Playing Out of Town
Before you've done it, it's everyone new band's dream to hit the road. When I refer to playing out of town, I am referring to somewhere 2 or more hours away, where most of your friends and fans won't come out. I've had the most fun playing out of town shows, but I've also had some of the biggest disasters of my musical career happen on the road.
This is written for the garage musician and the majority of the financial situations I give don't apply if you have a few thousand dollars to spend, and are actually making money. The psychological issues, however, are relevant with all fame and financial situations.
So here is my advice
on booking shows out of town First things first, booking your own out of town shows is a lot easier than you think, and doesn't take as much cold calling and time as it used too, before the internet. The best strategy is to get on Craigslist in the city/area you want to play in. Post an ad with a link to your music. Let people know your draw in your hometown, and what dates you're looking to book. Almost always, a few people will respond back to you. Now take a minute and research your offers, find out which one has the best pull, and respond to that one. In this day and age with the internet and social networking, it's pretty easy to get a good idea on which show will benefit you the most. If you're the only heavy band on a wimpy bill, it's not going to be fun (I've been there before). Also, if you're the only alternative rock band playing in a biker bar (been there before too) that's a lot less fun. The first situation you'll just get people giving you strange looks. The second situation you better either break out some heavier songs or you might be ridding bitch behind an ex-con the rest of your life. Remember you're not going to have ANY fans there, and no one is going to care about you, so you want to make sure it's a good venue for you.
I've found if a band responds to you, try and deal with them as little as possible. By that, I mean as soon as the band says you're booked for the show, call the venue. Get all the normal details you need, such as load in times, set times, payment arrangements, and band requirements and confirm the date. You also will be establishing a relationship with the venue if you need them in the future. Shockingly, all bands aren't as reliable as you are and won't give you all the details you need, like the right date and time to show up.
Another option I've found to book out of town shows is to google list of music venues in [city], this usually shows you a list of bars, clubs, and other venues, and you can Google the respective bar to find out which one fits best, then, contact the club with the dates you want to play. The results with this I've found to be very inconsistent, and more time consuming. I usually use this as a last ditch effort to get out of town shows.
There are a lot more ways to get out of town shows, just like there are with getting in town shows. These are the two I use the most (apart from networking/having another band get us the show).
on your own cash flow As a band, make sure you have enough money to get there, back, eat, and stay overnight (if you're staying overnight) DO NOT RELY ON PAYMENT FOR THE SHOW. If you do get paid, great! You saved money out of your pocket. However don't rely on money you don't already have to cover you. In the event you are stiffed, you won't be dead in the water. Plan ahead how much everyone needs to chip in, by totaling the gas, any hotel fees, food etc. Make sure everyone is clear on this number.
Also, have secret money incase things go south, and you have to abort mission and return home with your gear, by yourself.
If you're going on a mini-tour to just play for gas and so on, that's cool too but also a lot more fun in writing then it is when you're actually doing it. I've gone as a guitar tech on a trip like that before, and someone's mom ended up wiring money, in a very awkward phone call. Not having enough money to safely get you home, before you leave, is generally a disaster waiting to happen. For me, that's like saying you're going to buy a one way ticket to Las Vegas, and win your way back home.
on your band's internal relationships Make sure your band is in a good place, and there are no underlying tensions. The road and a lot of boring time together has a habit of bringing a bad seed to surface, and breaking up your band up 400 miles away from home. I've been there, and it sucks. The very best case scenario is you have a very awkward car ride home. The worst case is you're 400 miles away with no ride home because your buddy ditched all of you, and a very angry bar owner with not entertainment. Always make sure that all tensions are cooled before you head out on the road.
on getting down there, and back again Before you go, decide how you're all going to transport yourself there, and back. This used to always be a disaster for me, full of lost money and hurt feelings, so I laid down ground rules I insist the band abide by, or I won't go on the road with them. These are:
1. There is one truck/van with a trailer that is responsible for getting all our gear down there, and has enough room to fit the band (and roadies/techs etc). This car gets the pooled gas money, and is required to get down there on time, and stay until the full band leaves, at the pre determined time that we leave. 2. Anyone who wants to drive separately does so out of their own pocket. If it is a member of the band who wants to leave early, ride with their girlfriend, or bring all their party friends, that's cool, but we're not paying for it. Unless pre arranged, this person is also responsible for staying until the end.
So far I've never run into an issue with these rules. It seems very fair to me, and I don't feel that limited band/combined resources should be pooled because Gary the guitarist doesn't want to have to get off work early. Laying down these rules or a similar rule will prevent someone feeling stiffed on gas money or spending twice as much on gas when you're on a band budget. It'll also help squelch the one or two band members that are ready to head back home the second you leave, making you the one who has collect the money. If a situation arises and one or two people have to peel off early, then it's been pre-determined. Otherwise, prepare to sit alone in a town far away while your buddies take off.
