Maximizing Your First Tour, Part 1: Before You Leave Home

Touring has once again become an indispensable part of developing as an artist and if you're new to the process, it's easy to misjudge what to expect. Stories you've heard paint a polarizing picture of either a grueling, sweaty, penny-less endeavor or an endless procession of beautiful people, trashed hotel rooms, and endless supplies of cash and some things we won't mention around your mom. So which one is it? Truthfully, neither experience is typical if you're running a smart tour. Setting clear goals ahead of time and planning properly will ensure that you're maximizing your opportunity, and you're not leaving all of your earnings on the road. In this 3 part series, we'll discuss some of the things you can do before, during, and after a tour to fully take advantage of your opportunity. 

Start Local And Stick Around a Bit

A mistake that's common to a lot of artists is to skip the local market. With the internet and home recording available, we've seen artists develop strong fan bases away from home more than ever. But that should not be a reason to skip over winning the home crowd. Go to local venues, open mics, and showcases regularly before even considering a tour. For starters, the experience on stage is absolutely essential. Furthermore, playing local will let you develop relationships with the other artists, promotors and live sound engineers. There have been countless times where the people in my local market have introduced me to their peers from other cities I'd ultimately tour down the line. They'd make introductions and often would recommend their peer comes to the show. A live sound guy I met in Brooklyn found out I was playing at his old venue in Ohio, and called the place to make sure they treated me like family. Finally, playing local shows also ensures you'll encounter someone who has hit the road already. Pick their brain on sleeper venues, places to avoid, and cities that had surprisingly low or high turnouts. Do your homework at home!

Develop Your Audience

Part of touring is about getting out there and earning new fans. That said, having a bit of a draw definitely helps you negotiate shows better. Even if you can only secure a handful of people in a venue, it's better than none. For that reason, you should constantly work on a mailing list using a service like Mailchimp so that you can announce upcoming tourdates. All forms of social media that you use should mention your tour, but Mailing lists are still the most successful medium for getting tickets sold. If you're unsure where to start, music hosting site Bandcamp has some great email collection integration. For example, in lieu of charging for a song, you can opt to have someone supply an email address for a free download. The process is automated, your fan gets the song emailed to them, and you get a constantly updating spreadsheet of email addresses to write to. Don't just wait until right before your tour to start engaging by the way. You should be regularly communicating with your mailing list by the time you're announcing a tour. 

Setup Merch 

While DJing for some of the openers of the first Run the Jewels tour, I quickly learned about the power of good merch. RTJ spent a huge amount of time and energy creating merchandise that was high quality, fun, reasonably priced, and exclusive to the tour. T-Shirts, Keychains, Stickers, Vinyl, and more, all across different price points. I continue to see those items worn in cities across the country years later. If you tour a city without merch and leave, that's it. But if you tour a city and leave some of your brand there through merchandising, you never fully leave the city. If you can't afford to take any merch on tour just yet, don't go on tour just yet. You can't afford NOT to have merch.

Presale + Special ticketing

Presale ticketing is a great tool, especially as so many mobile platforms start to support it. Reducing the price on a presale ticket is a great way to get people to commit to a show if they're on the fence. Until someone is at your show, you're still competing with every other act performing nearby that night. Getting that ticket sold before the night even starts ensures that you've already won the battle. In addition to using reduced pricing as a benefit, you can also offer a free song, an early meet and greet, or discounts on merch and drinks.

Get Your Body Ready

Touring will beat the hell out of you. It's inevitable. Constant travel means constant fatigue and exposure to germs. Prior to hitting the road, take some time to evaluate your diet and habits a bit. Get a physical, or a checkup (Seriously, I had a bandmate undergo a major medical discovery on the road. It's not fun, don't play yourself). If you're a horrible dieter like I am, get in a habit of drinking plenty of water, add more green vegetables to your day, and consider a multivitamin. Make yourself a small "med kit" of things like Asprin, Nyquil, throat coat tea and lozenges. At some point, you will almost certainly get sick when you're 50 miles from a drug store. Be ready for it.

Evaluate Your Gear and Pack Thoroughly 

While interning back in the day, my mentor once said "you should assume that every venue has awful equipment that will fail and pack accordingly". Because of that, I've developed a reputation amongst certain venues as the guy who doesn't need anything but the mixer turned on. I bring spare cables, audio adapters, power strips, flash media/hard drives, chargers, USB cables, and anything else that might fry out our disappear. You should too, within reason of course. You can also label your cables with a glow in the dark sharpie marker so no venue can accuse you of taking theirs, and so that you have a visual cue if you forget to grab something after a set. Fully backup and clean any computers making the trip too, in case something happens on the road.

In part 2 we'll shift the focus to tips to use while already on the road, including lodging advice and cheap eats. For more articles click here.

March 23, 2016 by Cliff Callender
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