Why Cardi B Doesn’t Need to Go on Tour

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Dan Runcie

Cardi B (via Shutterstock)

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The Bronx rapper has made her money and built leverage from music festivals, residencies, and standalone shows.

Last week, Cardi B tweeted an insightful yet petty response to a Nicki Minaj fan who questioned why the “Bodak Yellow” rapper hasn’t gone on a major tour yet:

“Or maybe I’m doing festivals and independent solo concerts to prove that I need big tour deal check cause I sell shit out and I perform my ass off… and honey I’m making 750K to a million a show some people do less then that on tour due to stage budget. Learn the business”

The tweet has since been deleted, probably to keep the Barbz–Nicki’s fanbase–out of her mentions. All it takes is one subtweet to stir up drama. It reminds me of how LeBron James often retweets an account named ’73-9 and they LIED’— a not-so-subtle taunt at the 2016 Golden State Warriors. Random acts of pettiness always get noticed, especially by someone like me who spends too much time on Twitter!

Drama aside, Cardi’s tweet addressed an important distinction in live performance. Concerts drive artist revenue, but touring is expensive. An act like Cardi—who’s quickly risen from ‘Love & Hip-Hop’ to the global stage—might leave money on the table if she agrees to terms too early. Meanwhile, artists who wait too long may overestimate demand and scramble to recover costs. But with all the money Cardi earns from festivals, residencies, and standalone shows, does a major tour still make sense for her?

The high opportunity cost of touring

Today’s artists need their tours to look great both in person and on Instagram. Ray Winkler, CEO of Stufish Entertainment—the firm that designed Beyoncé and Jay Z’s On The Run II Tour— spoke on this last year in an interview with Amy X. Wang at Rolling Stone:

“So a show no longer starts when the curtain rises. The show starts the moment the first person takes a picture of it. Getting that moment right – making sure the show looks impressive and enticing before it starts – is a challenge you wouldn’t have thought about, 10 years ago.”

The same is technically true for music festivals, but the festival organizers share that responsibility. The festival’s brand is tied to each artist’s performance. It’s in the organizer’s best interest to help the artist put on the performance of a lifetime. The staff at Coachella and other well-run festivals have the infrastructure in place to maintain a minimum level of quality.

But that’s not the case with concert tours. Do you really think the event staff at the United Center is sweating about what Chris Brown’s upcoming concert will look like on Snapchat? For tours, that burden falls primarily on the act themselves. This includes costs for staging, lighting, transportation, and everything in-between. The more expansive the set, the larger the touring staff and capacity needed to haul equipment from city to city.

This is one of the reasons why touring has a high opportunity cost. If artists make the same amount of money with larger venues and fewer shows, it reduces time and money spent. Now, fans may miss the experience at smaller venues. But it’s a tradeoff every mainstream act needs to consider.

I wrote about this last year in Why Choosing the Right Concert Venue Matters:

Two weeks ago, Aubrey & The Three Migos performed four shows in Madison Square Garden and three shows at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. According to Deadspin, it cost $400,000 in 2006 to rent Madison Square Garden. With inflation, that’s just under $500,000 in today’s dollars. If we assume that rental costs are the same at Barclays, that’s $3.5 million in venue rental costs for the seven shows. These shows were spread across eight nights, which means at least nine nights of hotel and hospitality costs for the entire team in New York City. That’s easily totals over $500 per person, per night.

Instead of hosting these short-term residencies in different NYC boroughs, Drake and Migos can meet the same demand with two concerts on back-to-back nights at the 82,500-person capacity MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ. According to Waddell, stadium rental costs for concerts are $1.2 – 1.8 million. On average, that $1.5 million rental fee is $3 million total for both nights—less than the estimated $3.5 million that was spent.

While Drake’s demand is high enough to make this choice, artists like Cardi is building her case to get there.

