An interviewer recently asked me a simple question: "Why are you touring?"
I gave a short answer, but really, there are plenty of reasons an artist might decide to go out on the road and perform concerts night after night.
It might be simply a matter of economics. At a point in history where people are not buying enough music to allow artists the sole vocation of creating music, concerts are certainly a factor. People can support an artist by purchasing a concert ticket and maybe a T-shirt at a show. This gives confidence to promoters who have to wonder if the gamble they make on an artist is a good one or not. If fans don't show up for concerts, artists will take their nomadic circuses elsewhere, since promoters don't usually gamble on the same act more than once.
Then there is the record cycle. This is the space usually three months before a record releases, and six months to a year after its release. Artists tour and perform specific songs to promote the new albums, bolstering sales and awareness—all while solidifying a brand with images and a performance aesthetic that helps define who the artist is and wants to be.
Some artists tour because they are in demand. The tour is more of a response to a cultural awareness or exposure that placed them in the public conscience for a given moment—i.e., striking while the iron is hot. Others tour to build the necessary army of fans who push the artist into the public conscience.
Other artists tour with a transactional mindset—to capitalize on their success, ride the wave and suck as much life as possible out of their fifteen seconds of fame. It's akin to a professional athlete who knows they only have a few solid years of wear and tear on their bodies, so they push for the greatest amounts of money, sponsorships, and endorsements as quickly as possible. And who could blame them? Artists don't get much of an opportunity for longevity, and many new artists don't really want it anyway.
And then there are artists who feel they need the attention and applause. Their hunger for the spotlight is the central tributary that feeds their significance, and without the attention, they wither.
Finally, some artists love performing because they consider their music to be a gift, rather than a means to get. I have watched artists sing to people believing that the song is meant for a specific purpose in that place and time—to heal a wound, to meet a need, to provide a gift to a single person.
'A disinterested love'
Music is for giving away. It is a form of "disinterested love," a term I borrow from Thomas Merton. It means a love that has no interest at stake. It is love without an end. Artists who carry this kind of belief find their music to be purposeful and their touring to be missional in some form or fashion.
I believe that most artists navigate touring with a cocktail of all of the above motivations.
As we recently began a new tour, I've had to again ask myself, "Why?"
We don't have a record to promote; we are at least nine months from releasing a new album. We don't have a current surge of awareness in the cultural conscience. We are not a new band in search of a growing army to push us into the spotlight.
I am touring because I want to remember what it is like to love music, love the people who sing along, and love the communities where our music is born.
Jars of Clay turned 18 years old in 2012. We are touring in clubs and small theaters because we realized that it matters that we play music in places where people go to experience live music because they love music.