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“Tour Tips?”

One of the bands I played with on this last leg of the tour asked me if I had any tips for touring, as they were about to embark on their first one. I was going to write a quick paragraph, and ended up writing a list of ten things I think every band should consider when touring. Ten minimum. I’m sure there are more — bands/musicians; if you have others, please add them to this list. Here goes:

1. http://www.squareup.com/ <- get one of these immediately. Before you even finish this e-mail. Do it now.

2. Make sure you get as many mailing list signups as possible. (I suggest using mailchimp.com as a mailing list manager.) That way, it’s easier to let them know when you are coming back. The whole point of touring is more touring. Impress the few & they’ll bring friends next time. But they have to know when you’re coming back.

3. Never ever ever ever say “this next song” when introducing a song. I noticed this about a year & change ago – freaking everysongwriter does it. it’s like the “ummmm” of stage banter. Avoid it, and it will force you to be more creative with your in-between-song stories, and thus more memorable. Be memorable.

4. Involve the audience if you can. We live in a facebook/twitter world. People expect to be part of the experience. That can look any number of ways, but the more they are involved, the more they will remember the night, which is paramount to Item #2

5. List of things to remember (AKA: Things It’s Embarrassing To Ask The Other Bands For) (AKA: Things Other Bands Will Ask You For)

– 9V batteries.
– extension cord / power strip
– spare strings
– spare 1/4″ cables
– spare picks
– a “bank” of (at least 20) $1 Bills for your merch table so you always have change.

6. Budget
– Figure out your miles (maps.google.com +15%) and know how much it’s going to cost you in gas. Estimate $4/gallon for gas (as of 9/2011). You should be able to stay under this, but give it to yourself as a cushion. (side note: try to never fill up in New York or Canada. Fill up before you cross the state line / border.)

– give yourself $20/person/day for food. Again: You should be able to stay under this, but give it to yourself as a cushion.

– Figure out where you are sleeping before you leave. Unless you are cool with sleeping in your car in the winter (you are not cool with this, I promise.) I couch-surf all the time, it saves SO much on hotels. But figure it out beforehand.

– $0.028/mile for Oil Changes.

– Add up the cost of printing merch and divide it by the number of shows.

Now you know exactly how much it’s going to cost you to play this tour. If you impress, you can probably expect to sell about $1 worth of merch for every person in attendance. In venues, it’s significantly less. House shows and church shows, it’s a little more. If you’re playing a solid mix of these, plan for $1.

7. It will usually take you an hour longer than Google maps says it will. (for a 5-hour drive, so… 20%) Plan on getting there 4 hours early if you can. If you’re early, you can hit a coffee shop and catch up on e-mails. Try to avoid driving anywhere in/near any city between 3-6pm.

8. Get sleep. It’s tempting to stay out late and hang out, but be reasonable about it. If you have to get up early the next day, don’t be out too terribly late. The people the next day deserve to see you at your best just as much as tonight’s people deserve to hang out with you. Don’t just leave from the stage and go home; always hang out with SOMEone (Make friends! I cannot stress this enough) just be reasonable about it. (I am not good at following this advice) Also, this will not be *quite* as important on a 4-6 show tour, but generally speaking…

9. V-8.
Tour eating is difficult. I realized last Thursday that I hadn’t eaten a single vegetable in a week. Fortunately, I’d been drinking at least 1 (usually 2) V-8s every day. You can get them at any gas station, and they have a full day’s worth of vegetables in them. Even if you don’t like the taste, consider it preventative medicine.

10. It’s hard to reply to messages / facebook / twitter from the road, especially if you are the one driving. But get back to everyone that you possibly can on the day when you get back (or the next couple of days after.) It’s part of our job, and it’s good for three reasons:

– it keeps you grounded, reminds you that each of the people that wrote you took time out of their day to do so.
– it keeps you in touch with all the new friends you’ve made
– from a business perspective, it makes you a lot more likely to be able to book a show in that city in the future.

I’m sure I’ve forgotten a lot, but there are the first ten that popped into my head.

Best of luck.

-Levi

6 Comments

  1. all great ones man, i would agree with them all.

    As far as food goes, AVOID EATING OUT AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE. Bread, PB&J, lunchmeat + cheese, poptarts, granola bars, etc are WAY CHEAPER than a $6 – 7 value meal at burger king or even a “$5” foot long. Bring a cooler with your own bottled water/vitamin water/redbull/whatever, it saves so much money. Most venues will give you free ice for your coolers.

    It doesnt always help (in fact it usually doesnt), but get to town as early as possible, hit a kinkos and print out a few pages of handbills and walk around town. spread the word.

    Even if you havent prearranged a place to sleep, there’s usually someone there with a floor to sleep on, make friends. Hotel rooms = all your profit.

  2. Nothing new to add to your list, just an addition to “know where you’re sleeping section”. We use http://www.couchsurfing.org/ to find people willing to let us crash at their place. The Couch Surfing community is vibrant and really cool. You’ll make good friends and your host will, often-times, come to your show and bring friends. Just be sure to be polite and respectful of your host and their home. Clean up after yourself and be very thankful.

  3. Levi Weaver Levi Weaver

    @Nate – We had a cooler, for sure. The trick (especially in a car with very little space) is to make sure it’s packed someplace accessible. If it’s under a ton of crap and it would take 5 minutes (or a pull-over) to access it, that makes a Whopper look so much more attractive.

    I agree about the handing out flyers being ineffective. The only thing it’s ever accomplished for me is costing me the money to print them out. :/

    @Dewveall –
    I knew about couchsurfing.com but hadn’t ever considered it as a source for new show attendees. Excellent.

  4. yea a few of our biggest fans in certain towns were couchsurfer hosts.

  5. -Have a list for folks to leave their contact info if they’re interested in hosting or putting together a show in the future.
    -Be realistic about how far you can travel in one day and still play your best show that evening.
    -Schedule days off.
    -We barter at some of our shows – especially college shows. College students don’t always have money, but they often have giftcards (Starbucks, Wal-mart, Chick-fil-a, Subway, etc) from their parents and grandparents that they haven’t used. We barter for cds, but not t-shirts (they cost too much to produce). You’re essentially letting a college student buy you a meal or some groceries in exchange for a cd.
    -We actually carry a brita pitcher and water bottle around in our car. This way we can literally get water anywhere and not have to pay for it. They make those brita water bottles now. Could be pretty convenient.
    -This is a bit of an investment, but we have an wireless air port. This way one of us can drive while the other works. Obviously this won’t help a solo musician, but if you’ve got lots of folks in your band you could all connect to the internet at the same time, anytime.

  6. Levi Weaver Levi Weaver

    @ J&T – you guys are pros. I especially like the bartering-for-food-cards idea.

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