It’s common knowledge at this point that, in order to grow, prosper, and remain sustainable, independent artists must tour. Of course there are exceptions: Operation Ivy barely left their home state and managed to release a hugely popular, genre defining long player. Darkthrone, a seminal, untouchable black metal behemoth, barely even plays live. But, these are the exceptions that prove the rule.
An increasingly large number of bands rely on playing shows to generate revenue as free downloads, be they illegal or at the band’s instigation, dominate many listeners music experience. Touring has even become part of the bag of tricks for visual artists, writers, film makers, and creators of any ilk you can imagine. Hitting the road is becoming an integral part of making independent art.
Touring can be a great source of promotion and revenue if done correctly. It can also be a huge deal of fun. That said, tours can go bad – real bad – and when they do, it can become a nightmare. Tours, especially inaugural outings, can be plagued with transportation difficulties, dropped events, lousy promoters, and horrendous weather. These are aspects that I, to my great dismay, am unable to fix for you, dear reader. But, I implore you, fear not. I have some solid advice for the touring, or even pre-touring, artist in need. I’ve hit the road on many occasions, for many different lengths of time, and have amassed a reasonable amount of knowledge on the subject. I am here to impart some of this hard earned know-how on you. You’re welcome. Read on.
The first key component to touring is preparation. Yeah, I know – if you were good at planning and following rules, you’d have just gone to law school. But planning is crucial if you’re to have a successful sojourn. The most obvious aspect of planning a tour is the procurement of the events themselves. This is something that you’ll need to figure out on your own as it varies widely depending on your medium, scene, location, etc. However, I can offer one piece of sage advice: it gets easier the more you do it. You may start with things falling through, some flakey contacts, or lousy turnouts, but you’ll meet people and learn about the cities you visit. If you keep track of what you learn, you’ll build up a wealth of information before you know it.
So, you’ve started booking your trip nice and early to allow plenty of time for setting the thing up. You’ve got a route, the dates are as full as you’re getting them, and it’s almost time to actually hit the road. One thing you’ll want to do is a quick once over on whatever vehicle you’ll be taking. It might be smart to bring it into a mechanic that you trust and have him or her give it a quick once over. If there are any glaring problems, try to get them taken care of before the trip. If you can’t afford that, at least make sure the tires are OK, your brakes work, and get an oil change. You’re going to essentially live in your vehicle for a while, so its best if the thing isn’t a death-trap.
A day or two before you depart, it’s wise to make a packing list. True, lists are often touted as a staple feature of annoying self-helpery, but they can also be legitimately helpful. I’ve forgotten countless key items for tour, a move which results in my having to pay for something on the road that I already have at home. Some key items you’ll want to remember:
- Clothes: you’ll want to wear these, I guess. Bring a few pairs of pants and, if you’re in a band, a couple less shirts than you think you’ll need. You’ll likely acquire more.
- Chargers: You don’t want your precious smart phone to die do you?
- Driving music: If you’re in a band, make a good chunk of this consist of genres that you don’t play. You’ll get band’s music on the road, plus you’ll see those types of bands every single night.
- Towel: You think you won’t need it, but you will. Oh, how you will.
- A book: Maybe you’ll have down time? I’ve been on tours where I’ve read several whole books and others where I’ve maybe read 10 pages. Be safe: bring one.
- Toothbrush and toothpaste: Even if you have to sleep in the van, at least your mouth can be freshened at any truck stop bathroom.
- Sleeping gear: Who knows where you’re going to crash on any given night. Be prepared for the worst. Sleeping bags work. A camp pad/blanket combo is also useful and easy to pack. Don’t forget a pillow!
- Stuff to sell: That’s sort of a cornerstone, is it not? Bring as much merch as you can fit.
- Gear: Should be obvious, but don’t forget anything. Also, please, double-check before you leave after an event. Going back for an overlooked guitar is the pits.
Packed and ready, you should be able to embark on a successful journey. If you follow the aforementioned advice, this trip will invariably lead to a wildly successful and highly lucrative tour. Fame and fortune will follow shortly thereafter. If you want to improve your tour further, stay tuned for part II, in which I explain the intricacies of the tour once it has begun.