Being a worldly, intelligent citizen of the 21st century, you most assuredly already know that touring is an increasingly integral part of being an independent artist. Whether it’s doing readings from a recent book, travelling with a new film, or playing shows in a band, artists are relying on touring to spread their art, earn money, and prove that they exist outside of the Internet. Last we spoke, I regaled you with information about preparing for a successful tour. So, you’re prepared. You’re packed. You leave. Now what? Fear not, for I am here for you. I will hold your hand through these trying times and impart further wisdom, this time concerning the art of being on tour. A quick disclaimer: my touring experience is limited to North America, so most of this will apply to that. Experiences in Europe and, especially, other continents may vary.
Let’s start with a hypothetical scenario. You’ve left your home town. Ideally, you have some sort of idea where you’re going. You gleefully glide out of the city limits in which you reside, “Travelling Band” by CCR blaring on the stereo. Spirits are high and your group is excited to be on the road. Then the first hour elapses and you still have five left in the car before you’re at the show. Add or subtract two hours or so to that time frame and this is your situation pretty much every day on tour.
Van time is a serious part of touring. First and foremost, try and make it as comfortable as possible. Keep your pillow with you. If you can nap, I envy your skill. Do so. If not, a piece of touring advice I’ve always held dear is this: do one thing at a time. If you’re going to eat a snack, do it. If you’re going to read a book, do that. But do them separately. There’s a lot of time to kill and multitasking just forces you to run out of stuff to do more quickly.
Another thing to do in the van is play dumb games. You can search for the whole alphabet on road signs forward and backwards. You can play 21 Questions. I like to play Desert Island Top 5, in which everyone says what movies, records, books, or whatever, they’d take to a desert island. I recently toured with a band that played a game in which you gain points throughout the trip by completing dares, on which the rest of the group agrees. The first person to reach an agreed upon number has dinner one night on the group. This can prove fun/disgusting/hilarious and pass the time swimmingly. One last thing: I am convinced that reading plays in the car would be a great way to pass the time. So far, no one has agreed. Feel free to use this excellent, well-received idea in your own vehicle. You’re welcome.
You can now live with the van rides. You are sure to switch drivers when people are tired and reasonably distribute the best seats. Everyone is still friends with everyone and you reach your destination. If you’re on an early tour, it’s likely you will be places you haven’t been, places where you may not know many people. After the show, it’s also likely that you will be offered a floor to sleep on. There might be a couch. Be decorous human beings and fairly distribute couch spots from night to night. Sleeping on a floor can be a real bummer, but if you’ve come prepared it shouldn’t be the worst.
While you’re at a house, take advantage of that fact. Take a shower if you’re overly filthy. A layer of tour filth is normal, nay, requisite, but there’s a point where it’s smart to clean off. Also, are you sick of gas station food yet? Tired of eating chips and candy for two meals a day? If you are, hit a grocery store nearby and cook. It’s not the easiest thing to eat healthy on tour if your budget is very slim. Pasta and some chopped up veggies is a good, cheap option. You can also grab some bread and make sandwiches for everyone for next to nothing. Getting sick on tour is the pits, so eating as healthy as possible is key to having a fine time.
As for the events themselves, show up on early when possible. It’s better to show up and end up leaving to kill time than stressing out the promoters by being late. You’ll obviously do a great job, so we can skip over that.
After the show, hang around. Peddle your wares. It’s a good idea to have someone be at the merch table right after you’re done with your performance. If you don’t have a person with you to which this task has been specifically designated, try to make it to your merch table quickly. If you’re in a group, rotate who goes to the table while the rest break down whatever gear you used each night. Accept payment from the door graciously, but feel free to inquire if you feel you didn’t get a fair shake. The more politely the better, but it never hurts to ask if you feel you haven’t been treated fairly or want more specific information regarding the money. Touring isn’t free or easy.
And that’s it. The rest is up to you. If you’re with a group of people that do well together, touring can be a blast. If not, you can’t blame me. Pick better travel companions next time or be a better one yourself. Be as good a person as you can to those around you and understand that you’re in very close quarters for most of every day. Give people a little leeway and breathing room, and everything should turn out just fine – provided you follow my advice, obviously. Safe travels.