Planning On Going On Tour With Your Band For The First Time?
It seems automatic. Going on tour with your band is what naturally follows releasing your album or EP. But you need to consider these four important factors before firing up your email and starting to call up promoters. Putting yourself and your band on the road before you’re prepared can be disastrous. And I don’t mean just making sure you have merch to sell, working GPS, gas money, and a radiator that can retain fluids.
Clearly Define Your Goals for Going On Tour With Your Band
Are You Going On Tour With Your Band For Existing Fans or Fan Development?
When it comes to serving your fans, there is nothing better than showing up in their hometown and performing the songs they love for them. Touring is your chance to make personal connections with fans that will create life-long memories, perhaps for both of you. The perfect tour is one in which you are travelling from market to market to perform for existing fans while developing new ones.
It is only under specific situations in which a tour with the sole purpose of developing fans is the one and only objective. Most often, fan development is less expensive, less challenging, and less dangerous when done from home. Yes, it’s less fun. But if you can exchange hours behind the wheel of a car and hours of load-in and waiting in addition to the 30 to 45 minutes on stage with time spent developing fans on social media, the latter is much more preferable.
However, if you have the opportunity to play for thousands of people, routing a tour of dates to get to and from that performance can be worthwhile. If you have the opportunity to perform for hundreds of people each night as an opening act, that tour can be worthwhile. Otherwise, continue to develop your following online until these opportunities become available or you have fans waiting for you in the markets you are going to.
Are You Creating a Tour History And Developing Promoter Relationships For Pitching A Booking Agent?
When approaching a booking agent, having a tour history and some pre-existing promoter relationships are crucial. However, booking a tour that fails to meet the criteria above will likely do more damage than good when approaching a booking agent. Continue to develop your following in local markets as a weekend warrior. Grow your streaming platform and social media audiences. You will only be attractive for a good booking agent when they know you have enough fans in enough markets for you to tour profitably. There are no shortcuts!
For a priceless guide on how to grow your band’s ability to tour, I highly recommend Martin Atkins’s Tour Smart. Check that book out here!
I talk about strategies for getting a booking agent in this video here. Check it out here, like it, subscribe, and comment!
Are You Going On Tour With Your Band to Make Money?
If you haven’t toured before, and you don’t have fans waiting for you in the markets you are going to, you won’t. The only exceptions to this can be if you have an identity with your band that will attract an audience, such as a religious or political identity. But for the great, great majority of new touring artists, touring is a money loser.
Make a Budget and Prepare to Lose Money
Fairly simply, to make a profit on your touring, you need to take in more money than you put out. And the opportunities for financial disaster greatly outweigh the opportunities for huge financial success. Calamities like vehicle or equipment damage, health problems or physical accidents (especially in the United States), or theft can be financially crippling. Each time you put the band in the van you risk any of these. On the contrary, the number of times your merch booth will get wiped out by rabid, cash-paying fans is few. But it’s happened to me. (Hello, Cincinnati!)
However, beyond the calamities, you do have some failrly predictable incomes and expenses. Let’s look at each in turn.
Types of Touring Income
Performance Guarantees and Door Income
Always try to negotiate a guarantee payment for your performance. This can be challenging in a market you haven’t performed in before but getting enough to compensate for fuel and food is all you need to get to the next gig. When a guarantee isn’t happening, you can negotiate for a percentage of the income coming in at the door. You’ll want to know how much the venue is charging to see your performance, the number of “guest listed” people allowed, and you’ll want to verify the number actually paid in attendance. For gigs without a guarantee, predicting the income is very difficult. Be conservative and expect a very low number, especially when compared to the number who mark themselves as “attending” on your Facebook Event!
Have a variety of items at a variety of price points at your merch booth. Having nothing but items priced at $20, for example, is a mistake. Have items at $5 or less, $6 – $19, $20-$34, and $35 and up. You want to be able to provide something for everyone no matter how much or little money they have in their pocket.
If you can, also have items in multiple sizes and colors. There are some people who only wear black shirts. Some who only wear white. And some who won’t ever wear either. As for sizes, especially when touring the United States, having XXL and XXXL sizes available can be crucial. Price those accordingly as they will be more expensive for you to produce. And be wary of the climate you will be touring in. Having merchandise for cold weather, or hot weather, depending on when and where you are touring, can make a big difference in your merchandise income.
Get creative with your merchandse. Used drumsticks, broken drumheads, t-shirts wrapped in broken guitar strings… if you have it, sell it. If it’s broken, autograph it and sell it. I recently heard of a band that sold an autographed slice of pizza!
Always always always remind the audience from the stage you have merchandise for sale and send your singer / guitarist to the merch booth immediately after performing. Every fan conversation should happen at the merch booth and every photograph and hand shake should include a merchandise purchase. You need to survive out there!
Again, predicting your merchandise income is difficult. Be sure to take into account expected attendance, past history, and the merchandise you will have available to sell into account. And remember, the profit on your merchandise is how much you take in minus how much you spent to create it. When the merchandise is sold out, you will want to purchase more.
