- Rock band The Maine kick off a free national tour Sunday in Henderson, Nevada
- Band members are inviting fans to contribute only gas money for their tour bus
- Manager: "It's a risky thing. But I'm not going to put the band in a situation where they go broke"
(CNN)For a professional touring musician, it sounds like a recipe for disaster.
You and your bandmates pile into a bus for a nationwide tour. But almost everywhere you go, nobody pays a dime to get into your shows. You have no corporate sponsor. No record label picking up the tab.
Most nights, you don't sell a single ticket.
But that's exactly what the members of The Maine, a rock band from Arizona, have signed up for by launching a free, 26-city tour that kicks off Sunday in Henderson, Nevada. In this age of slumping record sales, when musicians make most of their income through touring, it's a bold -- some might say crazy -- move.
"It's definitely a risky thing," says Tim Kirch, The Maine's manager. "But I'm not going to put the band in a situation where they go broke over this tour. I think we'll come close to breaking even."
Instead of theaters or clubs, The Maine will play nontraditional venues such as shopping malls and parking lots. And to save money, they'll sleep on their tour bus.
To be fair, the band will still earn some income on the road. Along the way they're playing a handful of club shows at their regular ticket prices -- about $25. They'll earn cash from sales of T-shirts and other merchandise.
And on their website, they've invited fans to donate gas money "for us to get from show to show."
Still, the idea of a free tour takes some getting used to, for band members and fans alike.
"There have been a lot of questions like, 'Do we need tickets?' " says lead singer John O'Callaghan. "And it's kind of weird to say, 'No, just show up.'"
Formed in 2007 in the Phoenix area, The Maine are O'Callaghan, Jared Monaco on lead guitar, Kennedy Brock on rhythm guitar, Garrett Nickelsen on bass and Patrick Kirch on drums. Their sound includes elements of power pop, punk, emo, indie and straight-ahead rock, marked by brawny guitar riffs, buoyant harmonies and danceable beats.
The Maine has flirted with mainstream commercial success, landing albums in the Billboard top 50 and scoring a major-label deal with Warner Brothers for their 2009 album, "Black & White." But mostly they have built a sizable following the old-fashioned way: through constant touring across North America and overseas.
"A lot of our fans have been to more than a hundred shows," Kirch says. "So for us to do one for free is nothing."
Kirch declined to say how much income the band typically earns from a show, or how much "gas money" has been donated online so far.
O'Callaghan says the band, whose newest record is "American Candy," has wanted to mount a free tour for years. But they had to wait until they felt financially secure.
"This is our attempt to give back and say thank you to all the people who have supported us and come hear us play music," he says. "We've made some great friends all over the world and built relationships that go way beyond the concert-going experience."
The free shows may have another, unusual benefit: They eliminate the transactional nature of most concerts. Instead of worrying about giving or getting their money's worth, everyone involved can just focus on the music.
And, preferably, not worry whether The Maine will go bankrupt.
The band understands the financial perils of this five-week experiment. If there's another band that has mounted a free national tour, neither Kirch nor O'Callaghan are aware of it.
"I don't think it's been done before," O'Callaghan says. "I think that's what makes us so excited about it. And nervous."