I'm a cheerleader, believer and I like to help people. So when people ask me for help I want to help - whether its through encouragement, a hug, advice. I love to see self-motivated people overcome, pursue a dream and beat the odds. I am asked for help on a regular basis with this: "I want to tour. How can I tour? How do you tour? Can I tour with you"? Etc. I find it amazing that people ask ME for advice in this area. I assume it is because we spend a lot to time on the glamorous road.
Sometimes, after offering initial guidance, I never hear back from that person again let alone see them. Let me tell you, that hurts, bro.... I can only surmise my recommendations, or guidance was not to their liking and I have no further use to them. So I thought I'd do my best to impossibly sum up, in 2 or 3 posts, how to start touring as a nobody. Its been in the works for a while... These posts are for those self motivated people that have the grit of blond haired viking maiden, have a strong stomach and are not easily offended...... And for the indignant, sour grape fellas with all the cake that can't believe its possible "SHE is touring and I am not" - This is just as much for you, God bless ya, voyer-on!
LET'S THIN THE HERD A BIT
Disclaimer - If you have a big or medium wad of cash you might want to seek help of professionals before me. Go pay a name brand producer, publicist, studio, engineer, graphic designer, create an awesome project and pay a booking agent, hire the best musicians to tour (I know a few), a tour manager, psychic, a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle; better yet a good therapist. Pay for it all. Overpay if you must. There's no virtue in being an underdog. Figure that out or come pay me for referrals on all the people I'd hire if I had the money. Hire me and my band for a week. We all have a price and A girl has to eat.
I have little going for me in the wallet department. I don't come from money. I don't have a financial backer and every penny is accounted for. No family in the music business, no connections I haven't had to earn by doing. Just plain old lower-middle class Jenny from the block. No one is paying my bills and as a matter of fact, my husband does not have a corporate job (as he once did) to pay for manicures. He's on the road with me. Fortunately, he does act as full time driver, mechanic, and guitarist among other things.
I've never been the popular kid around town with all the friends. No big home team behind me, no manager, momager, no bff that makes my success their part time job, stopping the bleeding between rounds. No viral video. Anxious and self-conscious around others. I even had a hard time booking a local show at first and everything seemed (sometimes SEEMS) so out of reach for an introvert. What I had and have is - a desire to learn, a willingness to get my hands dirty, stubbornness to a fault, and the understanding that waiting on others will only lead to more waiting. Also, Sisu helps so you might want to read up and identify with that.
Are you ready to do the work? Cover overhead? Take complete responsibility if something goes wrong? Are you willing to work overtime hours at all the behind the scenes stuff for every couple hours on stage performing? I won't get into detail all the multitude of skills and hats you will be called on to wear - not time enough here. Basically, if you are willing to work your ass off and can honestly say its not just about the bragging rights and you are still reading, if the idea of being your own guitar tech and sharing a hotel room doesn't turn up your nose at this point in your career... If you are all "Hell Yes, this strikes a chord with me," lets continue on.
THERE'S MORE THAN ONE WAY TO SKIN A CAT. EW.
Now, think about what's realistic and practical for you. To be safe, plan on making Zero Dollars on your first tour. Ouch. Stay with me or don't. With that being said, what is your personal overhead or financial obligations? Because you are not going to get signed to a major label and become rich on your first DIY tour. Nope. Go to the casino and you'll fare better. Pare down your lifestyle if you have to. If you sincerely dream of road life, a lot of the stuff you feel you need at home is truly inconsequential. Anyway, its liberating to free yourself from things. This is a whole book right here on how to do this.
If you have your personal finances figured out and you have a real team effort and investment going amongst your band, you have a HUGE advantage. If you don't have that luxury or have a day job that is not flexible, not everyone is willing/ready to make a sacrifice, etc. regional weekend and long weekend touring is fantastic. Its great even if you do have it all figured out. There is also the option of touring as an acoustic act to test new waters, meet people, and shrink overhead costs. It can be done. Now, start thinking if you'd like to go on a long tour or a shorter tour to start.
How will you travel? By van, truck, a car, pulling a trailer, in a motor home? It may seem obvious but a lot of people dont think about this in their enthusiasm. Consider how much room you need for people, gear, merch, luggage etc...what's affordable, gas mileage. Trailers are great until your trailer gets stolen, you're loading in on a steep, narrow incline, traveling through narrow city streets and playing venues in big cities that have no parking on site for small bands. Also - a great way to tell the world you are an amateur from out of town is to plaster your band name on a trailer especially if you can't afford a security person. Nothing says "free gear for the taking" better.
Where Will You Go? This is all you and I can not help you decide this. Figure out a mile radius or nearby cities if you are doing shorter jaunts. Is there a market where you have family, friends, or a following that might help with overhead costs in the form of lodging and maybe have an easier time drawing a crowd? Do you know someone that will hire you, would host a house concert, that books an event, are there bands you've played with or friends that are musicians in a town that can help guide you? Or, is there someplace you really have your heart set on seeing and playing nearby. If you are super money conscious, it might not be in your best interest to travel to a completely new place thats so far you are not likely to return within a year to follow up on fans - especially true if your social media habits are lacking. If you are happy to do it for the experience or perhaps have a great anchor date/opportunity, go for it. Just weigh it out so you aren't ready to throw in the towel after your first road trip.
Are You Laying Ground Work? Do you have a website? Social media pages? Are they up to date or are they growing cobwebs? Because this is where you will be directing people that you are asking for gigs. I know it may seem like a lot to do and believe me, its never done. Do the best you can. You may not be able to afford to shoot a fancy video but you can do live broadcasts, create interesting graphics with the use of apps and other things on a budget. Facebook is free. There's a plethora of social media options, streaming sites, and other online tools for bands to look into - too many to discuss in this post. Just use as many tools as you can manage to maintain. Social media isn't everything but it IS extremely important. Neglecting social media says you don't care.
Also, my opinion is its a bad look if you have lots of fake followers or fans. If you have 100,000 fans and most the comments on your posts are from people with exotic names saying "cool"--- or you have 5 interactions from 100,000 fans --- come on....If you don't have it all going for you, and even if you do, the best thing to be is genuine. Some will like you for it. Some will hate you for it. But most everyone sees through the phoniness. I admittedly am not the best at fluffing up the social media image as I'm pulled in many directions, wearing so many hats on any given day. But I do my best and my personal opinion is keeping it real is the best way for a little guy to stand out in the age of "reality" stars.
Next up will be research and targeting where you want to play, and where you reasonably won't.
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Now, here's a little view from the van in Cimmaron Canyon NM last fall to inspire you.