Touring is one of the main reasons why people start bands. The idea of loading the van, hitting the road, and making new fans is stuff of the American Dream. But the reality for most emerging independent musicians is that touring is a money pit. You’re lucky to break even, if that.
Some bands, however, have discovered a new frontier up north -- way north -- where they can actually make decent money on the road.
Alameda is an indie band based in Portland, Oregon. They’ve been together for four years now. And they’re fairly popular in the Portland music scene, regularly playing the city’s bigger venues. Yet they still barely break even on their tours out of town. So this summer, Alameda decided to try something new.
“What attracted me to Alaska is the sense of going somewhere I have no frame of reference to,” says Stirling Myles, front man and songwriter of Alameda. “It’s part of the United States, but it’s something different. And I think everyone thinks it’s, in a strange way, an exotic place to go.”
So how did Alameda find out about touring in Alaska?
Evan Phillips runs the Monolith Agency, a small boutique booking agency in Anchorage. With Monolith’s help, Alameda was able to secure guarantees that ranged from $300 to $600 per show to play in venues, dive bars, public parks, and even houses.
Phillips and his partners started Monolith four years ago. And they’ve already brought a bunch of groups up to Alaska. He says the good pay for bands is simply a matter of supply and demand.
“The cool thing about Alaska is that it’s not nearly as saturated with bands or musicians,” Phillips says.
And unlike other places, touring Alaska isn’t just about playing music. It’s also about experiencing the landscape.
Phillips says, “I think what we’re doing is really cool because we’re essentially giving bands an opportunity to come up here and have a paid vacation.”
“You get to really explore, so like you know, when we were in Seward, Alaska we played a set and the next day climbed a mountain. You know?” says Alameda front man Stirling Myles. “And the next night we played another set.”
Phillips says an Alaskan tour isn’t for everyone. You’ll be contending with long nights and sometimes drunk hecklers. But Myles thinks it’s worth it.
“You can definitely make a chunk of change while being up there, but it was more about the experience surrounding the show. It’s more about you have to enjoy the day as well as the night,” says Myles
And during the Alaskan summer, those days stretch on for more than 20 hours.