Posted: 17 September 2019
Embarking on a sell-out tour is one of those things that all musicians think about from time to time. A different city every night, stagediving into the crowd, smashing up your guitar at five-star hotels—it’s the stuff of Hollywood dreams, but don’t rushing out to hire a tour bus just yet. As exciting as the prospect of touring can be, you need to work out if it’s an appropriate endeavour at this point in your career and personal life. You’ll have to consider if you have enough money, if you’re able to take time off work—or leave work completely—and if you have any other commitments at home. Remember to include your friends and family in this discussion as well as bandmates and management.
Once you’ve established if you can go on tour you need to figure out why you want to go. Are you going out to promoting an album? Have you been inundated with requests to visit a particular town? Are you trying to expand into a new area? Giving yourself a focus will help you to keep the tour manageable and help shape the decisions that you make. From there you can narrow down where you want to go and how long for.
Some artists enjoy the challenge of touring in a place where they’re unknown, while others prefer the safety of towns with a big fan following. But how can you find this information? Luckily, it’s now easier than ever to gather data about your followers. With your Spotify artist account, you can filter through your followers by country and city to find the areas where most of your streams are coming from. If you don’t use Spotify, you can also find follower stats on Instagram by converting your profile to a business account. It’s also worth checking out your age and gender stats on these platforms to help you decide on the kind of venues to approach and what merch to bring.
Although it’s tempting to go everywhere you can find a fan, it’s important to know where to draw the line. Try to pick places that are connected to major motorways and have nearby accommodation. Don’t get caught out by places that have low bridges or restrictions on tour buses and large vans. As all of this information comes together you can start drafting out a route and assign a date to each stop.
Don’t forget to make a note of any toll bridges, border checks or major roadworks along your route.
When it comes to life on the road, the budget is your best friend. Making a list of all your expenditures in advance will highlight the things that you really don’t need to spend money on. However, don’t cut back to the detriment of your own health, you still need to eat properly and get plenty of rest. You can always save money by calling in favours from friends and family that live along the route. Don’t forget to put some money aside for emergencies such as an unscheduled stop, broken equipment or vehicle trouble.
The biggest mistake most touring hopefuls make is not planning far enough ahead. Booking a multi-stop tour in unfamiliar territory is very different to dropping by your local bar and asking if they’ll let you play next week. Some venues fill up 6 months or more in advance, so it’s important to start making contact early. You also need to account for the fact that some places could take weeks to respond to you and others might not respond at all. If you stumble across a venue that tells you it’s too early to book, then make sure to get a contact name and number so you can call back directly at a later date.
Once you’ve drafted a route, it’s time to start contacting venues. Some places will have booking information on their websites but for others you may have to use an online directory. Either way, try to stick to their preferred method of contact to avoid your messages ending up in a spam folder. Although most businesses actively engage with social media, the promoter might not directly run these accounts and your DM could end up being left on ‘read’. Remember to approach places that are appropriate for your genre and career level.
Try to keep your performance request brief and specific to each venue, with a link to your press kit if you have one.
You got the gig but what happens next? Like any other deal you make, you should try to get written confirmation of the booking, the payment details and any policies they have about merch. You’ll also need to find out if they plan on promoting your show and whether you need to provide them with any of the marketing material. You should also be using the run up to the show to do your own promoting. As the tour dates get closer, you’ll need to find out what stage equipment is provided, if there’s a soundcheck on offer and how much space they have for merch.
You can also use the run up to your tour to plan press opportunities such as an interview on local radio. Remember to invite potential managers, label reps and local influencers to come and watch you play while you’re in town.
One way of reducing the cost of touring is to co-headline with another artist. This is definitely worth considering if you’re a solo artist and worried about getting lonely on the road. The most successful co-headliners tend to be the ones that play a similar genre of music and have similar ambitions. That doesn’t mean you have to be carbon copies of each other, after all, you each want to be memorable in your own way. While co-headliners tend to share the costs and the profits equally, the rules can be different for support acts. That’s not to say you should turn down an offer to support a major band, just be sure to find out the travel arrangements and whether you’ll get paid.
Planning a tour doesn’t have to give you a headache. It’s all about giving yourself enough time to do it right. But years later, when you’re reminiscing on the good old days with your family, you’ll know it was all worth it. And if it wasn’t, at least you’ll be able to write a moody ballad about it.