Most of us live our lives blissfully unaware of the basic cost of touring. Maybe you still believe that labels provide plush tour buses and accommodations for every band that hits the road, here or abroad. Or that somehow, unsigned and local bands skirt around the costs of touring by driving a van that will peak the interest of local law enforcement, and eating fast food. But that sort of thinking only accepts the minimal price a band must pay to travel and play live. Gas, repairs, food, lodging, and the upfront cost of creating and producing merchandise, all of these add up to an expensive, and often cashflow negative, proposition.
That is so for bands traveling and playing domestically, but even moreso for those who seek to play abroad. As an organization based in the United States, we rarely hear about the costs associated with a band entering the country. Instead, U.S. fans complain about how often their favorite European groups make it here, how few cities they play, and the gall of cancelling one or two shows because of travel issues. We've been somewhat shielded from the very reality that musicians must deal with every day. And even in the most extreme cases - a band being denied entry due to a visa or travel issue - we rarely accept that it isn't an "unfortunate error" that led to that sort of problem.
In fact, it's a problem that has been growing due to the outdated and under-publicized issue with the U.S visa system. In particular, the P2 Visa, which allows bands from Canada to tour the States, has seen its share of much needed negative press. Not only is the cost associated with obtaining the proper Visa abnormally high - $325 application fee, plus a $100 administrative fee to the American Federation of Musicians that increases by $20 for each member of the band - but there is also a 30% tax on the expected gross income you'll accrue while on tour. It makes the idea of crossing the border for shows even more costly than before, and for many bands, makes it financially impossible. Additionally, the P2 Visa is a very strict agreement, where no dates can be added to a tour once the Visa has been granted. Instead, a band would have to reapply, for the simple task of adding one, two, or five more shows to an already booked tour.
It's prohibitive, in many ways. And while the U.S. government is certainly entitled to some sort of monetary compensation fro bands traveling through the country, the degree to which they're taxing and taking from these groups is lessening the chance they will ever return. Conversely, the Canadian government did away with their so-called "tour tax" in 2014, with a spokesman for the Citizen and Immigration Minister saying, “While the previous regulation was meant to protect opportunities for Canadian performers, it often had the opposite effect.”
A petition has been created, in hopes that the American government will follow the lead of their neighbors to the north, and eliminate the P2 Visa, in an effort to convince Canadian artists to tour the U.S. without the tremendous cost. You can find that here, and add your signature.