By Dave Rosenstraus
Booking a tour for the first time is a daunting task. That’s why we asked certified road-dog and Excel spreadsheet fanatic Dave Rosenstraus to lay out some of the do-it-yourself basics. Rosenstraus has toured all over the world with bands like R.A.M.B.O, Pissed Jeans, Hounds of Hate, S.L.I.P., and others. He also rents vans to touring bands, so maybe keep him in mind when it comes time to figure out the ever-bedeviling transportation issue.
Are you really ready to tour?
The harsh reality is that maybe your band is not at the point where touring is the best idea. Have you only played one show in your hometown? Is an iPhone recording of band practice you posted on YouTube your only form of digital media? Are you lacking physical media (tapes, records, shirts, etc.)? Do you only have five likes or followers on social media? If the answer to all of these questions is yes, then you’ll probably want to hold off. Playing out of town when no one knows your band will be a costly, disappointing vacation where you play to an empty room.
If you do have physical releases, a Bandcamp or other digital platform with media, and have played consistently for a year or two, then move on to the next question.
Where do you want to go?
Where are you starting and what is your destination? Is there a far-away festival or other big event you’ve been invited to? Do you just want to hit the four or five closest cities to your town? Get out a map and see exactly where you want to end up and figure out the most logical order of those places you want to stop.
When do you want to go?
Is this a three-day weekend or a month-long tour? What time of year are you going? Are you going to be playing all college towns and will school be out of session? Are you touring through the northern midwest and the Rocky Mountains during blizzard season? Sometimes a city can be better on a Monday night then a Friday night if the music crowd works in the service industry. Consider the weather, if the city population is seasonal, and – if you can – talk to people who live there to get a feel for the scene.
Can you all go, and how will you get there?
Does your bass player have enough vacation days to do this whole tour? Is the singer starting a new job right when you plan to hit the road? After setting aside dates and a proposed route, get together an old-fashioned band meeting to confirm everyone is on board before booking even starts. Nothing sullies a band’s reputation like canceling last minute. Secondly, what equipment do you need, and how are you going to lug that gear to different cities? The largest cost of a tour is the transportation. Make a budget and make sure the band can afford the costs even if the tour does not do as well as expected.
How do you book it?
If you have figured out all the boring logistics of the tour, the final key is getting shows.
Here are the do’s:
Hit up touring bands you have played with previously in your hometown and ask them for venue and promoter recommendations in their cities.
Find other bands you like in those cities and contact them via social media or their band media pages (Bandcamp, etc.). Other bands can check you out and if they are into what you are doing they will get back in touch with you.
Look up upcoming Facebook events for shows of your band’s style in that city. Does the same person host each event? If so, message them and ask for advice.
Here are the do nots:
Do not call up a bar or venue directly. Bars will host shows, but promoters deal with setting up the shows and promoting them. Always talk directly to a promoter.
Do not “put a hold” on a bar and try to book your own show in another city. I get emails from out of town bands I don’t know asking to play at a local bar they have put a hold on. This makes you seem desperate and will likely result in an empty room. Promoting your band in your own city is difficult enough, don’t try to take on the task from hundreds of miles away.
A couple more helpful tips:
If you find a promoter willing to work with you don’t be too pushy. Some people have a lot on their plate and need gentle reminders, but also be respectful of their time. A promoter is likely taking a chance booking a touring band so be grateful for their time and effort.
Spreadsheets. Make one so you can keep track of all the show info. Date, city, promoter name and contact, show time, other bands, load in time, and even distance between each show. This will help keep things in order and be a reminder of the holes in your tour you need to fill.
No matter how many of your songs are about the destruction of capitalism, the reality is that you need money to travel, eat, and perform. From gas money to drum sticks, think of everything you need to buy ahead of time and while on the road.
When dealing with a promoter on a first tour it’s likely you will get a door deal. You will get a portion of the money from the door collections. There are some bars that give promoter funds from the bar for attracting people to drink and in that case you may be able to know how much you will be getting ahead of time. No matter the amount, always thank the promoter. (But if there are 200 people at the show and the promoter gives you $50 at the end of the night, then you have the right to do some not-so-friendly questioning.)
Decide ahead of time what will be paid for by a band fund and what will be paid for by individuals. It’s easier to have everyone pay for their own meals and then divide extra money at the end of tour rather than having people put in loans to a band fund and keep track of money in and money out.
Sell some stuff! Bring t-shirts, tapes, records, etc. and price them where you make a few bucks but it’s still affordable to someone coming out to the show.