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?
 

Five Ways To Promote Your Band

 This article is in collaboration with MusicGateway and Storyboard Studios

This article is in collaboration with MusicGateway and Storyboard Studios

FIVE WAYS FOR A LOCAL BAND TO GET NOTICED

Television shows like The X Factor might have given us unrealistic expectations about what it takes to be famous. You might be tempted to assume that music career jobs are a well-defined four-step process. One, tell a sad story; two, belt out a couple of tunes; three, receive the backing of Simon Cowell’s millions; four, live happily ever after.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your perspective) it’s not as easy or as mind-numbing as that. Starting up a band with your friends and playing a few shows is an integral part of growing up for a lot of people. Following the footsteps of your musical heroes out on stage is certainly a lot of fun. But a lot of people make a lot of mistakes when they try to take their band more seriously.

Remember, sustainable careers in music are some of the most difficult to find in the world so if you’re going to be a success, you’ve got to do everything it takes and never give up. We have made a list of the five things every small band should do if they want to get noticed and have any chance at success.

1: PLAY AS MANY GIGS AS POSSIBLE

The gig is the small band’s ultimate marketing tool. Playing gigs is your chance to showcase your talent and your songs, and the more gigs you play, the more chance you have of making a good impression. (Side note: Play out live when you are show ready. Get all the kinks out and make sure your band is sounding the best it can before booking). Make sure to have a solid press kit with music, videos and photos so venue owners and booking agents know exactly what they're getting. 

Of course when we say play as many gigs as possible, we mean within the parameters of your genre. If you’re starting up a technical death metal band, it’s probably best not to book a slot at a local jazz club – you won’t go down well. Use reliable promoters who’ll put you on the bill with bands that are similar to you. 

Don’t be discouraged by slow progress either. Expect to play a couple of gigs where the only audience is a few of your friends and a drunken old man sipping cheap lager in the corner. It happens to all bands and it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doing anything wrong. But remember, bands that have a great show and killer live music will always gain a fan. Even if it's one fan at a time, the fan numbers build on itself every show you play.  

2: USE SOCIAL MEDIA

Social media has completely changed our ability to promote ourselves. And the best part, it's free. Social media can be used as extremely effective advertising. It gives you the space to showcase your songs and other promotional materials, publicize your gigs and interact with your growing fan base. 

Social media is fast-paced and forever changing so always look out for new opportunities to get exposure for your band. Offering free downloads of your songs can be a great way to get new people listening to your music. Create fascinating videos on your iPhone to keep up with creative elements that draw people in to social media. Use it positively to your advantage and use it often.

3: DON'T WASTE MONEY

This next one might sound counter-intuitive but sometimes, especially early on in your band’s career, it can pay to be very frugal. There is a temptation for many bands to spend lots on recording at a top-notch studio or have a music video made. 

For a start-up band there are very cheap ways of doing this sort of thing without much noticeable difference in quality. Recording at a great studio will make a big difference, but this is only worth doing when you have a finished product and you’re sending out your music to people who really matter and a fan base that will buy your record to help recoup the recording costs. When you’re just showcasing yourself and building your following, home recordings and videos are a great way to get up as much content of yourself online as you can. When doing home recordings, make sure to focus on the quality of your music and playability as the quality may lack a bit, people can still hear the creativity and talent. Most people just want content to watch and listen to and they also enjoy the journey; watching you improve as an artist.

Give your band the time to grow before you start pumping money into it. It can be very disheartening to find that you’ve spent a lot of money and not really seen any benefit from it. It’s a much better idea to focus yourself on being a great band before you start trying to buy your popularity. 
 


4: TRY THINGS OUT OF YOUR NORM

You don’t have to do the same things week-in, week-out. It’s a much better idea to try out new things to broaden your appeal. Find what works and focus your energy on what works while continuing to experiment with new avenues. 

Record unique videos or engage with fans in a unique way. Revel In Romance out of Atlanta sends a post card with their picture on it to every band and every venue they play with. The response is unbelievable as more bands want to tour with them and venues want them to come back. Try something unique to make you stand out.

If acoustic versions of your songs work then consider playing some acoustic gigs. These are an ideal way to showcase your material in a different light, and could win you some fans who would otherwise never get the opportunity to see you. Open-mic nights will often see you mixed in with artists highly different to you but this just gives you the chance to play to a different type of crowd.

Try to do things that other artists and bands aren’t doing to promote yourself, be yourself and let your band’s true personality shine through. If you are a little bit weird, that’s probably a good thing, let people see that. Look at what it is that your favorite bands have done to promote themselves and see if you can do what they’ve done any better.

5: SUPPORT OTHER LOCAL BANDS

Probably the most important thing you can do as a small band (other than practicing constantly and writing amazing songs) is supporting other local bands like yours. If you’re only interested in playing your music and signing autographs you aren’t going to make any fans (or friends for that matter). 

When it comes to promotion, nothing beats word-of-mouth. Your aim should always be getting more people ready to say good things about your band. If you support other local artists then they are always more likely to support you as well and this can be an invaluable tool. Gig swapping is proven to be a huge benefit to all local and touring bands. If you're willing to travel, contact local bands in another city and ask for them to book a show for you where you can open for them. In return, offer to do the same for them in your city. Choose as many bands and as many cities and start touring. (Later we'll highlight step by step touring ideas for new bands and bands on a budget). 

What have you done that has worked for you band in gaining attention and growing your fanbase?