Only bands with established followings are able to sell VIP packages, but the having “pre-sales” of tickets, experiences, merchandise, etc provides a predictable stream of revenue. If you have an audience you can provide something cool for (can you say “house party”?), please do it.
Types of Touring Expenses
Vehicle, Fuel, and Repair Costs
The most comfortable vehicles are going to have the lowest fuel economy, but they can also save you money on accommodations. You can predict your fuel costs by calculating how many miles you are going to go on your tour, plus 10% for incidental travel, divided by the number of miles per gallon your vehicle gets on average, times the average cost for fuel in the markets you are going to. For example, going from Boston to Hartford to New York back to Boston in a vehicle getting 20 miles per gallon at the fuel prices in these markets in the summer of 2019 would be calculated like this:
- Distance Travelled: 435 miles
- Plus 10%: 480 miles (435 miles + 45 miles)
- 20 Miles Per Gallon: 24 gallons (480 miles / 20 miles per gallon)
- Gas Prices: $2.70 in Boston, $2.82 in Hartford, $2.84 in New York – fuel up in Massachusetts! $64.80 (24 mpg * $2.70)
Food and Accommodation
Food – Always negotiate for the promoter or venue to feed you. You may get sick of cheap pizza with weird toppings but feeding your band will get expensive quickly on the road. Request healthy alternatives – Subway can be a god-send by week 2. Bring a cooler to store leftover food for eating later. It’s better than a gas station hot dog in more ways than one. You can keep this expense fairly low by preparing and getting creative. If you have a band bankroll prior to touring or guarantees you can budget for, establishing a “per diem” for each member of your touring party is standard.
Accommodation – Negotiating for a hotel room from promoters can be challenging for a new band when on tour, but it’s worth it. Some venues and promoters have relationships with local hotels or people willing to put up a cool, new band. Always be respectful when staying in someone’s home. You don’t want to create a reputation for not being a band someone would want in their house. Fellow bands are going to be great hosts, as will the fans you meet at your merch booth. Regardless, be prepared to deal with the bassist’s snoring. If you can’t sleep in your bus or van and use Planet Fitness or YMCA for their showers, try your best to predict how much you will be spending on hotels on your tour.
Sticks, strings, replacement pedals, and incidental repairs are inevitable on the road. Know where the music equipment shops in each market are and prepare to stock up what you can before you go. Otherwise, try to predict how much you’ll be spending on these incidentals while on the road.
If this is your first tour or two, don’t expect to take any crew on the road with you. Each mouth you have to feed, or that can say the wrong thing at the wrong time, is a mouth you would rather not have in the van sooner or later. But having someone else able to drive, make sure you sound great from behind the soundboard, able to double-check all your equipment has made it back in the van, and able to sell your merchandise can also be a real asset. If you are taking one or two people on the road with you to help, know how much you’re going to have to pay them and take them into account when predicting your other expenses.
Plan for the Effort It Takes to Make Going On Tour With Your Band Possible
Booking your own tour is a time-suck.
You will spend days cold-calling promoter after promoter and being told “no” every way possible, when you’re lucky. What’s worse are the number of promoters who sounded promising on the first call but then won’t return a call or email after. Booking a tour is one of the hardest things to do. Sometimes, the promoter will book your band if you put the whole night together for them! Now you’re on the phone cold-calling bands too!
There is an emotional toll putting all this work into booking a tour.
Take that into account before attempting it. There will be “low-hanging fruit”. There will be markets you already have relationships in and “tent pole” gigs that booked themselves before the thought of touring possibly occurred to you. Keep a map in front of you and be creative where you pitch. Ask for referrals everywhere you can.
The time you spend booking could be more productive doing other things to advance the interests of you band.
Keep in mind what you are sacrificing to make this tour happen.
Does Your Band Have the Right Cohesion and Relationships to Go On Tour?
Every band is a collection of personalities. Be wary as to whether the personalities in your band will be able to co-exist in a confined space for the duration of the tour. Will your band survive?
I know for a fact I’m not the only former bandmate to get a musical instrument thrown at his head on a stage in some remote city in the Midwest!
Some tours are great at discovering which band members just aren’t cut out for pursuing music as a career. But some tours end a band prematurely.
Have at least one conversation ahead of time as to what the “rules” are going to be. To keep some of the most hurtful conversations off the road make sure everyone is accountable to each other. Do this by making sure everyone has agreed to the same rules in advance.
I also recommend taking a moment before every performance to bond the band.
This should be both emotional and physical contact. A group huddle is great for this. It depreciates any bad mojo that might have been happening before getting on the stage and generally creates a team atmosphere that can carry the band for years past its lifetime without it.
Should You Go On Tour? YES!!!
The road is crucial for your band’s longtime survival. Being a touring entity also makes your band attractive to record labels, managers and (of course) booking agents. You need to develop an fanbase waiting for you in markets within a few hours of each other. Building this fanbase should be one of your highest priorities.
But make sure you have clearly defined goals for touring. Be prepared to lose money on your earliest tours. Be prepared for the effort it’s going to take to book your tours. And make sure you have the right personnel in the van to survive emotially while touring.
Touring is going to provide the stories you’ll remember for the rest of your life. When you’re ready, be sure to tour.