Do Great Live Bands Need an Album to Tour?

by -

So I was catching up on some of the more mainstream industry publications and came across this Billboard article about Pearl Jam’s big Spring and Summer tour plans. The premise is that the band, despite not having a new album in the works, is slated for a bunch of big shows this Spring and Summer, including a recently confirmed headlining slot at Lollapalooza.

While we here at LMB appreciate any mainstream attention to “touring bands,” this ‘no album’ angle really jumped out at me. Why is it such a big deal that Pearl Jam — a long-time ‘road warrior’ live band — is touring without releasing an album? Why has this “norm” completely perpetuated the mainstream music industry? Can’t Pearl Jam just tour because they’re a great live band?

I admit that this is a bit of a small gripe, and it is also an angle even I will often include here at LMB. I’m sure that the Billboard editors (or headline writers) were just looking for another angle with which to cover a Pearl Jam tour. But, in a day where it seems like it is finally becoming more mainstream knowledge that artists can often be more successful by touring, do we really need this constant implication that a band has to release an album and then go on tour in support of that album?

What do you think?

  • HW

    Billboard Magazine is a Record Industry mag – they chart record sales. It’s natural that that would be the slant they’d take.

  • HW

    Billboard Magazine is a Record Industry mag – they chart record sales. It’s natural that that would be the slant they’d take.

  • hossenfross

    I completely agree with you, man. I don’t think it is necessary for bands to have a new album out in order to tour. As a matter of fact, after thinking back over the years I’ve worked in the music industry, I’d argue that some of the best shows I’ve seen have been by bands that weren’t out touring in support of a new album.

    I think there’s more freedom when a band just strikes out…it allows them to be more experimental with their set list, not having to devote the majority of it to new material. But it also allows them to try out really new material, stuff that hasn’t made it onto an album, to see if the crowd responds to it. There’s been a couple of times where I distinctly remember bands asking the audience if they liked a particular song or not.

  • hossenfross

    I completely agree with you, man. I don’t think it is necessary for bands to have a new album out in order to tour. As a matter of fact, after thinking back over the years I’ve worked in the music industry, I’d argue that some of the best shows I’ve seen have been by bands that weren’t out touring in support of a new album.

    I think there’s more freedom when a band just strikes out…it allows them to be more experimental with their set list, not having to devote the majority of it to new material. But it also allows them to try out really new material, stuff that hasn’t made it onto an album, to see if the crowd responds to it. There’s been a couple of times where I distinctly remember bands asking the audience if they liked a particular song or not.

  • http://glidemagazine.com/hiddentrack Ace Cowboy

    “I admit that this is a small gripe”

    You said it all right there…this is, in fact, the smallest gripe ever. But ain’t that what blogs are for, really?

    HW is 100% right.

  • http://glidemagazine.com/hiddentrack Ace Cowboy

    “I admit that this is a small gripe”

    You said it all right there…this is, in fact, the smallest gripe ever. But ain’t that what blogs are for, really?

    HW is 100% right.

  • http://www.livemusicblog.com WHITperson

    Definitely some good points, but perhaps a bit more specific to this example than the way I was actually thinking about it.

    Sure, it’s definitely a small item, but sometimes the smallest items can serve as examples of a long-term trend. And this is just another example of something I’ve observed over time: that album and records have often been THE industry focus, and touring is simply what bands do to promote them. By that general trend/tendency, bands that have been quite successful in ways other than record sales, have long been ignored by mainstream industry folks….folks who are now slowly starting to see that artists who can generate buzz and revenue by touring can thrive and don’t have to scramble to find ways to deal with a changing (dying?) business model. Of course, I think the best artists will properly mix all aspects of the business to thrive, but that will usually include lots of touring.

    And sure, Billboard runs the charts, so they certainly have an interest in the album angle. But they’ve also continued to expand their coverage to other content areas, including touring and the Indies. So why not adjust to those areas instead of making them fit to their album-centric frame of reference?

  • http://www.livemusicblog.com WHITperson

    Definitely some good points, but perhaps a bit more specific to this example than the way I was actually thinking about it.

    Sure, it’s definitely a small item, but sometimes the smallest items can serve as examples of a long-term trend. And this is just another example of something I’ve observed over time: that album and records have often been THE industry focus, and touring is simply what bands do to promote them. By that general trend/tendency, bands that have been quite successful in ways other than record sales, have long been ignored by mainstream industry folks….folks who are now slowly starting to see that artists who can generate buzz and revenue by touring can thrive and don’t have to scramble to find ways to deal with a changing (dying?) business model. Of course, I think the best artists will properly mix all aspects of the business to thrive, but that will usually include lots of touring.

    And sure, Billboard runs the charts, so they certainly have an interest in the album angle. But they’ve also continued to expand their coverage to other content areas, including touring and the Indies. So why not adjust to those areas instead of making them fit to their album-centric frame of reference?

