Every band thinks about touring at some point and so few actually do. I'm not talking about a tour of your neighboring cities. I'm talking hours of driving, uncomfortable seating, and taking gigs on off-nights because it's a better idea to make thirty bucks than to wonder if you have enough gas to make it to the next town. I'm sorry, I guess I should have said every band thinks about being the band on tour who's away from home rocking out every night and enjoying themselves. Well, the two go hand in hand.
If you've toured before you'll know that a lot of this information comes as common sense literally within a few days of being on the road your band's routine or system kicks in and the tour goes on autopilot. However the point of this guide is the educate and inform those of you who've never hit the pavement in a van full of gear in pursuit of making it big. It's often a long, arduous, and smelly journey but you get addicted and will want to do it again the second you get home.
This isn't meant to be a step by step guide into touring so much as it is an overview of how a tour should come together for the average DIY band. Best of luck.
Are You Ready To Tour?
A few questions you need to ask yourself:
Does my band have a solid enough fan base in the local area? You're probably wondering why the local market has anything to do with you going abroad. Well, there are two main reasons for this. The first is simply that it serves as a gauge of interest in your band. If your fan base is made up of a good spread of music listeners (ie, not just your girlfriends and relatives) then you're on the right track and the same thing will likely happen in other cities. Second, you need to depend on your local gigs to make up the funds to head out on the road. Plan to take a few extra gigs to fill the band fund up as you lead to the tour you're embarking on.
Do we have reliable transportation?
My first touring band destroyed three vans on three separate tours because we didn't take appropriate vehicles to handle the combined weight of the members and the gear. Do not expect to pull off a 10 day tour in a minivan if you have a typical rock stage setup (I'm talking at least one stack, a bass rig, the drums, and assorted luggage). Suspensions will drop out, transmissions will die, and brakes will fall apart. Make sure you have the proper vehicle for what you're hauling and how long you're hauling it.
How long do we want to go on tour?Can everyone take the time off? Time off becomes the enemy by the time you hit your second or third tour it loses some of it's charm in your family/girlfriend/boss' eyes and becomes a nuisance, meaning it gets more difficult to get the time off the more often you go on tour. But that's a discussion for another article. The length of your tour is really up to you and your band because you'll need to determine how much work you can miss, how much you stand to gain from the tour, and how long you want to be out of your comfort zone. The kind of tour you're booking will determine the length as well, which brings me to my next point.
How to Book a Tour
Booking a tour is a lot easier than people make it out to be. You just need to be diligent and plan ahead. Giving yourself at least 3 months to get the show dates is a good idea whether you know the venues already or have to start completely from scratch.
Identify the type of tour you're booking.
You can do two general types of tours that I like to call Main Market Tours and All Market Tours. A Main Market Tour is when you only play in the biggest cities with the largest pieces of the music industry that you can get close to. Of course this is geographic, but building profile in a city that houses the kind of people who should hear you (agents, reps, promoters, and media) is the smartest choice when time and money are constraints on the tour. Get in, do the job, and get home, all while hitting the bigger markets. Alternatively you can do the All Market Tour which is when you look at a map and pick out all the cities in a certain radius and plan to play in each one over a certain length of time. If you only have a week, I'd go with the first type. Two weeks or more and I'd consider the second. That isn't to say you can't mix it up: If a smaller city is completely en route to a bigger city, see if you can wedge a gig in there on the way up.
Find venues and promoters.
Once you've narrowed down your cities and dates start doing up emails and press kits to send to the venues and promoters that you feel would be interested in an act like yours. Try to think from a venue owner's perspective all you are in the end is drink sales. You can have the best songs in the world, but if no one cares to come see you it'll be hard to get a returning gig (and after all, you are hopefully going to tour again sometime and will want to build on the relationships you opened with these venues the first time around). This raises the question: How am I supposed to get people in the door if I've never played there before? Well, if you're asking yourself this question you've already done half the work. Just promote the shows as best you can and play your heart out, even if 3 people show up. Impress the bar staff and you'll have done enough to come back.
How to Promote a Tour
Promotion within a city is specific to the avenues available in that area, but it all comes down to some fairly simple stuff. It just takes time and dedication.
Print Media, Radio, and Television
Every city has a local arts paper or magazine. Research and figure out where to send your press release (you've made a press release, right?), tour dates, and try to make it a little more personal (ie, talk about why this town is particularly exciting for your band). Also look up all the radio stations in those cities as well as television stations. Get in contact with the program director and give them your pitch. Hopefully your pitch has an interesting angle to it that they can get behind.
Internet Forums and Blogs
The internet is global and so are musicians. You may find new fans right here on UG or with other forums specific to your tour destinations. Bloggers in well connected music circles are the people you want writing positively about your band. They have listeners. Post your show date, strike up a conversation, and make a connection.
There's always someone in the tour van who's got their laptop or cell phone going. Log into your Facebook, Twitter, or Myspace and send an update once in a while. Van broke down. Having an acoustic jam on the side of the road to entertain the mechanic. Keep it interesting and informative don't stop at Chicago tonight! Make a joke while you're at it or offer something special for your potential guests. Ask questions. People love to voice their opinions.
Every tour needs a tour poster. I'm not going to run on a graphic design rant but make sure you have an attractive poster with all your dates listed, but also have a secondary poster with a blank space to custom tailor on a per show basis. Send these posters to all the venues, radio stations, and any friends or fans in your street team who live in the area. Keep extra ones on hand to autograph or put up in local stores on your off days.
Next week I'll be talking about what to keep in mind when you're about to embark on the tour. Until then, get out your map and start planning your adventure.
Chris Gallant is the lead singer and guitarist of The Sidewalks, an alternative rock/ska band from PEI, Canada. He has been promoting acts and booking his own tours for three years now. For more information on the band or this topic please write email@example.com