Things to Think About Before Going on Tour
by: Fredric Oakman
I myself have been a traveling musician for over the past seven years. I highly doubt many, if any of you, have heard my music but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t see a lot of wonderful places, meet a lot of wonderful people, and play a lot of amazing clubs. I have learned a lot of things in my travels, and this first installment is just the tip of the iceberg of some of the many things that a traveling musician should figure into their plan to become ‘the real deal’.
There are many reasons that someone may wish to go on a tour with their band, many of which include seeing the country, the adventure, the partying (if you’re into that), getting your music out there, and/or the excuse to quit your job. Yes, that’s right. Most jobs won’t keep someone who is planning on leaving for several months.
If you are one of the many people who are considering going on a tour, consider this before you pack your bags and leave. First of all, unless you are on a record label, you cannot expect to ask for money. What?! Really?! You may be asking yourself “How can I do all of these great things you’re talking about without money?” The answer is simple: You can’t.
So if that doesn’t scare you, continue reading. Because most clubs aren’t willing to pay traveling musicans these days, you have to find a way to make money yourself. For example, have a CD to sell, have shirts to sell, have merchandise to sell. If you don’t have these things, there is no way that you can expect to stay out longer than several weeks without a job, or a hefty bank account. Another thing you have to consider is sleeping arrangements and how picky you are. If you plan on doing this, you surely can’t expect to have hotel accomodations every night. In my seven years of touring, I think I’ve stayed in about ten hotels. So instead of getting comfortable, know that it’s not going to be easy. There will be nights you will have to sleep in your car / van. I’ve found the best places to do this are in mall parking lots, wal-mart parking lots, and other places where there is moderate lighting. It’s always safer to travel in a group. There have been a lot of incidents of trailers and vehicles being stolen from sleeping bands. So if you do have a trailer, be sure to back it up against a wall to keep people from breaking into it, and don’t settle for cheap locks. Get the best of the best. When I toured with my band Signal Home, we’d rotate shifts of someone sleeping in the van. It may not have been the best idea for safety sake, but we earned our living with that vehicle and that trailer. Better keep it protected.
Back to sleeping arrangements. There’s a site called couchsurfing in which you can find people in areas who are willing to put up strangers if you establish that you’re not a creep. After concerts, and even during my set, I’ve always made announcements to the crowd that I was looking for somewhere to sleep for the night. Remember be respectful if someone puts you up, play it by ear.
So if you’ve managed to find a free place to sleep, and you have your merchandise to sell on the road, you’re doing okay. Pack light. It won’t kill you to wear the same clothes for a few days straight, besides it will give you that awesome rockstar look you want right? I had a pair of clothes that I would change into before I’d go on stage. As soon as I was done, I’d shed off the stinky clothes and put back on the better smelling ones. I did this for quite a while, and it saved me a lot of luggage, and a lot of quarters. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I’m a dirtball, but if you expect to leave your home, take a guitar with you, and travel, you are going to get dirty.
Always take an itinerary with you. Keep track of all of the concerts you have managed to book for yourself. Know when to be there, know when you play, how long you are expected to play, and how the money is getting divied up at the end of the night. Keep the promoter’s phone number, keep the venue’s phone number, and the venue’s address.
When it comes to food, it’s best to buy in bulk. Get food that will last you for a day or two, if not more. Go to a grocery store and buy peanut butter, and jelly. If you need ice for a cooler, most hotels have ice machines and don’t say anything if you take their ice. It can keep your food cool on summer drives and your drinks fresh.
Mainly, the point here, with this first installment is to get you thinking about how hard, and demanding touring can be. Without the right managers, or booking agents, or friends, touring can be a really risky thing to do. Even with merchandise, and with good songs, you still may be playing to an empty bar.
Remember this, VH1′s behind the music had a lot of stories of bands starving, and traveling this country before they made it big. So if you’ve got the will, and the heart, and the hope. By all means, make some music, and show us what you’ve got!
Keep an eye out for my next entry, with how to book a show and promote it, even when you are hundreds of miles away.