Tech Tip:How To Set Up a Successful Music Tour: Part 1
The best way for an artist to create a buzz and sell records is to simply take his music to the people. And that, my friends, means touring.
Getting out on the road is a tradition for everyone even remotely associated with the entertainment industry. Authors go out on book tours, movie stars visit every major late-night talk show, others pop in on radio broadcasts, do print interviews to promote an opening of a play or concert, and some, those who are really hungry for success, do it all!
Touring is a very costly proposition, both financially and organizationally. It takes money to finance the travel and lots of time and planning to put it together. TAXI, in its never-ending efforts to help the performing musician, has asked me to put together some tips on how you can set up a successful tour on your own. So here we go:
Before you can even think about getting out on the road, you must first determine why it is you want to go out. What is it you wish to accomplish? Sightseeing? Partying? If that's the case, better stay home! But if you have product to promote (a new CD, maybe), then touring is a viable solution. Putting together a tour simply for the experience, is not recommended. Only go out if you are selling/promoting something that people can buy and if that tour will advance your career.
I know this might sound crazy, but begin planning your tour at least six months before you actually want to leave. This will give you plenty of time to do your research, mail out packages, make follow-up calls, book the appropriate gigs, route your tour, save some additional money, rehearse, update your equipment insurance, get the van repaired, assemble a crew, and get your sh*t together. Man, it's already starting to look like six months may not be enough time!
Once you've decided to go out on the road to promote your new independently-released CD, you'll want to decide what areas to cover. If you've never been out before, I strongly suggest staying close to home, meaning go no further than a few hundred miles away. If you live in the Los Angeles area, try booking gigs from Seattle (to the north) all the way down to San Diego (in the South). This routing will enable you to reach any venue in a day's drive and return home the next day, if necessary. Or, you can do several cities in Washington (Seattle, Tacoma), sleep over and drive to San Francisco the next day. The same theory applies regardless of where you live.
Next, you'll want to make a list of all appropriate clubs in the areas you'll be touring. Don't get lazy on this one! Do your homework. There's nothing more embarrassing or wasteful than a metal band setting up its gear on the stage of a jazz club. Get the picture?
Call the clubs and find out who is in charge of booking the talent. Mail out a neat, professional-looking package with a cover letter specifying the dates you expect to be in that area. Be sure your package includes some industry quotes, any airplay you're receiving, and the most recent reviews. AND DON'T FORGET TO INCLUDE THAT VIDEO OR CD!
You'll want to wait at least 5-6 business days for the packages to arrive before you begin your follow-up calls. Then, once on the phone, be polite, persuasive, and direct. Understand that the club has no reason at all to book you since there are thousands of unsigned local acts that are dying to play those venues for free. So, what can you offer the clubs that they can't get for free? Here's where you'll need to do some thinking and use your imagination. Nobody said it would be easy, right?
Assuming that you're going to be successful in booking a string of 10 club dates—and always remember to get signed performance contracts that list your pay, time of load-in, sound-check, show time, and hospitality provided by the club (usually in the form of a hot meal for band and crew and drinks)—you should route these dates in one of two ways: First, begin with the club the longest distance from your home. Drive to it and schedule other dates working you way back to your home base, with the show closest to home scheduled for last. Or, begin the opposite way by playing your way out to the farthest point and then making a straight, non-stop drive home after the final show.
Do not hesitate to call your local AAA office and request a Trip-Kit package of the areas you will be touring. This will be helpful in giving you the most direct routes and the exact mileage from city to city. Having this information will allow you to more accurately budget the tour.
When you go out on the road for a short period of time (1 1/2 - 3 weeks), too many off dates can kill you. It will drain your money (when you're off, there's no income from gigs or selling merchandise) and set you up for a giant loss at tour's end. Therefore, try to book as many dates in a row as possible and only take off every fifth day, at most. But remember to use that off day for a little relaxation and a little promotion of you next gig!
Find out if anyone in the band or crew has relatives or friends in your tour area. It might just be that a friendly phone call will result in a place to stay overnight. This will save you hotel bills and food money. If you are forced to sleep in a hotel, the cheaper, the better. A bed, hot and cold running water, and a phone are all of the amenities you'll need. And guys, get used to sleeping 5-6 in a single room. Look for motels that are located within a mile or two from the club. This saves mileage and gas. The club booker can be helpful in suggesting places to stay overnight.
Excerpted from the book, Going Pro by Kenny Kerner, published by Hal Leonard. Available at all bookstores and at Amazon.com.
About Kenny Kerner:
Discovered and produced KISS. Also produced albums for Gladys Knight, Jose Feliciano and Badfinger. As a publicist, he represented Michael J. Fox and Jay Leno. Was the former Senior Editor at Music Connection Magazine and wrote a best-selling music education book called "Going Pro" Kerner is currently the Director of the Music Business Program at Musicians Institute in Hollywood. Specialties include Personal Management, Artist Development and Music Business.
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