Negotiations with Live Nation

Cardi has gained considerable leverage since earning a mere $70,000 for each of her 2018 Coachella performances (which cost her $300,000 in production costs). From December 2018 – October 2019, she will have performed in nearly 30 music festivals, 13 standalone / mini-tour shows, two Las Vegas residency shows, and counting. For all the acclaim OutKast received for performing in 40 music festivals in 2014, Cardi’s been on that same tip.

Based on Cardi’s popularity, she would probably want a 40-50 show arena tour in all the major markets. She would negotiate with Live Nation—the largest promoter in the world. The more leverage Cardi has, the larger the payment would she get and the more shows she can command. And Live Nation doesn’t play when it comes to negotiations.

The entertainment company has different deals in place with each artist and hates to disclose details. In a 2015 legal brief, one of Jay Z’s lawyers once compared his client’s contract with Live Nation to the Coca-Cola formula:

“Its disclosure would severely undermine Live Nation’s ability to negotiate deals with new artists, as it would significantly change the artists’ bargaining position if they knew the formula Live Nation uses to compensate Mr. Carter. It would similarly compromise Mr. Carter’s bargaining power in the future. Live Nation treats the details of its agreement with Mr. Carter like the formula for Coca-Cola: it is so sensitive that Live Nation shields it from its own employees.”

Alright, relax. That’s a bit dramatic. Especially since many of those details have been shared publicly in past reports. But still, point taken.

Live Nation also has its own opportunity cost to consider. It’s a vertically-integrated behemoth with exclusive booking rights for over 200 venues. If a rising rapper can’t make a compelling case to book the Barclays Center in Brooklyn on the last Friday night in September, Live Nation likely has another profitable event on deck ready to sub in.

In Cardi’s case, she may also want to negotiate a tour schedule with built-in days off. In the past year, she has canceled several performances to rest during her pregnancy, spend more time with her daughter, and recover from plastic surgery. The day-in, day-out, 4-5 shows per week standard is a grind. Acts like Eminem and others have stopped the back-to-back-to-back performances because of the negative impact it has had on their lives.

Waiting too long has its risks too

Cardi B wants to avoid what recently happened to her foe, Nicki Minaj. The “MEGATRON” rapper’s most recent tour is a masterclass in what NOT to do. The U.S. leg of ‘NickiHndrxx’ has essentially been canceled. Nicki and her camp claimed it was due to scheduling conflicts with last year’s Queen album, but several sites pulled the receipts and showed low demand and poor ticket sales.

That tour was an ambitious 30-city arena tour that was well past the peaks of both Nicki and Future. It would have fared much better in 2015 when both “Anaconda” and “March Madness” were in heavy rotation.

For Cardi, it’s been two years since “Bodak Yellow” and over a year since Invasion of Privacy dropped. She’s released a number of recent standalone singles like “Press” and “Money,” and collaborated with Bruno Mars and City Girls to stay on the charts.

By the time Cardi flexes her leverage for the tour she wants, Invasion of Privacy will have run its course. While Cardi B has made up for that with all her live performances, other artists may not be in that position.

Cardi’s not alone in her pursuit of standalone show money. Private events are a whole ‘nother bag. Last fall, Beyoncé did a 45-minute performance at an Indian wedding for a rumored $4 million (a number that seems far too low. I got no proof, but it seems low). In 2015, she earned $6 million in Uber equity from a company show. These high price tags rival the revenue per show from her stadium tours, which are way more costly and expensive to put on.

The same might be true for Cardi. She did a private show in January on Super Bowl weekend, where she danced alongside New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft. It’s a low overhead performance because a) like Beyoncé, it’s cheaper to do than anything Cardi would have done on her own tour, and b) Robert Kraft can’t dance.

It’s another option in the growing mix of live performance revenue. This begs to question. Is Cardi B truly holding out for a mega-sized tour deal? Or has she flipped the standard model in her favor?

Maybe that’s why she deleted the tweet.

This article was recapped in the Trapital podcast episode: No Tour, No Problem for Cardi B

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Trapital is written by Dan Runcie: info [at] trapital.co

Dan Runcie

Dan Runcie

Founder of Trapital

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