The Golden Rules of Not Going Broke on Tour: Part 2

Maximize your profits with this week's guide.

Ultimate Guitar
...And we're back! In last edition, we talked about how you can avoid going broke on tour by minimizing your expenses. This time, we've looking at ways to maximize your profits.

I'll get this out of the way to start. When you start out, making money on tour is hard. Without much of backing or a following to speak of, your band is an unknown quantity, and unknown quantities don't often get money thrown at them.

That said, there are ways to make some money while you're out on tour for the first or second time. I'm not talking crazy profits here - this is an article about not going broke on tour, not about making lots of money. But, sticking to these rules will make a positive difference to your tour finances and hopefully keep your band out of the red.

Make Sure You Get Paid Something

Ok, so this one might seem obvious, but getting paid on tour isn't always as easy as you'd think.

For unsigned bands going out on their first, or second tour. Getting financial reward from promoters can sometimes prove challenging. Booking new bands is a risk, as they don't guarantee the kind of attendance that you can get from established acts. As a result, gig organizers aren't always forthcoming with cash for up-and-coming artists.

If you're supporting an established act, you're going to be looking at a significantly smaller cut of the money than the main band because your group isn't the main draw. In extreme circumstances, I've heard stories of young groups going on tour with a bigger name band and playing basically for free because they think it will bring them exposure. Then there's buying a way into a tour, where a band will either agree to sell a minimum number of tickets (and pay the difference if they are short) or pay the headlining act for the privilege of opening for them.

First things first, I'd advise thinking very carefully about playing for free or buying your way into a tour. Weigh up what exposure you'd actually get opening for the act in question and decide whether that exposure is worth the price that you pay for it (while opening for X name band might seem like a good opportunity, playing a set to the five people that have showed up early before they go on probably isn't going to boost your reputation to any great degree).

Secondly, make sure that you're at least getting something for the trouble of playing a gig - never do it for nothing.

Even if a promoter won't pay you upfront for playing, they might be willing to offer you a portion of the ticket sales. Depending on how many people show up to a given show, a cut of the gate could mean anything from a couple of dollars to a three or four figure sum. When you're starting out, it's likely to be the former, rather than the latter, but even a few bucks will go some way to offsetting the expenses of life on the road.

If a cut of the gate is out of the question, promoters may still cover some of your costs for getting to the gig. When arranging the tour, make sure to ask every promoter you talk to if they'll pay your gas money for getting to the show. Again, the $50 you may end up getting for fuel goes some way to keeping your bank balance in the black, and it isn't unreasonable to ask for some compensation when you're traveling to a given venue (especially if you're otherwise playing for free). To the same end, don't be afraid to ask if there's anything else they can do to help you out on tour. I talked about requesting riders in the last edition, but it bears repeating here. More general requests for help can also produce results - I know bands that have been allowed to stay in a venue overnight after inquiring about local accommodation. Not exactly cushy I know, but it saved them $100 in hotel fees on that one stop.

Make the Most of Your Merch

Ticket money aside, your main source of revenue when out on the road will come from merchandise sales. So make sure you've got a load of killer merch available!

For the record, killer merch does not mean boring black t-shirts with your band's boring logo slapped on them or stickers that you've made using your inkjet printer. If you rock up with those in tow, you'll look like amateurs, and that will put people off buying your gear.

Even though it might seem like an expense, hire a graphic artist to come up with some great merch designs (if you can coerce a graphic designer friend or graphic design student to do it on the cheap, then even better). Think of some unique products that fit the ethic of your band. With a combination of unique and well designed merchandise, you'll be in a much better position to sell, and will likely make more money from apparel and ephemera while you're out on tour.

On a related note, making the most of your merch also entails having someone at your gig to sell it. When you're not playing, make sure at least a couple of your group are manning the table - preferably your most charismatic band members who aren't afraid to talk to people and are good at making a sale. Prior to the gig, see if you can arrange for a fan to man the table for you while you play (if you've got someone letting you stay in their house after the show, that same person may be willing to handle merch duties for half an hour). If you can bring a dedicated merch guy/gal with you on tour, then even better, but factor in how much bringing an extra person on the road with you will cost and work out whether it's actually worth it taking them with you.

Also, make it easy for people to see you're selling stuff, and make it easy for them to buy it! An eye-catching point of sale display for your merch table is a must, and I'd also thoroughly recommend investing in some kind of card payment processing device. There are plenty of inexpensive solutions for that these days that you can connect to your smartphone or tablet, so do some research. Remember, the more visible your merch is and the more payment options you offer, the more likely people are to buy it.

One final word of advice on merch - when you're an unsigned band, avoid getting tour dates printed on the back of your shirts. That way, if you don't sell all of the shirts on a particular jaunt, you can still take them out and flog them the next time you hit the road along with your newer merch. Doing that maximizes your profit and means you don't end up with boxes of old shirts cluttering up your garage.

Make the World Aware That You're on Tour

In my experience, bands more often than not will spend a load of time and energy promoting a tour before they head out, only for that promotional energy to completely dissipate by the time they hit the road.

To an extent, that's understandable. When you're worrying about flat tires, gas money, soundchecks and gear itineraries, getting your Twitter on doesn't exactly seem like a major priority.

But, promoting the tour while you're on tour can be enormously beneficial, not just in getting more people to your shows, but reminding your existing fans why they support you in the first place.

Here's the thing. Your band has fans, but not all of those fans are the same. You'll have a core, loyal following of hardcore devotees - the sort of people who buy all your records, all your merch, and who were waiting in line to buy tickets to your tour on the day that the box office opened. Outside of that core, you'll have the guys and gals that like your band, but aren't nearly as fervent in their devotion.

Chances are that your fanbase will be made up more of the latter than the former. Unlike your megafans, those will be the people that will need convincing that forking out $15 to see one of your shows, rather than staying at home and listing to your album on Spotify, is money well spent. And, the best way to convince them is to remind them that you're on tour, heading to their town, and having a fucking blast while out on the road.

Photos, live videos, backstage antics, fun anecdotes - sharing these things on social media shows fans on the fence what they'll be missing if they don't check you out. It reminds them that you're coming to their town, that you kick ass, and that dropping a couple of Hamiltons on some sweet rock and roll is a much better option than binge watching season 4 of "Nashville."

This kind of promotion also impacts on fans that have already been to your shows. Checking Facebook or Twitter the day after the gig to be reminded of how good your show was through photos and videos is likely to cement in their mind how positive the experience was. Not only are they, still on a post-gig high, more likely to share said content (potentially opening you up to a wider audience), they're also more likely to remember how great your band was when you hit their city again next year. By that point, you've turned them into a repeat customer, and repeat customers are great for business.

By Alec Plowman

11 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Another Idea: don't act like Marylin Manson if you're not popular, because then you're just a douche
    Step 1 : Be Guns N'Roses.
    Step 2: Make sure you don't have an Axl
    Do you want to make money or not? Without Axl they definitely wouldn't have made as much money as they have now
    Just organize every show yourself. That is what we do for a year now. Don't rely on bookers. Look up for venues that are free (there are a lot), contact bands from the town you want to play in, make the flyer yourself. Ask 5-10$ at door (no presale tickets). and split the door money equaly to each band. But make sure to have a good exposure for your shows or be prepare to pay other bands with your personal money.