Surviving Your First (and second... and each one after) Tour
Surviving Your First (and second...and each one after) Tour
An important part of career longevity for any musician is live performance. An album cycle can call for over a year working on the road and the fact that a single 4 week tour has ended many bands is enough to cause anxiety in even the most seasoned road vets the first day out. There are ways to prepare however, and by having realistic expectations, you can come out with a life changing experience and perhaps even a little bit of income.
Contracts & Advancing
Whether you’re working with a booking agent or if you've booked your own fucking life, paying close attention to contracts is essential. It's common to submit a contract and have it returned with many clauses crossed out and modified by the promoter. It is important to consider these signed contracts so there are no surprises. It's from these contracts that you "advance" the shows, by contacting the promoter or production contact listed to refine all the information you may need for the day. Some common knowledge offered on contracts would be:
- Agreed upon fee, whether a "guarantee" for a flat fee, or a "split" where the band shares the ticket income with the promoter after their show expenses and city/state taxes. Once you get into medium size venues there may be a bonus percentage of the split you are offered after the promoter makes back their expenses.
- Billing of the show, or which other bands you are performing with.
- A production schedule from load in to curfew.
Most clauses on a contract are subject to change, so being on the same page as the promoter will take a lot of guesswork out of the evening. Make sure to advance within a week or two of the show at the latest, as the promoter often needs specifics from you to help make the show go smoothly. It's very important to clarify any points of a contract you may not understand, and most promoters are happy to walk you through the finer details so don’t be afraid to ask.
Stretching your income to cover all expenses on the road can seem an impossible challenge and often a budget will only help you lose less money. Some bands consider a small financial loss to be less a priority than the long term investment towards a career touring can offer." Before you tour, look at projected income vs. expenses. Consider everything from hotels, fuel, tolls, parking, gear and repairs to musician and crew wages, agent and management percentage, and a 3% contingency fund. You'll see where your highest costs are, and strategize how to reduce those costs before getting in the van.
You'll be in a van or bus with a number of people and in crowded public spaces every night. You'll drink free alcohol every night of the week, then sit in a van for 8 hours a day, eating what you can find at truck stops and gas stations. Balance requires a little bit of effort but makes a massive difference to your physical and mental health. Grab those extra waters from backstage,bring a pillow and pillow case from home to sleep better, and get physical exercise beyond just load in and load out–bring a resistance band for the long van rides or if you’re staying in hotels, take advantage of the gym. Staying hydrated, rested and physically active can make the difference between having amazing energy for your evening or wanting to crawl back home that night.
Maintaining a healthy mental state is also critical to surviving life on the road. Plan to take some recreational time on tour – visiting national parks, roller skating rinks, and batting cages will relieve stress and help with the physical upkeep as well, Forgiving emotional eruptions and being amenable to compromise will quickly dissipate the occasional van argument. Pack a pair of noise cancelling headphones and take personal time when you need it. Know that everyone can have a bad day, you included.
There is so much to learn from other touring bands (hospitality strategies come to mind) as well as a plethora of industry websites with advice for beginners in a van to professionals on a bus, thistourlife.com being one of my favorites. Apps like Waze and Yelp can get you to that excellent coffee spot near the venue before load in and online tour diaries can prepare you for a colorful local sound crew or lacking sound system. Appreciate the cities you travel through and partake in local cuisine/microbrews and galleries/museums. No matter how many years you've spent on the road, there is always room to learn new techniques for having a successful tour.
By Dana Wachs, distributed under a Creative Commons CC-BY license.
Image by @Fio, distributed under the CC-BY-NC creative commons license.
If that’s how you’re listening to music—you’re only ripping yourself off.
I am consensually working these long-ass, impossible hours to be paid in less money, but more freedom.
This independent creative life has myriad simultaneous jobs, no days off, no assurance of security and requires extreme self-discipline.