Over the past couple of months we have seen how different bands approach their tours in different ways. Some get on the road out of desire to finally be a touring band, some because there is a strong demand for their band in another area and some to promote a new album, but whatever our reasons we all have one thing in common: we all need a routing plan. There are a few basic things that a band on a limited budget needs to take into consideration:
1) How long can the tour last. If you’re an unsigned band or a band signed to a smaller label, it is likely that your income comes from your day-job. This means that you will only be able to leave for a specific length of time before your job stability is in jeopardy, which most likely stands for your band-mates as well. So, before you pick up your phone, or get on the internet to contact venues and booking agents, set up a meeting with your band to figure out how many days everyone can spend on the road. Of course, confirm these things with your boss because some employers are more lenient than others and the last thing you want to come back to is no job, (unfortunately, your passion for music will not pay your bills yet).
2) Where are you going. This is of course the most important decision you will make during your tour planning process. Find out more about people who listen to your music. There are numerous free ways to find out who your audience is, since all major social networking sites now offer detailed stats about your fan’s demographic, but you will most likely need to snoop a bit deeper than their location, gender and age. What music do they listen to? What magazines do they read? What venues do they go out to? What other bands do they like? Just go through your Myspace page and you can look at profiles of people who wrote you, complimented you on your music or requested you as a friend. Pick your cities based on where those people are. They wrote you because they like something about you and it is these people that are most likely to read your event invitations and buy a ticket to your show. Of course, do this with practicality in mind (don’t interrupt your east coast tour with a show in California just because 1 person there said your blue eyes are really pretty).
3) When are you going. Deciding when you will be touring is a very important matter to discuss when picking your route. For example, you know that a lot of your following is in the north-east and that your method of transportation is a 10 year old van with a questionable spare tire. You probably wouldn’t want to schedule that tour for the winter time when it’s very likely to snow, because the last thing you want to do is skid on ice and spill $5000 worth of music equipment all over I-95. However, if you do decide that taking that risk will benefit you, or you just can’t go any other time, you should find the roads that are going to be tended to first by snow-cleaning crews. These are usually the interstates and main highways, so try to stay away from shortcuts and residential areas.
4) Money, money, money. Some love it, some hate it, but no matter how you feel about it- money makes the world go ‘round. Figure out how much money you will need to cover your touring cost. If you don’t have transportation in place, you will probably need to rent a van (which is a whole topic of its own), so figure out how much that’s going to run you. The next step is to find two best routes to each destination: one money saving and the other time saving. Time-permitting, you should always chose the money-saving route but always bring your time-saving route as a back-up plan, just in case you run into time-consuming obstacles on the road. Now calculate the approximate gas cost for both and always plan your budget based on the worst case scenario. A very helpful site to visit when doing this is http://www.fuelcostcalculator.com. A note worth remembering is that your van wastes more gas than your 4-door sedan and that you will sometimes have to pay for parking.
5) Sleep. Sleeping in the driver’s seat of your van for days or weeks takes a toll on your well-being, both mentally and physically, but paying $40-$80 per room, per night is just not a feasible thing yet. There are several alternatives to both of these options, the first one being famous couch-surfing. If you already know enough cool people along your route to couch-surf, then you’re set, but more than likely you will have to arrange some alternatives. A very good site to visit is http://www.betterthanthevan.com where a lot of other musicians & music fans will give you a free couch, floor or air mattress to get your beauty sleep on. If you want to spend as little money as you can on sleeping arrangements, then visit http://www.freecampgrounds.com where free safe rest areas and campgrounds are listed by state and city. Always double-check their credibility and just like with anything else, don’t be too trusting with strangers and unknown places (I didn’t know I had motherly instincts in me ).
6) Want to play Wembley Stadium? The answer is yes. Can you pack the place? The answer is no. What is my point here? Pick a place that fits your needs. If you are going to Wisconsin Dells, WI and you are realistically expecting 20 people to show up, then don’t book a 350 person venue. Same works the other way around. If you’re a hardcore-rock band and you’re touring a city where you have a following of at least 60 people, don’t book a full electric set in a coffee shop that has a capacity of 30 because then you’re wasting money and it will sound awful. Do your research and find the venues that will work for you and your needs. The Web is full of resources and sites that can help you with this, but a helpful place to start is http://www.indieonthemove.com, where you can view pictures, addresses and reviews of almost all live music venues in America.
7) Write as you go. If done properly, touring can turn into a very profitable part of your music and help you reach all your goals, but it’s a serious business. When you start planning a tour write down everything you come up with. Carry a notebook with you all the time to write down new ideas, books or websites you may run into during your every-day activities. A small thing like remembering to put a “Request (insert your band name here) in your city” widget on your website can make a big impact on how many people show up at your show.
I hope that this routing summary will be a helpful resource and guide to routing your next tour, but if you are ready to take a step further than everyone else there is one advice I have for you: read as much as you can. There are numerous books about touring, music promotion and marketing out there and the knowledge you can gain from these is priceless. When it comes to touring, you have to tune into your scout brain: BE PREPARED.