How To

The Unsigned Musicians Guide on Touring

Photograph of the blog post author, Music Gateway Team

Music Gateway Team


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So, you’re unsigned, unknown and unbelievably frustrated with the same old gigs. When will those industry moguls finally give you that big break?

Well, my musically gifted friend, if you’re waiting for it, you’re going to be waiting a long time. Unless you’re in the right place at the right time, the chances of you getting offered all those big deals are slim.

You’re unsigned, unknown and most likely struggle to get paid for your gigs as it is. How do you get to take advantage of the opportunities available to unsigned musicians?

Where do I even start? These are questions I asked myself earlier this year. My budget was none existent, but did it have to matter? I wanted to experience something in my career. I didn’t want to have things like money stop me or the fact I was unknown.

The point is to get known right?! Right! So I thought of a plan, if I don’t know how to get opportunities in the industry because my contacts are slim and my following is too small to warrant the interest from major labels etc. Why don’t I create my own? After all, it’s my career & why should these top end industry people be dipping their hands in to what is rightfully mine? Why should I pay a tour manager for something I could do myself?

Once I had decided to do a tour, I thought of the thousands of unsigned talented folks on the scene. I wanted to do something to help them and to show them and all of you that by taking charge of your own careers, we take back our chosen industry and make of it what we want. It’s very empowering;

I had selected other fantastic musicians to come together as a collective to do this tour from scratch. We pooled in contacts and skills and utilised them to the full. Yes, there were many obstacles and no, it wasn’t easy to get through, but we did it. We organised a UK tour by ourselves, no budget, no previous experience and no industry mogul insight, however “The Brought To You Tour” was an absolute success.

How, on earth, did we manage that? Well in this series of blogs, I will be giving you my step by step full on experience and handy tips on how to tour. The more musicians that take charge of their own careers, the more chance we have in changing the industry as we know it, and making it a viable source of income directly to the musicians themselves.

The first thing to think about is, tour map. Where can you realistically get a gig and grab the attention of the local crowds. You need to think about travel to and from and possible accommodation needs. Well I’d suggest you start creating interest on your Twitter and Facebook accounts, your most powerful weapon. When I was thinking of towns to visit, I put up a tweet that said “the tour is already going to so many towns this summer, who wants us in theirs?”

Straight away my followers hash tagged their tweets to me, #Cardiff #Brighton #Manchester. We managed to get quite a lot from Wales, so I asked them what their favourite music venues were. Again by asking the locals what their live music local venue is, they have pretty much done your biggest and hardest part of the area research for you.

Once they suggest a list of good venues, you then look into the venues. I’d always say check the capacity first. You don’t want to book for an 800 capacity venue and not even manage 20 people through the doors. Ok, that is perhaps an exaggerated number but think about it. Doing this tour is already a big step, don’t over sell or over work yourself, book nice small venues. It’s nice to play to a good crowd regardless if it’s thousands or to 50 people in a 60 capacity venue.

It keeps up your morale and further encourages you to keep going. When we were deciding to book our venues, we said no bigger than 150 capacity venues. It’s a good size for a decent crowd and stage, but not to big so that you feel it’s empty.

So, with the venue suggestions coming through, and the capacity is the right amount, at this stage I’d suggest following all the people that follow the venue and get interactive. They are the locals that go there and like it, twitter has given you an easy route to promotion in the area.

The next thing to do is check out the venue. Past events are always a good place to start, up and coming events, tweets, Facebook, websites. This will help you gain an understanding of the area and what people seem to like and if they will like you. It will also help you to know exactly who is the person to contact and more importantly how to word that all important email when you know who to contact.

I would usually start with an email then a day or two later make sure you call each and every place you have emailed to get their attention to the email you sent. If you follow them on twitter, tweet them “hey guys, just sent you a cool email. Go check your inbox” they will usually do it instantly. Once you have their interest, they may call you back or email.

Let them know what your about and why you’re doing this tour. When I did this, the amount of support from the promoters and venue owners was unreal. In Cardiff, we were offered a meal, free bar and the promoter/owner even let us all stay in her house, this solves the accommodation, food and beverage costs. Find out if you have friends and family in the areas you can stay with. Again ask your fans if they can help, they are your fans and want to help and support you so utilise your extended networks.

Another tip is always enquire if there’s any chance of payment, even if it’s just expenses. When you can get paid, it seems silly not to even ask. Even though you approached them, you are providing them with entertainment that will draw in a crowd, so they will make money off you too. So where you can ask as travel is expensive, claim back where you can. If they can’t, it’s no big deal. Like I said in Cardiff, they provided accommodation, food and drinks.

It’s probably what we would of spent money on anyway so this was a fair trade to us. Never play venues that ask you for money to play. Avoid these sorts of places if you can. The reason they ask you, is because, as an unsigned, unknown act, it’s a risk to them putting you on as there is no guaranteed crowd and they want to make as little loss as possible.

Usually there’s nothing to say, if you pack the place you get your money back plus payment, so it’s not really worth your while to play for venues that charge you to play there as it shows lack of confidence in their own establishments. If they need money from the musicians to play, where are their regulars?

Are they known for music? Do people go there for live music? Avoid them where you can even if just for your pockets sake. Work closely with the promoters to figure out dates, and effective ways to promote over the next few months leading up to the date. They will know the area, and will be paramount to your success in their town.

Also keep interactive with the fans, they will drag down their mates and tell people about this awesome musician they love and the fact they had a part to play in getting you to their town. When I went to Cardiff, I brought with me a gift for the lovely lady who showed me bags of support in booking right through to even now. They have requested my return, and in November I am doing a Welsh weekender.

Loads more opportunities are created once you get the ball rolling, and your fan base just keeps on growing and growing. I am still overwhelmed by the growing support I’ve been shown, and you will be too. Get this part right, and you will have set yourself up for a very successful tour. Remember, keep interactive with fans and do your research.

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