  • Evan

    The whole touring after an album release is just for money. It’s amazing to watch how much an artists “fan base” will fluctuate depending where the band is on the album cycle.

    This is true unless a band has such a large fan base they can tour on and sell out stadiums regardless of when it happens. Pearl Jam is a great example. As well as Radiohead with their tour last summer.

    However, I don’t think that Pearl Jam’s tour can be considered not on their last album cycle since it was released less than a year ago and many bands tours last up to 18 months.

  • Evan

    The whole touring after an album release is just for money. It’s amazing to watch how much an artists “fan base” will fluctuate depending where the band is on the album cycle.

    This is true unless a band has such a large fan base they can tour on and sell out stadiums regardless of when it happens. Pearl Jam is a great example. As well as Radiohead with their tour last summer.

    However, I don’t think that Pearl Jam’s tour can be considered not on their last album cycle since it was released less than a year ago and many bands tours last up to 18 months.

  • robotic

    back in the day before everybody had a recording studio in their basement, bands routinely toured before they ever thought about stepping foot in a studio, including led zeppelin and the beatles, for example

  • robotic

    back in the day before everybody had a recording studio in their basement, bands routinely toured before they ever thought about stepping foot in a studio, including led zeppelin and the beatles, for example

  • stems

    You clarified your point much better in your comment, WHIT, and Evan is on to something when he notes how a “fan base” will fluctuate depending on an artist’s album cycle.

    But I think the discussion this really leads to isn’t so much about the tours that follow an album release; it’s about the press coverage that precedes it. It seems like bands only grant interviews and editors only throw together fluff features when somebody has something for sale. Mysterious hype and vocal fans that spring out from the lichens are often premeditated by a media blitz. I can think of tons of recent examples — from RATM before Battle for Los Angeles to Death Cab for Cutie before Transatlanticism to the Mars Volta before Francis the Mute.

    Any band that is worth its salt will tour constantly. It keeps the creative juices flowing and allows material to be crowd-tested without pimping out an A&R; man. Record sales and mass magazines are part of a dying business model. Blogs, bootlegs, and bands making their bucks from tickets and merchandise sales are what will keep music alive in the 21st century.

  • stems

    You clarified your point much better in your comment, WHIT, and Evan is on to something when he notes how a “fan base” will fluctuate depending on an artist’s album cycle.

    But I think the discussion this really leads to isn’t so much about the tours that follow an album release; it’s about the press coverage that precedes it. It seems like bands only grant interviews and editors only throw together fluff features when somebody has something for sale. Mysterious hype and vocal fans that spring out from the lichens are often premeditated by a media blitz. I can think of tons of recent examples — from RATM before Battle for Los Angeles to Death Cab for Cutie before Transatlanticism to the Mars Volta before Francis the Mute.

    Any band that is worth its salt will tour constantly. It keeps the creative juices flowing and allows material to be crowd-tested without pimping out an A&R man. Record sales and mass magazines are part of a dying business model. Blogs, bootlegs, and bands making their bucks from tickets and merchandise sales are what will keep music alive in the 21st century.

  • http://homemademusicvideos.blogspot.com Rochelle Nikita aka Muzician

    When I think of a band on tour, the first thought that immediately pops into my mind is that they’re trying to promote their new album. For up-and-coming artists, I think this is a fantastic way to launch themselves as professionals into a music industry. But for the mainstream bands that have already made a name for themselves, I think it’s give or take. If they have a new album, great; let their fans know about it and give them a chance to buy it at top dollar from them after the concert. But if not, I would consider their show to be more of an act of appreciation for their following – they’re already getting part of the ticket price, so it’s no loss to the band.

  • http://homemademusicvideos.blogspot.com Rochelle Nikita aka Muzician

    When I think of a band on tour, the first thought that immediately pops into my mind is that they’re trying to promote their new album. For up-and-coming artists, I think this is a fantastic way to launch themselves as professionals into a music industry. But for the mainstream bands that have already made a name for themselves, I think it’s give or take. If they have a new album, great; let their fans know about it and give them a chance to buy it at top dollar from them after the concert. But if not, I would consider their show to be more of an act of appreciation for their following – they’re already getting part of the ticket price, so it’s no loss to the band.

  • http://www.myspace.com/theatheband Thea

    When you go see a band on tour and you like them the first thing you do is buy there cd.

    a href=http://www.myspace.com/theatheband title=MYSPACE.COM/THEAtheBAND by GOLDEN TICKET MULTIMEDIA INC., on Flickr rel=nofollow/a

  • http://www.myspace.com/theatheband Thea

    When you go see a band on tour and you like them the first thing you do is buy there cd.

    a href=http://www.myspace.com/theatheband title=MYSPACE.COM/THEAtheBAND by GOLDEN TICKET MULTIMEDIA INC., on Flickr rel=nofollow/a