A Guide on How to Start Touring as a Musician
It’s time to organise your first tour. Don’t get ahead of yourself and start booking an international tour – your budget probably can’t hack it. Stay national because there’s still a host of factors to keep in mind when planning your first national tour.
From locations to travel costs, as well as setlists and even accommodation. And these are just the foundational things!
First and foremost, you have to have a tour budget – and you have to manage said tour budget. It needs to cover everything. Thankfully there are ways to subsidise your budget so you can have a cash flow and stay on top of the money tree without sinking – but we’ll get into those later.
Let’s get into the meat of the article.
How to Plan and Book a Tour for Your Band or as a Solo Musician
When you plan your tour you need to be doing it months or maybe even a year in advance. Planning a tour can take a while, and the last thing you want is to go on tour when you’ve not finished planning it… surely?
Plan Locations for Your Tour
First things first: where are you more likely to get an audience for your gig? If your tour is only four or five shows long, that’s fine! It’s better to have a small tour that sells out every venue rather than a long tour that gauges little interest from anyone.
Then consider what venues will be better suited to your tour/style of music. Make sure you research venue size and their maximum capacity, and shortlist the venues that have a big enough (or small enough) size that won’t bankrupt you but will fit a crowd that will keep your cash flowing.
Plan Dates For Your Tour
There are two important things to keep in mind when you’re planning your tour.
Where does the tour fit into your calendar?
Are there similar bands performing on the same dates?
Research other bands that operate in the same/similar genre to your own and don’t overlap with them. If you overlap you risk not generating enough sales as fans may well go to their gig instead. It may even pay off in a big way if you contact them and ask about performing a support slot If the band is more established than you!
If their style is similar to yours then getting in front of their fans may well be more beneficial to your publicity than performing your own gig.
If this becomes a reality, it may well throw your planned dates into a debacle, so leave room for plans to change. But this is still the early stages of planning your tour, so it should be okay.
Plan Your Tour Route (Logicistics)
Now that you’ve got your venues and dates planned, and your budget still in the back of your head, it’s time to plan how you’ll get there.
It’s important to weigh the economic benefits and hindrances of every possible route you could take around the country. Your route should have been in the back of your head when planning your venues and dates too as these three factors go hand in hand. You need to have a route that’s actually possible to travel in a select amount of time.
Equipment and crew not turning up on time are not ideal for obvious reasons. To avoid this problem you need an efficient tour route planned, and you definitely don’t want to run over your budget because travel is expensive.
Imagine you’re waiting for your mum’s birthday present to turn up. You left it last minute and so ordered it online – and it arrives on her birthday.
Well, it’s supposed to. That’s what the delivery company said. But, it’s her birthday and it’s still not here. There were some issues with the delivery and the present to ost in transit. Your mum is having the best birthday.
Back to the point, make sure your equipment, team, band members, etc. will all be able to get to each gig every time. Don’t forget to give your mum a ticket to make it up to her.
Have a plan for how you’re going to get yourselves around. By van or by car? How much petrol will each cost? Have you got appropriate insurance? Do you need to hire a van if you don’t own one?
Or… a tour bus? Rather than book hotels, a tour bus is an option. But, they’re very expensive and we don’t recommend going with this if you’re just starting out. Consider it, by all means, we’re not here to tell you how to live. If it sinks your budget and compromises your tour… we told you so.
Consider Crew/Band Costs
You may or may not need a crew to help you out. If you and your band are experienced audio engineers then you’re sorted. But, if you’re not, it may pay to have one or two crew members who know how to handle the equipment to help you set up – and they need to be paid.
A costed tour plan is the only way to ensure you can pay any crew you bring along with you. If you can’t afford to bring any crew then you’ll have to be clued up on setting up your show. Hit up YouTube!
Get A Team Together
If you’re a solo artist, is it possible that you’ll need a band to perform your music with you? Maybe you don’t need a band but you do need a team of crew to help you set up your shows or even drive you around.
Make sure you know what size team you need and what role each team member will cover, and prioritise each role. Who should you hire first?
The size of your team will depend on how big you are as an artist, what equipment you’re bringing with you, and how much money you have.
On top of crew costs, you also need to survive.