This next part may seem like common sense, but make sure your vehicle isn't going to explode on the way there. Make sure the tires, oil, gas etc. is all up to par and that you have a spare tire and appropriate gear to take care of any issues. I've had blow outs before, but because we were ready it wasn't a problem. Also, the second a blow out/emergency happens make sure someone (usually the singer, because they're the prima donna of the group, and refuse to do the mechanical work) call the venue and let them know what happened, and when they can expect it. Also, don't freak out. There's nothing I hate more than being in a situation like that and have having someone (usually the singer, again) freak out about possibly being stranded.
on hotels and staying overnight Don't stay in a hotel unless you absolutely have too. Not only does this cost you extra unnecessary money, but it always turns out to be a nightmare. For some reason, I've almost gotten/ actually gotten kicked out of every hotel I've stayed at with a band. One time I almost got arrested. It seems like a good idea to live like your heroes and have a nice hotel party or even just chill with a joint and crash But the difference between you and your heroes is a manager that keeps them out of trouble, or pays for your release. If you do stay in a hotel, make sure you're all on the same page, meaning keep that rowdy band member inline. They will ban you for life sometimes, which is awkward when you want to go on a family trip and have to explain to grandma the reason you can't stay at Holiday Inn anymore
Another downfall is when you have a bad show. I've played terrible out of town shows, and just wanted to go home afterwards. Unfortunately, we've already checked into the hotel and spent the money, so we had to stay. It's really lame to sit around with your band getting drunk, all pissed off because of the show.
Also, don't just wing staying overnight. Be prepared, or you will be burned. You've probably heard rumors of bands that have gone on these tours and just crashed at people's houses, but the rumors are always a lot cooler than what actually happens. Take a minute and think about the kind of person who is going to let 4-6 people, who are in a rock band no less, crash at their house More importantly, your thousands of dollars of gear is either left unprotected, or in a very lightly protected van/trailer. Someone drove away with a van full of Stevie Ray Vaughn's gear one time. Imagine how easy it is to do that with your gear, and you probably don't have his backups or alternative means of transportation like he did.
This seems like a good time to talk about insurance on your gear, GET IT. My renter's insurance protects my gear, even if it's stolen outside of my home. It'll cover a huge amount of money, and generally you don't have to pay a lot for it. Mine only costs me like 20 bucks a month.
If you must stay overnight, the most successful overnight/mini-tour events I've been apart of have been from people bringing tents and staying in campgrounds. It's much cheaper, quieter, and you get to go camping! Recently though, unless it's like a 6 hour drive, I've just made sure someone (usually me) stayed sober and well rested, and just drove us all home after the show.
On bringing the love of your life Try and ban anyone from bringing a girlfriend/wife/husband/romantic interest with them. Even if they promise it's going to be for merch, to help you set up, or to do the lights, it's usually just a GIANT disaster. You think riding home with a band that's been fighting is awkward? At least you are contributing to it. Try riding home with a romantic couple about ready to go toe to toe with each other. I've been there and it sucks. Also, giving your input in this situation is a huge mistake. I've done that too, and have almost been murdered.
Also, romantic interests (I'm not going to say women, because I've had a female singer's boyfriend do this before) bitch a lot. I don't know why, but it seems like the fact that the focus of your journey is to play MUSIC, is absolutely mind blowing to these people.
Look at it this way; we (us musicians in the trenches, rocking) are used to the early load in times, set ups, long ass sound checks, kicking around the dive bar doing nothing, and boring bands. Your girlfriend usually shows up right before you play, and leaves shortly after you're done. Now, they can't. They have to sit through all that, but by themselves. They also are without the thrill and adrenaline built up on playing a show.
Every time a band mate brings his girlfriend he always comes to me afterwards and says, Dude, next time, no girls.
In Closing This covers, what I believe, are the basics on playing out of town. It may seem like a lot of common sense in reading, but pretty much everything I wrote about has happened to me at one time or another.
As far as my opinion on playing out of town you ask? Well, generally I'm against it, because I feel people are doing it for the wrong reasons. I shake my head every time I hear, This town sucks! We're getting on the road and we're going to be somebody! However lame the music scene in your town is, hitting the road with no money really isn't the answer. With the availability of the internet, online promotion is much more effective and cost-friendly in getting your band known.
I've never really gained much in the ways of band exposure from playing out of town, but I've had a lot of fun. Don't go into it with the attitude that you're going to crack a new city and instantly be loved, or you'll somehow be discovered by playing a seedy bar 200 miles away. Go into it with the attitude of having a great time with your friends, on a little road trip.
About the author: Jay Nine is a songwriter and multi-instrumentalist from Sacrament, CA. He is currently playing with a multitude of songwriters and musicians, and is setting up his own online coaching and guitar lesson website. Right now, he may be reached through his YouTube channel.