As one of my bands recently just finished another full west-coast tour, I think it would be good to put down some of the lessons learned, tips for booking, how to travel, etc. Please keep in mind that this is not necessarily a handbook for touring or a set of rules that work for everyone, but rather my self-taught-through-trial-and-error set of findings as a manager for an unsigned band. I’m sure that signed bands have a completely different experience. Next tour, I’ll probably throw a few of my current findings out, but that’s just part of the process.
THE MOST IMPORTANT QUESTION YOU NEED TO ANSWER BEFORE TOURING IS “WHY AM I GOING ON TOUR?” Everyone wants to tour. I don’t think I’ve ever run into a single musician that just wants to perform in the same town his/her entire career. The whole dream of “going big” is synonymous with performing all over the world, playing the biggest and best venues. BUT!…if you’re touring just to tour, see the sights, and don’t have a clear set of goals and resources, you’re wasting a lot of time and A LOT OF MONEY.
There are 2 terms that completely define if and when my bands tour: “Fan-base Growth" and "Product Distribution”.
1. Fan-base Growth:
Fan-base growth is the single most important reason and essentially the only ultimate reason for touring. When you tour, you are playing in cities and towns where you are an unknown. Fresh sounds on fresh ears in fresh venues is VITAL to band development. If you could live the rockstar life, make millions of dollars, and be all over the radio by simply playing locally, U2 wouldn’t be coming to your city every few years. Playing in front of new ears means making new fans, and making new fans means more people to tell others about you, and in the end, people equal resource…YES, I’M TALKING ABOUT MONEY.
The bottom line is that bands make MUCH more on shows than they do on albums. This trend will continue to shift as bands become more independently successful (see my post http://gabrielmira.tumblr.com/post/7432420053/independents-day ) but until then, this is still how it works, ESPECIALLY for smaller bands without huge distribution deals to get music out there for the masses to buy.
To put it simply, you need to have the goal of fan contact at the top of your list of reasons why you are touring. Not only will this help you develop better ways to reach fans on the go, but it will also force you to tighten your budget, maximize resources, prioritize where you play and how you book, decide how often you tour, and track your success.
2. Product Distribution:
If you don’t have a product (at least your music. If you have other merchandise, that’s even better) that is a GOOD-TO-GREAT representation of you, DO NOT TOUR. PERIOD. If fans can’t get access to your music to listen to and show to others, why do you play any shows at all? I understand that recording costs money, but Garage Band on a friend’s laptop is better than nothing at all…and once you develop a local fan base and get some cash, spend it on a product that represents you well, and then you consider touring.
Long story short, a vision without a plan is a fantasy, and unless the plan is going to grow you toward financial independence, you’re just losing work hours and paying for a really expensive and stressful vacation where you haul around a lot of heavy gear to a bunch of crappy bars and perform short sets on garbage sound systems for a group of people who couldn’t give a crap less about your music. Touring is strategic and needs to be planned.