How To Plan A Tour On A Budget

Photo: Go Deep This article was written by Mark Robinson, owner of Storyboard Studios in south Atlanta and drummer of Revel In Romance

Photo: Go Deep

This article was written by Mark Robinson, owner of Storyboard Studios in south Atlanta and drummer of Revel In Romance

Planning a tour is definitely a hard endeavor. You need to think about everything from vehicle, gas and mileage to food and hotels to budgets and booking. Each item of the planning process can be meticulous and overwhelming, but when done right, it can be done cheaply (comparatively) and successfully. The plan laid out below is definitely not a tour in the traditional sense; hitting the road for 14+ days hitting state after state back-to-back with van and trailer or bus. The plan here is for those bands looking to take their music and group to the next level and getting a response from new fans in new areas without completely breaking the bank.

Vehicle
This is one of the hardest things for bands to figure out. To fit all of the members and their gear in one vehicle is hard enough - especially for a tour. We recently purchased a Ford Transit for our group (Revel In Romance) but not all bands have that luxury. Some bands share a monthly payment and insurance between everyone in the group while others rent something. Hopefully you've already figured this part out for your current shows, but if not, you'll definitely need a game plan. If not everyone can or is willing to cheap in, hopefully someone in the group is willing to trade their daily driver for a band van. Either way, if split between all the members, the cost continues to drop. 

Food & Lodging
Hotels can get expensive REALLY fast. If everyone chips in for a $100 hotel room for multiple nights, it might not seem too bad, but it definitely adds up. Two good solutions to save money is first, camp. Camping in most places cost between $8 and $20 a night. If you don't mind the outdoors and a little bit of dirt on your jeans, camping is a cheap alternative when split between the members. The second is using your local contacts. Nowadays, we all have friends all over the country. Contact those friends (or even use the couchsurfing app) and ask if they'd be willing to open up their floor for the night. Give them a free ticket to the show and in the morning, make them breakfast and you just saved $100 times X amount of nights. Most friends (and most locals) are willing to help out a band on a budget. If staying at people's houses, go to the grocery store and buy food and make it yourself in their kitchen rather than go out for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Where some bands may spend upwards of $120-$150 on food a day, you could feed a whole band on $25-$50 at the grocery store for the weekend. Remember, you're not famous yet, so eat up those Ramen noodles. Also don't forget to ask the venue if they can provide the band with some meal comps. Most venues offer free food to the bands. 

Cities
There's a new tactic we've been trying and it's definitely paying off. If you're like me, you're probably still working your day job until your band can pay the bills. Taking off so much work to tour probably means you're either going to come back to no job or no apartment since you lost all that time. So we've gotten creative. We contact a band, venue or booking agent in a city 500 miles or less from us and book a show. We then book two more shows in adjacent cities (since there's a major city about every 100 miles from each other) during that same weekend. That way we can still go back to our day jobs during the week. Do that six to eight weekends in a row in different regions ... and you're basically running a tour in 25 different cities over 8 weeks.
Example:
We recently booked a show in Baltimore, MD for Friday, Dececember 2nd. Therefore, we've booked a show in New York City on Thursday the 1st and we'll stay local after our show on the 2nd to hit Washington DC on Saturday the 3rd and drive back on Sunday. 

This kind of route can happen as many weekends as you want and hit regions at a time rather than one long route. There will be four-five day breaks in between your shows, but it allows you to keep your day jobs to pay for your touring and still works the country like a large tour. The big con to this plan however, (although you'll be saving money in lodging and not missing work) you will need to budget your gas really well as you'll spend more in gas to come back home every weekend. But for many, until your music starts paying for itself and providing capital for large tours, this works better than picking up and going for weeks or even months at a time. 
Here's a list of regional cities to help you start your list (downloadable excel sheet)

Booking
You always want to book "tour like" shows as far out as possible. Most booking agents say between 3-6 months to give enough time for everything to fall into place, especially promotion. If you stay ahead of the game in booking, it helps the process move much more smoothly as details are important to keeping things clean and chaos free. I've found the best way (outside of hiring a booing agent ... but remember, we're on a budget!) is contact venues directly and/or ask local bands within the same genre as yours to share the stage with you and ask if they would book the show. Allow them to headline if they want since your the traveling band looking for exposure. That way their fans will come and become your fans too. In return, offer to book a show for them in your home city say they have a reason to travel as well. When sending out emails, make sure to have a clean and killer EPK (electronic press kit) so bands and venues know exactly what they're getting. Oh look! We wrote a blog earlier this year talking about EPK's for your convenience!

Something to remember
There's a lot of stuff people forget when going on tour (even if it is for weekends at a time). So as a reminder - Budget Budget Budget - think through everything extra you might want and do your best to slim down the budget. A few things not to forget to budget for:
Gas, food, alcohol, batteries, strings, drumsticks, oil changes, tolls, merchandise, mileage (lost in sightseeing - gas is the most expensive thing!), AAA, I'm sure there's more but keep a tight budget and stick to it! To pay for all of this, designate someone at every show to get their butt back to the merch table IMMEDIATELY. One extra CD sale or tshirt sale just might be the difference to a new fan and another meal. 

Lastly
It sucks.. but it is fun. You'll be tired, dirty and ready to punch your bandmate in the face, but it's worth it. Don't forget about putting on a good show and making new fans. That's the reason you're there in the first place. Become friends with the sound guy, no matter what.

What has been your experience with touring? What would you add to this?