The Long and Winding Road: Musicians on Tour from the Big Band Era to Rock and Roll

36 Pages Posted: 26 Sep 2017

Date Written: September 24, 2017


Since the earliest troubadours, traveling from town to town to perform has been the primary way that musicians have made a living. In the 21st century, the rise of the Internet and digital music has meant a decline in recording royalties and touring has become increasingly important to a musician’s total income. Organizing a tour can be a complicated process, and there are components that can be controlled by the tour manager (hiring the staff, booking hotels, and so on) and those that cannot. Not controllable is uncertainty of the weather and unseen disasters. But also important in the efficiency and profitability of a tour is the state of technology. For the tours we examine, it is the transportation technology and the type of venues that are available to the artist that are crucial. The research question addressed is given changes in musical tastes, and the technology of transportation and venues, are tours today as efficient as those three-quarters of a century ago? We provide case studies of tours from different time periods and musical styles to provide a preliminary answer to this question using miles traveled and time spent on the road as measures of efficiency. Our hypothesis is that tours are most efficient when, given that management has enough experience, there is an appropriate transportation technology, and appropriate sized and equipped venues. We find that in general touring has been efficient measured in these terms. Big Bands mostly utilized trains and buses as a means of getting to the many ballrooms in small and large towns throughout the country. During the early rock and roll era of the 1950s, buses, and on occasion trains, were used as the means of travel between the various venues. Today, touring is by a combination of planes and buses traveling along interstate highways and between airport hub cities. This paper examines big band tours of Glenn Miller and Lawrence Welk and the modern touring of The Beatles, Paul McCartney and the Drive By Truckers. These tours are then compared with the infamous Winter Dance Party in 1959 during which three of the stars of the tour died in an airplane crash: Buddy Holly, J. P. ”The Big Bopper” Richardson, and Ritchie Valens. We find this latter tour to be relatively inefficient by our measures and attribute this to the limitations of transportation and the availability of venues.

Keywords: Music Industry, Entrepreneurship, Touring

JEL Classification: L26, Z1

Suggested Citation

Phillips, Ronnie J., The Long and Winding Road: Musicians on Tour from the Big Band Era to Rock and Roll (September 24, 2017). Available at SSRN: or

Ronnie J. Phillips (Contact Author)

Colorado State University ( email )

Fort Collins, CO 80523-1771
United States


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