Sleeping in a tiny van, which, more likely than not, will also host all of your equipment, isn’t always ideal. Make sure you have planned accommodation. Whether it’s hotels, bed & breakfasts, AirBnB’s, or a friends house, you need somewhere to sleep and rest. If you don’t get enough rest, how are you going to give your best performance?
It may pay to ask other bands you know or local acts about how they went about accommodation. Can they recommend certain places over others?
You could also ask the venue owner/manager. They may know somewhere suitable or could even have a flat that could host you.
Accommodation can easily sink your budget, so aim to find somewhere as cheap as possible! You never know, a band you ask could even allow you to crash with them – networking mode engaged.
Your stomach is going to get pretty mad at you if you forget about it. Which, with everything else we’ve mentioned, is easily done. Budget yourself for food. Accommodation and food can financially add up very quickly, so don’t plan for fine dining. Just plan to get three meals a day. If you can afford dessert then that’s a win!
Get Your Setlist Together
There’s more to a setlist than you may initially think, but it’s still the most fun part of planning your tour.
Some factors to keep in mind are the key, tempo and feel of each song you’re considering for your setlist. On top of this, it’s important to read your crowd at all times. Take note of how they react to the song you’re playing at any one time.
Switch it up from time to time too! That’ll stop your audience from getting even slightly bored. To keep any audience members who may not know you so well, is there a cover they may know that you could include?
Know What Equipment You Need
What instruments do you need to perform your setlist? Make sure you have spares different pieces of equipment too. The last thing you need is a guitar neck snapping. Technical difficulties like this will happen. Maybe not so extreme, but some things will more than likely go wrong.
Knowing what equipment you need is very important to consider when planning your mode of transport. What van size do you need to carry all of this epicness around with you?
Sound and Lighting
If you wanted to create a truly unique show, and therefore a memorable experience for your audience, it’s a great idea to bring your own sound and lighting. Even if it’s just a projector, your audience will remember your show if you pack more than just music.
But, of course, if bringing your own sound and lighting will sink your budget then don’t plan for it. If you’re using the equipment provided by the venues then make sure you know whether this is covered in the actual cost of the venue.
Now it’s time to tell everyone about your tour…
Get printing posters and flyers and post them online and send them out to the venues well in advance of your shows too. That’ll help them sell tickets to your shows.
Banners and Stage Backdrops
You want the audience to know the name of your band, don’t you? Banners put your name right in front of everyone, so you bet these are a good idea to plan for. They’re also fantastic for featuring your social media tags on them too.
Make sure they’re fireproof. Venues won’t allow you to hang them up if they’re not.
Finally, make sure you’re registered with HMRC. You may not make a tonne of profit on your first tour, but because you’re in the public eye the taxman may well come knocking.
How to Make Money While Touring as a Musician
Okay, so we’ve covered what you need to plan for when touring. And, as we’re sure you’ve noticed, it adds up very quickly.
How can we mitigate this? What cash flows can we create to subsidise the (massive) cost of touring?
Let’s get into it.
Sell Tickets in Advance
Selling tickets in advance not only brings the dollar in early but also creates hype around the event.
Rather than selling them on the door exclusively, selling tickets in advance gives you an idea of how big a crowd is going to turn up at the event. Make sure you’re communicating with the promoters of the event you’re thinking of selling tickets for. If it’s down to you to sell your own tickets, sites such as Skiddle allow you to set up ticket sales easily.
People will feel compelled to attend your gig if they have bought a ticket in advance, no matter the price. Even if it’s free, they’ve invested their time in securing a ticket.
Charge a Set Fee For Your Show
You may be able to charge a set fee per show you do. Should you have a set fee, make sure you have all of your expenses in mind if you want to cove them all. Sometimes a set fee is determined by ticket sales, such as £100 for every 50 tickets sold.
Finally, the most effective way of securing money is to subsidise your tour.
Selling merchandise not only brings the money it but it takes your brand to a whole new level of exposure.
make sure you only have 3 or 4 different times at a time and be cautious in what those items are. If you’re selling tote bags at a rock show then they’re not guaranteed to sell, are they? Patches and maybe hats could be a much better choice of merch in a scenario like this.
And always stay out of debt unless you know you’ll get out of it. Using merch as a way to subsidise the cost of your tour is guaranteed to help you carry on without sinking in a pool of money you don’t have.
Before you can start touring, you need a fanbase. To get a fanbase, you need to make great music. To make great music, you need great sounds!
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