The Golden Rules of Not Going Broke on Tour: Part 1

Learn how to minimize the expenses of touring in this new guide.

The Golden Rules of Not Going Broke on Tour: Part 1
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The other day, I signed into Facebook to see a statement from a young band I'd been following. In the post, they announced that they were calling it a day because they cannot afford the financial hardships that come with life on the road anymore.

On reading this, I sighed.

I sighed because group in question had brought this upon themselves.

Don't get me wrong here. I'm aware of how expensive touring is for emerging bands these days.

There isn't the financial provision for emerging acts that there was in the music industry of yesteryear. Even for those with record deals, money can still be tight.

Received wisdom states that bands don't make a profit from their earliest tours. It takes time, and money to build up a reputation and a fan base.

Still, while you shouldn't expect to make a substantial return in your early life on the road, you shouldn't be in the red either. In my experience, there are many bands out there who throw money at touring with reckless disregard, making stupid financial decisions and whittling away vast amounts of capital in the process. And I knew that the young band making the statement was one of them.

Though life on the road is difficult and costly, I firmly believe that it doesn't have to bankrupt you. By planning ahead, being frugal and business savvy, you can make it out on tour without crippling yourself with debt.

There are two golden rules to doing this: minimizing your expenses and maximizing your profits. In the first of this two part series, we're going to address the former.

Minimize Your Expenses

Transport

When you head out on tour, you will spend a LOT of money on transport. There's no two ways around it. Walking or cycling from city to city is entirely unfeasible, not to mention exhausting, while traveling by train runs the risk of incurring delays, and is hugely impractical if you're anyone other than a solo singer-songwriter.

If you're planning on hitting the road, it's a given that you'll need to either rent or hire a van. You're also going to need to fork out for gas to fuel said van. Those expenses are unavoidable, but there are two ways to lessen them.

First and foremost, tour with as little gear as possible. Especially when you're starting out, make sure you take only the things that you absolutely need on the road with you. Consider whether those four 4x12 cabs are absolutely essential, or whether your 100w combo is big enough for the 100 capacity bars and clubs you're likely playing. Accept that you don't need to bring your acoustic guitar for that one bit in that one song, and that the effect of your acoustic simulator pedal is good enough for the job.


When on a bill with several bands, see if you can organize gear sharing. Ask the headliner if you can use their drum kit (minus breakables of course) and maybe offer to pay for a new set of skins to sweeten the deal.

Why should you minimize the amount of stuff you take with you? Simple. The less gear you need, the smaller the van you need to hire or buy (a side note here, but if touring is a part of your life for the foreseeable future, then buy rather than rent. It's an investment that'll work out much better for you in the long run). The smaller the van, and the less gear loaded into it, the less fuel you'll burn running it and the more money you'll save.

Secondly, plan your tour route to be as fuel efficient as possible. Admittedly, this one only works if you've got a say in organizing the tour specifics and is dependent on venue availability. Still, it bears noting that scheduling dates by geography will prevent you from darting up and down the country and running up a huge fuel bill in the process. Logistics matter, so make sure you plan for them.

Accommodation

Transport notwithstanding, the biggest expense for touring bands is accommodation.

Hotels ain't cheap, especially when there are several of you, and it's possible to rack up a bill running into the thousands after a few weeks of gigging.

Many bands see forking out four figure sums on rooms as an inevitability of life on the road. But, there is an alternative that will save you money. It isn't exactly glamorous, but sleeping on fans' floors is a great option for a band on a budget.

I've seen a number of acts cut down on the costs of accommodation enormously in recent years by staying at fans' houses between shows. Making effective use of social media, these bands put up posts well in advance of the tour, asking if anyone has a place for them to stay in a given city. (If they're a young band touring with a more established act, they'll also get the headliner to share the posts in order to spread the word). In exchange for their trouble, the act in need of a place to stay won't offer money, but free entry to the gig, and sometimes some free merch as a means of payment.

