How to Book Your Own Tour
Is your band consistently selling out shows in your hometown? Do fans from nearby cities travel to see you play? Is buzz starting to grow about your band in neighboring towns? If you answered yes to all of the above, it’s time to start thinking about booking a tour.
Making Sure You’re Ready
If planned correctly, a tour will help you expand your audience, make some money, and head out on an adventure. For maximum impact, however, determine whether your band is ready. Realistically assess the rooms you can fill in the town where you live. If you’re regularly getting 200-300 people out to watch you play, you’ve got the type of draw that will convince Talent Buyers to take a chance on you—even in cities where you’ve never played a show.
You should already have a solid, up-to-date band bio, website, and Soundcloud or Bandcamp page. You should also have a social presence across Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram with significant fan numbers and regular interaction. These assets will be your calling cards when contacting bookers in other cities.
Next, determine what kind of tour will benefit you the most. Depending on where you’re at in terms of audience reach, it might be best to start with a mini tour of college towns and major metropolitan areas within your state, before expanding to the surrounding states. Of course, if there’s a mid-sized city just over the state line, or if you live in a smaller state, you can always expand the range of your tour accordingly. After that, you can start planning a tour within your immediate geographical region, such as a tour of the Midwestern states from say, Fargo to Cleveland. After touring this circuit a few times, chart a tour of a larger region, like a West Coast tour where you’ll drive from Portland to San Diego. Once you’ve successfully completed a few coastal and/or regional tours, then you can think about a nationwide tour.
Establishing a Timeline
Once you know the general geographical range of your tour, you need to create a timeline. Give yourself plenty of time to get everything squared away so you’re not stressed while you’re in the van and can focus on having a good time and delivering a kickass live show. Start charting your tour 5-6 months ahead of the actual dates you want to be on the road. Tour stops will change, venues will drop you, and other venues will decide they want you at the very last minute. A bit of scrambling to deal with changes is to be expected on every tour, but if you’ve established your basic tour structure ahead of time, you’ll be able to keep it to a minimum.
Right off the bat you’ll need to start routing your tour and contacting Talent Buyers. Within this early 5-6 month period, you’ll also want to book a show every 4-6 weeks or so in your hometown so you have time to raise tour-specific funds. This time period will also allow you to start saving money–not only to live on the road, but for the period of time you’ll be away from work. You don’t want to count on living exclusively off of the door money and merch sales you make on tour, or you could find yourself struggling to scrape up enough cash for gas if your turnout wasn’t so great the night before.
As you’re booking dates, figure out lodging in each city. You can re-confirm with friends who agree to let you stay with them 1-2 months before you head out. Within this same 1-2 months before you leave, contact press in each of the towns you’re stopping in, and create Facebook invites for your shows. Two weeks to a month before you leave for tour, follow up with venues to confirm all the necessary details. We’ll go more in-depth with each of these steps later in the article.
“Yeah, touring can get rough some times and draining, but I always have to pinch myself and realize that I’m doing what I love.” – Jonny Lang
Routing the Tour
Once you’ve got your timeline established, start routing your tour. Use Google Maps to figure out the most effective route. Try to keep drive time between cities under eight hours for nights when you’re playing shows. If you’re on a longer tour, you’ll want to keep your stamina up, so aim to drive less than twelve hours on days when you’re not playing. You don’t want to overdo it, even if you’re taking turns. Road life can wear on you sooner than you’d expect.
Finding venues within the cities you’ll be stopping in requires a bit of research. Use Facebook to ask your fans which bars and concert spaces would make sense for your musical genre and audience draw. Who knows—maybe your fans even have connections to some of these venues and would be happy to help you setup a show. You can also read venue reviews on Yelp, check out local music/culture blogs, or research local Facebook groups based on a certain genre of music in a certain geographical location, such as a San Diego Surf Rock Enthusiasts page or a Los Angeles Goth Rock Community page. Once you’ve identified some potential concert spaces, check out their show and events calendars. Is the night you want open? If not, could your band fit on the bill sound-wise, if there are only a couple bands booked? If so, you’ve got a shot at booking a gig at one of these clubs.
When checking out possible venues, get creative. Depending on your genre of music, you could play house shows, art galleries, or underground venues. Often these will be your best option when you’re unable to book a traditional bar or concert venue for the date you’ll be in town or for when you’re not well-known enough in a certain town to book a larger room. If you’re playing a non-traditional venue, set a reasonable asking price. People will pay more to see a touring band because they understand you’re dealing with road expenses, but ensure your prices are in line with what people expect to pay at the venue, based on cover charges at past shows.
