Low Note 

High gas prices out of tune for touring musicians.

Ben Hutcherson is the lead guitarist for Memphis-based metal band Burial Within. The band just finished its third tour, but this time they've come home nearly empty-handed.

"From an artistic perspective, it's about getting our music and message out there, but lately, it's definitely not a money-making endeavor," Hutcherson says.

Going on the road has always been challenging for aspiring musicians, but with rising fuel costs, it's gotten even harder.

"When we went on our first tour, gas was around $2.80 a gallon. Now it's at $4, and we usually only get $75 to $100 for an out-of-town show during the week," Hutcherson says. "Gas prices definitely affect what we do and how we do it."

On its first tour, Burial Within booked venues that were four to six hours apart, but on its most recent tour, the band had to shorten the span to one to three hours drive time between shows.

"We had to cancel dates that weren't day trips, and we've become even more reliant on merchandise sales to cover inevitable losses," Hutcherson says. "If a show gets canceled or moved at the last minute, it can put us in the red. It's frustrating to come home from a tour with debt on our credit cards."

Local event promoters at Midtown bars Murphy's, Neil's, and the Hi-Tone haven't had much trouble booking bands, but higher gas prices have changed the face of the business.

Dan Holloway, who handles booking and promotion for the Hi-Tone, says the change has created a ripple effect across the music industry.

"We've had to offer more money because touring bands need more money for gas, and ticket prices have to go up to cover the increased guarantee," Holloway says. "We've cut our production fees in half to try and put a little extra in everybody's pockets."

Benny Carter, owner and booking agent for Murphy's, says that bands usually earn all of the cover charge from the door, but many times that isn't enough.

"I've noticed that at the end of the gigs, bands are asking for additional help, if the crowd liked the show, for any spare money to help with gas," Carter says. "If it was tough touring the United States before all of this, I know it is really tough now. ... I don't know how they do it."

For some, gas prices are high enough to keep them closer to home.

Sorghum Hill, a Memphis-based bluegrass band, recently was asked to perform a festival in Dixon, Missouri, 300 miles from Memphis.

"If our vehicle averages 15 miles per gallon — big enough to haul instruments and equipment — then we can figure 40 gallons of fuel at $4 per gallon. We may have to take two vehicles, so then double that cost. Local bands can get there much cheaper, so our pricing may keep us from getting the gig," says Phillip Cox, Sorghum Hill's guitarist and lead vocalist.

"We have to compare the cost of getting to the venue with the pay, and sometimes it doesn't make sense."


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