So You Want to Go On Tour?
So you recorded that killer single, right? Or that awesome spaceship-themed concept album about life in a time capsule? GOOD STUFF! One question: who else has any idea it exists? Chances are you’re a talented musician but don’t have the support network of management or a label to get your music out there. But, obviously, you want to go and show off all your hard work to people (and hopefully sell them it along the way). So, pack your bags and book a week off work. You’re going on tour! Touring is a blast – you’re hanging out with your friends every day and having fun focusing on your music for once, instead of doing your boring day job. However, the prospect of organising a tour for most musicians is daunting. You need to make sure you have a show most nights, you need to track down contacts outside of your own area and beg them for shows, you have to work out how to get about, you have to work out how you’re going to eat. So here is some (hard-earned) quick tips for booking yourself a tour:
Plan in Advance
Things become much easier if you decide it will be a certain time in advance. Among your band decide the week that works best for getting time off work. Make sure you are able to have your record prepped and ready to go by the time you’re on tour, plus any merch you want to take. If its your first or second tour don’t go away too long, as you may find it hard to get shows: 5 – 7 days is about right. Start planning several months in advance, for example if you are going on tour in May, start planning in February/March. This means you can get in early before venues and promoters start filling up their shows for May, plus it gives plenty of time to find shows in places you aren’t familiar with. It is also a great idea to find a tour buddy to share travel costs and show-hunting with. If you do half and they do half, all you have to do is put on a show in your area, tap one definite contact you have, then you only have one show to track down. Plus tour buddies are fun!
Talk to Your Best Contact First, and Plan the Route From There
First thing to do once you have your dates set in stone is to work out someone around the UK (or Europe etc.) who you know will be able to put on a show for you, and let them know ASAP. This can be anyone from the student who will put your on in their front room or the girl who books supports at the O2 – just make sure they can do you a show. Once that is sorted, have a look at where else you would like to play, and also where you are based (for putting on your hometown show). From that you can work out your tour route between the two. It saves a lot of time, hassle, and money to have a linear route rather than jumping about all over the place. This is important if you are driving about, as it sucks up both petrol and the will to live of your driver, but maybe even more important if you are travelling by public transport. Six hours on a coach from Southampton to Manchester, then six hours back to Brighton the next day is no ones idea of fun.
Plus cars are much cooler!
Getting the Gigs
The most daunting part of booking a tour is trying to find people to give you gigs around the country. It is initially difficult to find those contacts, and often you’ll see posts littering music forums saying “Hey! Book us!” from acts that are hoping promoters have nothing better to do than trawl message boards looking for bands to put on. At the end of the day, you want the shows, so you need to be the ones with the motivation to email and phone around. It helps if you are playing within a music scene, for instance folk, or metal, as you will know of at least one other band in the scene that will be able to give you some contacts that they have played shows for. This really is the best way to find out who promotes where. Ideally you want to be playing to people that will dig what you do and pick up the record, and that will want to come check you out live again, so talking to promoters within a smaller scene is useful. Gig swaps are also a great way to find shows – ask bands you may know around the country to put on shows for you where they are based. You can reciprocate with shows for them in your area later on. In terms of where you play, don’t be fussy. Not every show can be a nice bar or venue. Basements, parks and front rooms are all top venues and usually will end up being the most fun shows on the tour.
Making Ends Meet
Lastly, don’t expect to be paid handsomely for every show. If you can get to the end of tour not too far out of pocket then you have done amazingly well. That said, if you can get paid in some way it is essential. Sometimes shows will be free entry or donation entry, which often is difficult to get much from, but if you are playing to a packed pub that have been buying drinks all night and have paid a fiver entry then you are owed some money for that. Make sure you hunt down the promoter to get your fair cut, and also make sure they know well in advance that you are looking for petrol money. Much as it is fun playing music, you aren’t a charity that helps other people to make money. So it is best to make sure the promoter knows you are travelling to the show and that you need petrol money if possible. However, #1 on your list needs to be a place to sleep. Often the promoter will be able to give you a sofa or sort it to sleep in the venue, if not make sure you ask other bands, locals, or have a sign on your merch table saying you need a floor for the night. Often people will help you out. Though one word of advice – beware sofa offers from trumpet players.
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