While you’re looking at all these venue calendars and websites, you’ll start seeing the names of a lot of local bands. Once a band sounds intriguing to you, check out their social presence and their tunes online. If you think they’d fit onto a bill with you, contact them. Since hometown bands often have their own built-in audience, partnering with them will make it easier to get a show, plus you’ll be more likely to play to a crowd who digs your type of music.
If you’re able to put together a package night with a local band—especially one with an established, positive history with a venue—you’ll be in good shape when contacting Talent Buyers. These days, most bookers do the majority of their business via email so you’ll want to approach them with a simple message which includes everything they need to know without turning it into a full-on novel. Include your band name and the date you want to play within the subject of the email. In the body of the email, be sure to include your band bio, a link to your social pages, a SoundCloud or Bandcamp link, a link to a live video (preferably one showing how much the crowd adores you), and projected figures for audience numbers. If you don’t have a performance history in a city, ask the band you’re partnering with what their audience numbers usually are and estimate based on this figure.
If multiple band members are responsible for booking dates, create a shared online calendar with TBD dates in routed cities. When you book a show, add in essential details such as venue address, show time, contact name and info (email/phone), the name of your “day of show” contact, load-in time, financial compensation info, the name of the other bands and so on. Ask the band member who confirmed the show to put their name in parentheses next to it in case any questions arise or if anything changes.
Promoting the Tour
Once you’ve got your dates lined up, your attention should turn to spreading the word. Create Facebook invites for each stop on the tour and be sure to send the info to the other bands you’re playing with so they can also invite people and promote the show. Send your event listing to local community events calendars, show listing websites, alt weeklies, music writers, and college newspapers. You can also create your own event listings on sites like the Do Stuff network, Yelp, Eventful and Eventbrite.
You can also send posters to the venue to promote your tour date. Bigger clubs will produce their own posters, but smaller clubs probably won’t have the budget. Include a poster that stands out because of a distinctive design. Be sure this design includes some blank space for you to add in details about the date, time, price and other bands playing before you send it out to venues.
Don’t forget to promote the tour while you’re actually on tour! Thank your fans on your social pages, take pictures at wacky tourist attractions, and post live video. This provides added value for fans at home who can journey along with you, and it’ll keep you in the minds of fans along your tour stops
“Being in a rock band is about touring. It’s about writing songs and it’s about making records but it’s also about taking a wonderful smile onto that stage and making people feel good about themselves.” – James Young
Booking Your Lodging
You can figure out your lodging situation as you book show dates. Early on, this will usually mean asking a friend or a friend of a friend for a floor to crash on. You can also get advice from bands you know who have previously toured through certain cities to see if they have any lodging hookups in town. Try to avoid hotels as much as possible if you don’t want to watch your hard-earned tour dough disappear.
Delegating Tour Duties
Assigning each band member a nightly duty can streamline your touring process. Knowing one person is handling merch setup and takedown duties and one person is settling the show with the Talent Buyer at the end of the night can keep you on track so you’re not losing valuable sleeping/driving/doing laundry time. Keep your tour crew barebones while you’re just getting started.
Determining Which Merch to Bring Along
Merchandise takes up a lot of room in the van, but it’s also the best way for bands to make money on the road. Have all your EPs and albums available for purchase. Consider creating a “tour only” exclusive release. T-shirts and tote bags are also standard merch table products. You should consider bringing along any novelty items people will want to buy because they’re weird, cool, funny, or unique. We’re talking about items such as band-branded beach towels, underwear, or hot sauce—all of which are items bands have actually sold on tour.
Don’t miss out on sales by not having proper change or a way to run credit cards. Square and similar apps can process credit transactions on your IOS or Android device.
You want to be sure there’s always someone reliable standing behind the merch table. This can be a band member when you’re not playing. When you are, ask another band, a friend who lives in town, or offer a fan a guest list spot if they’ll watch the table during your set.
Staying in Touch After the Tour
Thank your fans online and thank the Talent Buyers who booked your band. Touring is about establishing and maintaining awesome relationships with industry figures so next time you’re in town, people are excited and ready to help. After you’ve established a positive reputation in a city, the whole touring thing will get a little bit easier every time you come through, your audience will keep growing, and you’ll be able to look forward to booking an even bigger tour next time.
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