A little over a year ago I gave a presentation at Metropolitan State University of Denver's Own IT! Music Mastermind Series about touring for DIY bands. I covered just about every angle of touring other than acquiring a van, and thought I'd share my presentation outline here for bands to reference. Touring is a lot of fun- you will undoubtedly have some of the best experiences of your life traveling around with your best friends playing music. But it is also a lot of work and can go very badly if you don't prepare correctly. Use the info below as a check list to go over in a band meeting. Some of this is basic common sense, but you'd be surprised at some of the stupid shit I've seen bands do.
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Are you ready to tour?
-Can you draw a decent crowd at home?
-Do you have merch and recorded music?
-Is your band registered as an LLC or other type of business? Do you have tax info figured out?
-Do you have a reliable vehicle? What will you do if your van breaks down? Get a trailer, or rent one.
-How well do you like your bandmates? Are you going to pull a Novus Folium and break up in the middle of your tour and make complete asses out of yourselves?
-Touring is not a vacation. It’s awesome and epic and times you will never forget, but it is also a lot of work. You are never alone for more than a few minutes of time. You sleep on floors and in the van. You lose money. DO NOT BRING YOUR GIRLFRIEND OR BOYFRIEND. Unless she/he understands the point above, and is willing to sell merch and not have their own agenda that they will try to impose on your trip. If someone has a special diet, someone needs to pee every hour, someone gets carsick, these are all factors to think about. When it comes to being on the road on DIY tours, less is more.
-A lot of touring is similar to gigging at home, as far as being a good band- if you are comfortable, have a strong live show, and understand marketing, try to replicate your experiences on the road.
Routing Your Tour
-How long can you go? How long can everyone get off work?
-How far are you willing to drive in a day?
-Understand that when on tour, in order to stay afloat, you need to play every night. Every now and then a show will get cancelled or you won’t be able to make anything happen, but you should strive to play seven nights a week.
-Maybe going for a week at a time, or even shorter, is best for your band
-Everyone tours the west coast- maybe you should go somewhere else. Keep it realistic. If this is your first time leaving Denver, you don’t need to drive to Seattle or Boston. Play in Albuquerque, Grand Junction, Salt Lake, Kansas, etc. Mountain towns in CO. College towns like FoCo, Durango, Gunnison, etc for weekend trips.
-Ideas a one week tour- CO Springs, Pueblo, Santa Fe, ABQ, PHX, SLC, Grand Junction, Denver. Odds are you won’t be able to book all cities you want to.
-Target your markets to be places that you can hit once or twice a year, or more. It is pretty much pointless to go somewhere once and never go back. The entire point of a tour is to build a fan base in new markets.
-Do research on promo for that town- can you get an interview with a magazine or local college radio station? Will you have time to walk main street and give out handbills? What is the venue expecting from you, if anything?
How and Where to Book
-Again, the entire point of touring is to build a fanbase in new markets. Start small- bar gigs. Find a local band of similar genre and offer to do a show trade with them. You want to play with local bands because they will bring a crowd, otherwise you will likely be playing to an empty room.
-Most bars/clubs have booking contact on their websites. Also check indieonthemove.com
-Offer to promote the shows- hit up local college radio stations about interview/airplay, ask the venue who is in charge of fliers- if it’s you or them or a local band. Get ahold of the flier and buy a Facebook ad targeting that city with a facebook event, flier, info on show, etc.
-Often it is best to contact local bands before blindly contacting a venue. In all honesty, a lot of bar level venues don’t care to book out of town bands unless they are playing with locals because no one will come out. Locals may already have a show set up and be able to throw you on as an opener.
-Make sure your routing makes sense and finishes close to home. Try to make a circle starting and ending close to home.
-Be humble and professional. Don’t contact venues blindly through a Facebook message. Create a form letter that can be emailed that look similar to a press release or EPK- photos, links to music, short bio, what you have to offer as far as promo, length of set, maybe even references. The more professional and experienced you come off, the more likely they are to book you.
-In my experience, local bands are usually pretty cool about money when they are playing with touring bands (at least in the punk world). They get your situation and know that you need gas money. While on DIY tours you likely won’t profit, but if you book well you can at least pay your way and attract new fans as you go. The idea of all of a sudden quitting your job to tour full time, at least to me, proved to be a pipe dream- we constantly let ourselves down because we were never able to get to that point and it ended up hurting our morale greatly. Start small, and be willing to put in a multi-year time commitment to build your band, and keep your head down and work.
What do to on the road
-Bring a cooler and keep it stocked with sandwich stuff, water, etc. Try to eat healthy, at least sometimes, because you won’t be sleeping much and if all you eat is Taco Bell, you’ll get worn down and it won’t be as fun.
-Try to wait until after your set to party excessively. This is the music business, an industry that loves its partying. People may bring you shots on stage. But if you are a serious musician, getting on stage drunk and playing a sloppy set in a new town is not going to attract anyone to your band.
-Know when load in is, and know who to settle up with after your show. Try to get into town early in case something happens. Having one person that is the point person in your band (usually the person who dealt with the venue during the booking process) is a good idea because they should have some familiarity with what to expect.
-As long as the venue will let you, keep your merch set up from the time doors open until they close, and keep someone at the table. Especially right after your set- go to the merch table, meet people, shake their hand, hug them, and then sell them your cd.
-ALWAYS HAVE A NOTEBOOK OUT TO COLLECT EMAILS- KEEP THE EMAILS ORGANIZED BY TOWN IF YOU CAN- AND SEND OUT NEWSLETTERS TO THESE PEOPLE WHEN YOU ARE COMING BACK, AND WHEN YOU HAVE A NEW ALBUM OUT, OR NEW MERCH, OR WHATEVER. HOPEFULLY, THEY WILL BRING THEIR FRIENDS, WHO THEN WILL BRING THEIR FRIENDS THE NEXT TIME.
-Don’t hit on girlfriends/boyfriends of the people in the other bands. And be cool to the other bands- you want to be friends with them. When you are in a band, being friends with as many other bands as possible is going to help you so much.
-Maybe take a break from the rest of the band before your show. Go on a walk, or go get some food, or something to get your mind away for a bit. When I was out with The Yawpers in 2013, Jesse the guitarist would disappear every day once they got done driving, and meet the guys at the venue at load in. This seemed a bit extreme to me, but taking any opportunity to have some alone time is a good idea.
-Keep two people awake at all times while driving overnight
-Be sparing when it comes to hotels and other luxuries- money is going to be tight. Bring a sleeping bag, pillow and blankets. You’ll use the shit out of them.
-Stop at a Laundromat sometimes.