In my experience, this really works. You'd be surprised at how many people are willing to help a band in need by offering them the floor of their lounge for an evening. Crashing in a sleeping bag on an inflatable mattress or somebody's couch might not make you feel like a rock star, but it is much friendlier on your wallet than a hotel bill.


Chances are that you won't be able to stay with fans on every stop of the tour. If that's the case, you'll need to start thinking about forking out for accommodation. But even when you do have to pay for a hotel or motel room, you can still be frugal. Stick with the budget options where possible, and accept that you're going to have to get cozy with your band mates.

If there are four of you in the band, you can make do in one room with two double beds. Sure, the drummer is a snorer, but think of the amount of money you're saving with one room over four.

One last thing. While saving on accommodation is advisable, remember that getting a good night's sleep is essential to your continued ability to function on tour.

I say this because I once knew a band that thought they could save money by camping while on the road, which is among the stupidest tour stories I've ever heard.

Every night, after loading up their gear, they would attempt to find a campsite and pitch tents. Needless to say their attempts to do so at two in the morning, in pitch black and in the pouring rain, were largely unsuccessful. Three nights in, the shattered group threw in the towel and ended up shelling out an exorbitant amount on last minute hotel rooms. Ironically, their grand money saving plan ended up costing them more than if they'd just booked hotel rooms in the first place.

Food

When you're touring, it's essential to eat properly. Unfortunately, eating well on the road is very difficult.

A lack of cooking facilities mean that you're restricted to whatever you can buy that's ready to eat, or take out. Both are expensive, and continuous consumption of them will likely result in you shitting for three days straight after the tour's end.

So what to do? The key to success in this area is being prepared.

Firstly, speak with venues well in advance of the tour and see if they'll give you a rider that includes a meal. In my experience, while venues aren't always great at paying up-and-coming bands much money on tour, at least a basic rider is often negotiable. Hell, if they're paying you jack shit, they should at least be willing to feed you - if it comes to it, don't be afraid to remind them of that.

If you've my advice on accommodation and have arranged to stay with fans, ask those fans if they'd be OK with you using their kitchens. That way, you and your band can buy some basic ingredients and prepare some home-cooked food - healthier for you and much friendlier on the wallet than buying something pre-prepared. If your fans are really nice, they might even offer to cook for you, which is certainly a bonus.

Finally, make sure you pack plenty of long-lasting foodstuffs for the times when free chow isn't available. In my experience, goods like tinned mackerel and baked beans are great, cheap sources of protein that come in very handy if you're in a tight spot (remember to take a can opener folks!). Ramen noodles are also excellent if you have access to a kettle. Eating cold food from a can might seem desperate, but it's a budget friendly option that'll keep you fed while on the road. Besides, they don't leave you with that gut rot feeling you get after bad take-out, and that has to count for something.

