A national tour is an amazing experience for a band but it needs a lot of work to ensure the venues are full, the fans are happy and the band doesn’t end up freezing in a ditch or in prison. You need to put a lot of effort in if you don’t want to end up losing a lot of money and playing to no one. Badly organised tours have split up some amazing bands.
So when should you start touring? You should probably leave it until you have built a following in your local area, that you have got some mentions in the press and that there is a chance of people outside of your area coming to see you. Rarely do people go and see a band they haven’t heard of, so initially it is best to do some gig swaps and perhaps a weekend tour playing with bands that you know have a following in other places first. Make sure you have a bit of a buzz about what you are doing. Remember you can use Live Unsigned to find venues and bands to swap gigs with, just look through the listings for the area that you want to play. There is more information on gig swaps here.
Here are some things to do if you want your first national tour to run well:
- Know the details – What time is the sound check? Is there a guest list? Is there food/a rider? Where can you park the van? What time can you get into the venue? Can you sell merch and hand out flyers? What time are you on? How are you being paid? Can they put you up for the night or is there a good/cheap local hotel? Are you sharing equipment? It is all about the details. Make sure one member of the band or crew has this specifically as their job. Get all the small things right and the whole tour will run well.
- Have your biog/press pack/photos easily available – Have a specific place on your web site where venues and promoters can download all your press information from, it will save time in the long run. You can password protect it if you don’t want fans to see it. If you need more info on putting together a press pack it is here.
- Start planning early – 6 months ahead sounds about right, ideally tie the tour in with a CD release or another major event in the band’s career that will give the tour a bit more publicity. It will always take longer then you expect to get things organised so give yourself time.
- Do support slots where you can – For your first tour, supporting local bands in their own area is the best thing to do. You can find other bands to play with via Live Unsigned or Twitter. Get in touch and ask if you can play with them as a support (after saying how much you like their music) or if they know any local promoters. Another alternative is to play at club nights that already have an audience, like indie nights or metal nights. These can be more difficult to play at, as competition is fierce and your music needs to fit the specific niche of the club night.
- Fill your off days with gigs in alternative venues – If you are looking to do a run of gigs you may find it hard to get them all to run in order. There is an answer. Perhaps you can fill these off days with busking, house concerts, squat gigs or other forms of guerrilla gigs. There is a whole list of them here and not only do they fill the dates up but they give you a chance to connect to a whole new fan base. Even if your tour itinerary is full why not do some gigs during the day if you are playing at night? If you want to build a fan base it is all about hard work.
- Check your gear – Make sure everything is working, now is the time to get the distortion pedal you tried to mend with Blue Tac properly fixed. Try and carry spares of everything, especially batteries, drum heads, leads and strings. If you are using a laptop for sequencing ensure you have an mp3 back up of the backing tracks on your iPhone or mp3 player in case of emergency or someone spilling a beer on your computer. The rules of touring are if it can go wrong, it will.
- Don’t forget to book the time off work – If you have a day job make sure you book the time off well in advance, there was a UK band who had to cancel a full American tour due to their drummer having to work. Sometimes it is the simple things that mess up the best laid plans.
- Inform the local press – It can be very difficult to get press in the local papers, unless you are playing their town. This is your chance. Make sure you get in touch with the press in every town early on, get them on side, find out the music journalists name and see if you can get a feature. This will also help to get people to the gig. Mention any support slots you’ve done, national press or remarkable things that have happened. This is how you make the most of a tour, it is not just about playing it is about raising the profile of the band.
- Work your mailing list – When fans come and see you this is your chance to get some more people on your email list. Have a clipboard and pass it round to get the addresses, don’t just leave it on the merch desk and expect people to sign up. Mention the email list from the stage and really push it. Then when you play the same venue again you have more chance of more fans coming back to see you (and hopefully bringing their friends).
- Go where your fans are – Ask your fans where they would like to see you play, get them to suggest venues, places and promoters via Twitter and other social media. If they want to see you and there is enough of them in that area then play there, you’ll have more chance of playing to an audience. Don’t forget to ask fans to bring their friends and share your links.
In part 2 of this post we will look at agents, touring with big name bands, crew, riders and lots more.