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How to build a Music Builds tour

[img_assist|nid=793|title=|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=132|height=201]The Music Builds tour with Third Day, Switchfoot, Robert Randolph and the Family Band, and Jars of Clay is well underway.  In two weeks, I’ll be hitting my local tour stop.  It seems like yesterday I first heard of the tour.  But it was late March/early April when I caught initial information about the tour.  Then, the morning after the Music Builds launch party at the Wildhorse Saloon in Nashville this past April, I attended a workshop titled, “A New Perspective on Touring” with Bruce Flohr and Shawn McSpadden of Redlight Management.  What does that workshop have to do with Music Builds?  Well, not only does Redlight Management service three of the four bands, they also have a big part in forming the tour.

Being a huge fan of Switchfoot, I eat up anything to do with Music Builds.  So I was excited to learn a bit more from a touring perspective.  By now if you are reading this, you probably know about the tour connection with Habitat for Humanity and that the bands are scheduled to trek to outdoor amphitheaters in 23 cities from now until early October.  Here are some more interesting points I learned about the Music Builds concept, along with my own thoughts as a fan.

Though I have not heard much about the side stages since that workshop, other than the addition of Red on a small handful of dates this year, the idea of Music Builds is to put together a package that includes the four main stage acts along with side stage bands.  It is the hope that Music Builds will become Christian music’s version of Projekt Revolution, a traveling music festival with two stages hosted by Linkin Park.  The sort of constant summer annual event where the family plans, “We are going to go this year,” perhaps before even knowing who is scheduled to perform.

Bruce explained, “I think it is a real flagship moment for the [Christian] genre because it is the first time that people have packaged these artists together and put them in sheds and hoping seven, eight, nine, ten-thousand people show up.  And a lot of people are taking a huge risk here.  Live Nation is taking a risk.  We as a management company are taking a risk.  All the bands are taking a risk.  Because if it doesn’t work, I think everybody is going to say, ‘Well see, Christian music doesn’t sell.  Nobody wants to see Christian music live.’  And if it becomes a yearly thing, that becomes a vehicle for bands to use as a platform.”

So what will make Music Builds a success?  Bruce explained, “We are pulling our resources together, i.e. money so we can put on a show that makes all of those bands look larger than life.  So that after the Music Builds tour, every one of those bands does not go back to a smaller venue.”  Here is where I almost fell off my chair.  “What?  Take Switchfoot out of the club scene and onto the arena scene!!??  No way!  Switchfoot fans will fight that one!!”  Sure, could Switchfoot seek new heights as a band as a result of the exposure on the Music Builds tour?  Yes.  But Switchfoot’s amazing live experience exists best when everyone is pushed up against the barricade, smelling each others armpits, screaming, “We are one tonight!”  How can you sing that song successfully with seats between you and the next fan?  I have tried it.  It’s not fun.

The idea of reasonable ticket prices (along with corporate sponsorships) was explained as a way to bring out more people.  The average number of 7,500 per night was relayed as a successful number.  But when a member of the audience during the Q&A session said it might be more like 6,000, the Redlight Management folks said they could live with that. However, what might be a reasonable ticket price to some, may not be reasonable to others.

It was much to my dismay when I saw the ticket prices just weeks later as pre-sales were opening up.  The Switchfoot message boards were a flurry of activity with discussions of high prices and sadness because many would have to skip this tour.  Sure, maybe the lawn tickets are closer to what a Switchfoot fan might pay, but who wants to enjoy Switchfoot sitting on a blanket far away from the stage?  (And something I did not think of until I read the reports on the Switchfoot message boards from the first couple of shows – will Switchfoot be able to rock out for a crowd who might be more interested in calmer music?  Apparently not, and while any Switchfoot live experience is good for most of their fans, some may be disappointed to have paid so much money for a milder Switchfoot set list.)

I pondered what the audience mix would be for each band.  I also wonder if those outside the Christian music scene will attend.  After all, each band has had exposure to the general market.  I am not familiar with Robert Randolph, but I know he has played some larger clubs in my market.  Jars of Clay used to have a large following, but I am not sure where they fit these days.  Third Day fans have filled small and large arenas in recent years.  Switchfoot has done well in 2,000 person clubs, and did have some larger arena shows while on tour with Relient K.  Basically, I figured that since Third Day fans are used to forking out the big bucks for a concert in larger venue, they would be filling the expensive seats up front.  Again, from the reports I read on Switchfoot’s boards, this may be a true statement.

Time will tell if this concept continues in the years to come.  In the meantime, good things are happening with Habitat for Humanity.  Stay tuned here for interviews with folks who won trips to help Habitat and the bands on a build site.  Also, we are working on some unique interviews with the bands that you won’t want to miss!