes. It’s cheap whiskey and sharing an edge of a bed with a bandmate, hoping the room isn’t disease ridden, and that’s if you can afford a room and aren’t sleeping on a generous fan’s couch or floor.

This will stifle tours. Bands will have to reassess the idea of how far out they travel to each gig. Hell, it even invades your income at home as it costs you extra gas to get to the show that you had hoped you’d make a little extra cash at. Like everyone else who goes to work, this is our livelihood and it just took a major blow.

That’s not to say that the “big” boys won’t get hurt by it either. Imagine doing a big elaborate tour such as Kid Rock’s or Kenny Chesney’s summer tour. A convoy of semi’s and busses running across the country, with their big gas sucking engines running hard all day, and running hard all day at a 50% increase of the original planned cost. They’ll feel the pinch as well, and most major label acts are struggling to keep their income anywhere near where it was a few years ago.

I’m not saying there’s any sympathy to be doled out here, and I’m not complaining. I play music for a living, it’s the greatest job in the world, if the rewards I lived for were monetary, I would have found something else to do long, long ago.

Each and every person in this country will feel the impact of gas prices increasing. Your food prices will go up, your travel hopes will have to be suspended (think of how many of you have to reconsider what festivals you can afford to travel to) and jobs will disappear as companies try to maintain their business with increased expenses.

This country has been through this before. It will again. But, everyone was already hurting pretty badly before this and as far as touring acts go, you can expect to see cancellations or just shorter, smaller tours. The big bands and the small bands will have to assess the value of touring this summer in the wake of this.

The real losers here are the fans who won’t get as many of the acts they are hoping to see in their towns this year. The real question I guess would be, even if the acts came, could their fans afford to see them?