To Tour Or Not To Tour…That Is The Question!
By Sheena Metal
It’s every musician’s fantasy. The tour bus rolls up to the arena (full of groupies, beer and pizza). Fans are crowded out front hoping to catch a glimpse of America’s hottest band. The group is escorted to their dressing room (full of more groupies, beer and pizza). They enjoy the various pleasures of stardom while roadies set up the stage. It’s show time. The artists take the stage. The crowd is screaming. The lights are glaring. The amps are humming. The drummer clicks off the first song and…
You wake up in the back of your PT Cruiser. Your bass player’s elbow is in your ear and the drummer’s asleep on your foot. You’ve eaten nothing for the last week but corn dogs and frozen burritos. This is not the tour you imagined. This is not your Lilith Faire. This is not your Lollapalooza. This is not your Warped Tour. This...sucks.
Every musician dreams of touring. Getting out of their same boring town. Trying their tunes out on new crowds, in new areas, for fresh faces. Bonding on road, writing new tunes in the motel room, free food, free drinks, getting paid, getting laid…living the life.
But the music biz is full of touring horror stories. Bands stuck on the road with no money to come home. Musicians not eating for days. Clubs canceling gigs the night of with no warning. Negative reactions from bar patrons and local bands. The list goes on.
So, how do you make sure that your touring experience is a positive one? What can you, as musicians do, to eliminate potentially negative experiences and create positive ones.
The following are a few tips that add success to your touring experience:
1.) Don’t Plan A Tour Because You’re Unhappy At Home---Just as an affair will not fix the problems in a marriage, a tour is not the cure for: problems within the band, problems in the band members’ lives, or a general malaise for your local scene. A tour is strain and stress and loads of work. You should be excited, and enthusiastic and positive when planning.
2.) Over Prepare Before You Leave---You can never plan too much or take too many precautions. At home is the time to rethink ever scenario and arrange accordingly. Get the van tuned up. Pack extra emergency money. Bring a list of additional clubs in the area in case your gigs fall through. Pack extra strings and sticks. Bring a backup guitar. Pack extra merchandise. Bring emergency food/water. Pack extra batteries and power cords. Bring cell phones.
3.) Be Humble And Thankful---You’re in a strange town and a new club, act like a guest. Nothing ticks off a club owner/promoter who’s taken a chance on an unknown band more than out-of-towners swaggering into a club like Paris Hilton in an episode of “The Simple Life.” No matter how cool you are in your own town, this is unproven ground and your first impression is important. Ask, don’t demand. Set up quickly. Play at an appropriate volume. Clean up after yourselves. Be friendly and courteous. Say “please” and “thank you”. Unless you’re booking in Jerkville USA, this positive attitude could set you well on your way to a repeat booking with better perks and more local support.
4.) Seize Every Opportunity---If you’re going to take the time away from work, family, and the buzz you’ve built in your own music community to head out into the great beyond and conquer unknown lands…you might as well come back with something other than lovely memories and an out-of-state parking ticket. You’re in a new place and the possibilities are endless. Sell CDs. Sell T-shirts. Get new names on your mailing list. Solicit local reviews, interviews, and radio. Introduce yourself to other club owners for future bookings. Find out who books local festivals. Play an impromptu house party after your gig. Make new friends that can street team for you next time. Think of something I haven’t even written here and do it!
Don’t Expect To Conquer The World In One Tour---Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither will your touring empire be. Have fun. Enjoy each trip and using it as a building block to make each tour to that particular place better and more elaborate. Play your cards right, and after a few trips you may be making terrific money, have secured lodging (either new friends let you crash or a club pays for a motel), get food and drinks comped, and guaranteed press and radio coverage.
In short, touring can be the best thing that ever happened to your band if you work hard, play it smart, and follow through correctly. But no matter how much you love to tour, always remember to keep your foot in the door locally. It’s the great work that you do at home that makes other clubs excited about you bringing your show to their town.
Sheena Metal is a radio host, producer, promoter, music supervisor, consultant, columnist, journalist and musician. Her syndicated radio program, Music Highway Radio, airs on over 700 affiliates to more than 126 million listeners. Her musicians’ assistance program, Music Highway, boasts over 10,000 members. She currently promotes numerous live shows weekly in the Los Angeles Area, where she resides. For more info: http://www.sheena-metal.com.