How To Plan A Tour By An Artist In The Thick Of It
"I am two weeks out from a two month US tour and I just woke up from a nap at 8:23PM. Let me just give you one piece of advice: do not organise your own tour unless you have a good reason to."
When you think of touring, you probably imagine a dirty fifteen passenger van that smells like weed, McDonalds for every meal and dreamy moments getting ready before approaching your adoring fans. That's why I'm here to get you prepared for the reality of hitting the road.
Below, I've answered some of the most common questions artists ask about touring, from how to finance a music tour to how to choose where to tour.
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When should an artist start touring?
Have you released music? Specifically a body of work like an EP or album? I know from holding my own tour, without that, touring can still be fun but not very useful.
You might start touring to promote a record, if you've had something go viral on TikTok or Reels, or if you're opening for someone with an established fanbase.
You don't have to have a huge fanbase to tour, but I wouldn't recommend trying to headline a tour until you've built at least a small audience. Opening for larger acts is a great place to start - that's how you find new fans.
How to book a tour
It's likely that your favourite band who you see touring the world has an agent and/or a tour manager. A booking agent is someone who books and manages shows for you. Getting a booking agent is an important step in building a lasting career further down the line, but it is not necessary for someone starting out.
If you do not have an agent, the best thing to do is DM artists who have a solid touring repertoire, even if they're not super big. Ask to open for them and send them your music. Do that a hundred times over. Someone might actually respond and say yes. If they do, boom, you've booked your first tour and all you had to do was ask. However, when reaching out to acts you'd like to support, avoid sending a mass, non-personalised message. Try to ask artists who you actually respect and like.
If you're headlining your own tour, the best thing to do is start small. Play venues close to your hometown with other local artists - get involved in the scene and see what clicks. Touring doesn't have to mean a cross-country road trip. Building an audience in your city, state, or province is a great place to start.
Who pays for the tour?
Unsigned artists pay for everything themselves and it can cost a lot of money. Prepare yourself mentally for that. Touring expenses might include: gas, band members, food, transportation, merchandise creation, lodgings and emergency funds. You can download a great music tour budget template here.
If you are opening for another act on tour, hopefully you are making a guarantee (a set amount of money for each night that you play). A normal guarantee is around $150 - $250 per show for a new artist. That is a huge piece of the financial puzzle and if you can arrange it before you hit the road you will be much less stressed.
How much does a music tour cost?
Depending on the kind of tour you're doing, expect to spend $5,000 or more. Credit cards with higher limits are helpful so you don't have to have all that cash up front, but it's better to have funds saved up ahead of time if possible.
If I'm being completely honest, I'm a hypocrite and I'm usually not fully financially prepared. However, I have learnt a few ways to keep costs down over the years:
- Stay with friends and family where you can. Often they'll feed you as well.
- Beg and borrow. Can you use your personal vehicle? Borrow one from a friend? Rent it at a homie discount?
- Selling merchandise is everything. Make a t-shirt to sell at your shows and you might not lose all your money.
- Don't eat out for every meal. Get a cooler and some groceries. My favourite tour van snacks are cheese sticks, salami and a whole cucumber (yes, I eat it like a corn dog). My go-to breakfast bits are yogurt packs and protein bars.
Where should you go on tour?
If you are opening for an artist, you don't need to worry about this. However, if you're organising your own headline tour, I'd recommend finding out where your fans are and going to them.
Luckily, in 2021 we have a lot of data at our fingertips. Streaming platforms such as Spotify and Apple music offer artists direct information about where people are listening to their music. You can also use social media to ask your followers where they want to see you play.
How to get the most out of your tour
We've covered how to start touring as a band, now we need to talk about how to maximise your time on the road. This involves prioritisng logistics and PR before you head off.
Get organised before you board your tour vehicle. Organise your merch, keep a log of your gear and make a general tour itinerary to share with your bandmates and crew. You can find a useful tour itinerary template here.
The whole point of your tour is to promote your music, so go out there and promote it - create a list of things you can do in every city you visit. Whether it's visiting an indie radio station or meeting up with fans for lunch, everything you do to make new connections on the road is useful. Take pictures for social media content, contact local photographers and publications - get creative. The more you do in advance to schedule these extra things, the less stressful going from city to city is going to be.
This being said, be sure to allocate rest days while on tour and don't burn yourself out. Your mental and physical health are your greatest assets and if touring is going to be a huge toll on those things, maybe it's not the right time.
Before you head off...
Touring is not for the faint hearted and shouldn't be something you rush into. I've said it before and I'll say it again, please ask yourself: Do I have a reason to tour? If you don't, wait until you do.
If I could turn back time, I would tell my younger artist self to slow down a little. I was so worried that if I didn't start touring immediately I would never "make it." This is not true, your time will come when you're ready.
Now, get out there and shred.
You can read more from Caroline Kingsbury here.
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