By Alec Plowman

31 comments sorted by best / new / date

comments policy
    luttis
    Managed a short tour in a Toyota Yaris.. 3 piece band, took effects boards to go straight into house PA (some of the modelling stuff is really good these days), breakables for the drummer and one guitar / bass. Borrowed drum shells, merch in plastic bag, slept on floors, good times, low cost. :]
    d.floresumana
    Cool story bro... My country is a really small one (Costa Rica) you can probably play all 7 provinces in a weekend (if well scheduled hehe) nobody here does tours and I was thinking about that, renting a small car or small van and hit the road for a week or half week and play as many gigs as possible... Might not be a full tour but sounds like cool vacations haha!
    Simothesimo
    Roll your own cigarettes and drink cask wine. Eating and sleeping are for boy bands.
    nonumbershere
    You missed the best suggestion: Convert your van to have bunks and live in it. My band has been touring with our van conversion for 2 years now and it changed our lives.
    DeltaRim
    Hoping to tour soon with a friend, doing a white stripes kinda thing. Just drummer and guitarist, me doing guitar and vocals. This will definitely help!
    Spenner2810
    My band put $100 dollars each together and bought a go pro camera and we just video ourselves playing in the garage in front of our neighbors and relatives and post it in on our youtube channel. We get to eat well, sleep in our own beds and wear clean clothes in the morning....and we still have $17 left over from buying the camera. Mind you, we are fucking shit.
    Firewitch
    Whoever wrote that article has clearly experienced life on the road! I couldn't agree more with the fact that you gotta keep things simple. I used to have loads of rackmounted gear, effect, amps, cabs, and guitars, and now only travel with one amp head (a cab is usually rented by the venue or shared by another band), one guitar, and a tuner - and my playing got better!
    GrimKage
    After watching Green Room, touring doesn't seem like the barrel of laughs I thought it was
    nodurquack
    When my band went on our first tour we didn't even do half of this... we packed all our gear into a minivan, had to remove the seats and sit cramped on the floor with out backs on our gear. We would get fast food maybe twice a week and the was a luxury. We mostly ate peanut butter sandwiches or raw ramen and slept outside in parks or parking lots and maybe under a pavilion if it was raining. The only money we made was on the very few t-shirt sales we had and all of that went towards gas. It was a ton of fun, and you can definitely make a tour happen with very minimal amounts of funds if you have the right mindset.
    sj01257
    I had a band stay on my floor unexpectedly thanks to my roommate, at first I was kinda pissed but the guys were awesome and super friendly and cooked us a big meal and cleaned up. I wouldn't mind doing that again to help someone pursue a dream
    cmvideo
    Is this article serious? Crash on strangers floors and cook in their kitchens?? I guess I wasn't meant to be a rock star then.
    flexiblemile
    Don't worry, your band will get a multi million dollar record deal after your second gig and you won't have to go through the you know... work
    nathanael.bohne
    That happens all the time, generally they aren't even strangers as they are either bands asking fans they already know, or friends in other bands that live in the city....nobody said that being in a band was glamorous by any means, especially when your at the bottom of the totem poll
    scottishmob
    Dude - it sounds like a lot of work - and a real good time - and a chance to meet really cool people. What exactly were you expecting?
    martinmurphy115
    Have done it quite a few times and have hosted too! Making new friends in new cities is fun, counts for a good night with new crew whilst touring. Going international and sleeping on a fans floor - they may sure you some cool locations in their city Hosting bands (Especially, interstate and internationals) can boost your social portfolio tenfold. With the likes of some bands asking you to come tour their countries / states to return the favor.
    Spenner2810
    Is here a website where bands and house-owners can get in touch with each other ? How do you get to know if a band needs a place to stay ?
    d.floresumana
    CouchSurfing used to do it... you have an "I'm in a band badge". The badge is no longer an option but you can still request for stay in it!
    tomtom0026
    Also on food, I know most supermarkets in the UK do it and I guess it happens in places like Walmart in the US, in the evenings staff bring out massively reduced food that has a best before date for the next day or is a bit dodgy. It's not exactly good food but if you need something for after shows things like fruit pots can be as little as 3 pence in the UK, which could mean fairly good food that needs no cooking for literally pennies. (I work in a tesco store when they bring these reductions out so I'm experienced in these reductions and how crazy some of them are (whole chickens reduced from £5 to 5p)). Trust me it will save you a shit ton of money if you can get dinner for 20p instead of £20 on a few nights.
    Emo4Christ
    Does anyone have any advice for expanding one's fanbase? Some of these tips rely more or less on the fans of the band rather than the band themselves. If you are a new band trying to get your name out there, how can you expand your fanbase to places outside of your hometown?
    JackMills
    sounds like a cop out answer - but play shows further away. Ask for Facebook likes, give out demos and mixtapes. Playing in your city & the next is great and all, lots of familiar faces, but you just need to paint to map with venues where you've played really.
    RustedWithin
    Lately bands are all over social media. Get your videos on Youtube. Make a facebook page and just get a decent online presence. get your music on sampler discs or mix cds. fuck, get on music podcasts. Snapchat is super popular right now. Just get your content in front of as many people as possible. I know this sounds whack but even negative comments help in a way. People try to burn you and others go to be nosy and may realize, "these blokes aren't bad." A cosign also goes way far. Get noticed and have someone mention you, you'll be surprised how your notoriety blows up.