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How to Book a Tour

As a musician, one of the best things you can do is get out and go on tour. Playing your hometown repeatedly just isn’t going to cut it.

A tour will get your name out to the masses and that includes record labels. And when you come back to your hometown, you will have built up even more of a buzz so all your homies will be dying to see you.

But booking a tour isn’t easy, especially if you are a relatively unknown band. So, what can you do to get yourself out there AND make money? Here are a few tips.

Start Planning

It’s important to start planning your tour so you have plenty of time to plan. If you wait until the last minute, many of the clubs you are targeting will be booked.

It’s advisable to start booking about five months out. Sure, some clubs won’t be booking out that far, but you can always circle back to them when you need to fill in dates.

Figure Out a Route and Timeline

Next you will want to figure out a rough route and timeline. Think of how much time you want to spend on the road and how many cities you will want to visit.

If this is your first tour, you may want to make your tour a shorter one, say two weeks or less. You will also want to visit cities close to you starting in your hometown and working your way out. It’s also advisable to hit cities where you have a following or a good scene for your genre of music.

Plan the cities you want to visit trying to stick to a schedule with no more than 6 hours of driving a day, 10 on non-show days. This is ideal, but it’s likely you’ll end up doing longer drives and some backtracking. It happens!

Make a Calendar

Keep your planning organized by making a calendar that you can share with everyone you are going to tour with. Put each venue that you are confirmed or penciled in with on the calendar and change the status as dates get firmed up or canceled. You should also include all contact information such as the name, address, email and phone number of the venue and the person you were speaking to.

Decide Who You are Going to Take with You on Tour

Having a road crew with you on tour can be nice. They can split the driving and help with lugging the gear.

But keep in mind that taking extra people will add to your expenses. They will also take up valuable space in the van. So, if you absolutely need roadies, stick to just one or two.

Finding Venues

Finding venues will be the most challenging part of your tour booking journey. It’s difficult to convince a promoter you never met that you can draw people.

Therefore, it’s best to go the unconventional route. Try getting into rec centers, backyard shows and living rooms. So instead of calling clubs, you’ll want to look for DIY promoters. You can also get friendly with bands in the area to see if there are any shows you can hop on.

And if you are dealing with venues, take some time to research them. For example, if a venue is booking major acts, it’s likely you’re not going to get on a show with them unless you have some serious backing.

You should also look at the nights they are booking. So, if you are looking for a show on a Friday night but you see that they do a hip hop theme on Friday nights, it’s probably going to be a no-go…unless of course, you’re a hip hop band.

When doing venue research, it’s good to check out the club’s website, but you can also refer to Yelp which has great customer reviews. Indie on the Move is another good resource, and it has tons of venue listings.

The Pitch

The next thing you need to do is figure out the best way to contact the venue. Some venues make it very clear as far as how to get in touch. But others may have an email, several social media pages… and the list goes on.

If you are not sure of the best way to get in touch, you should just call the venue. Whoever picks up is likely to be able to tell you how to contact the promoter.

You should also have a pre-made email or message that you are using to send to promoters. The email should be short and to the point.

The subject of the email should have the name of the band and the date you are looking to book. You don’t need to include a bio, just a few social media links should do the trick, or you can send a link to your LinkTree account.

The most important thing to include in the email is the number of people you think you will bring. This is what promoters will pay the most attention to.

Local Openers

Earlier in the article, we talked about networking with local bands to get your gig booked. This might be the best thing you can do.

Local bands can tip you off about shows, but they can also help you create a tour package.

So, if you go to the promoter suggesting a package that includes you and one or more local bands with a strong draw, they will be more likely to take your pitch. They will see that they can have a strong night without having to do a lot of the work.

Payment

As a touring band, you at least want to cut even on your expenses. Most clubs won’t give you a guarantee, but they will give you a cut of the door.

Here’s an idea of what you can expect:

  • A 70-100% cut on a 21 plus show
  • A 70-85% cut on an 18 plus how
  • A 50-70% cut on an all-age show

Most clubs will also let you set your own ticket price. It’s best to set a price that’s similar to what most clubs in town are charging. $10 -$12 is a pretty good range. It’s affordable for most people and they may pay a little more as they will understand you’re a touring band that needs to make money.

Promoting

Your tour won’t be successful if you don’t promote it. Start promoting a month or two out so people can save the date.

Nowadays, social media is one of the most effective ways to promote, and luckily, it’s mostly free. But it can a get a little tricky if your following is mostly from your hometown, and you are trying to hit other markets.

A good way to get into other markets is to look for Facebook groups that are specific to the locations you’re touring and the genre of your band. For example, if you’re a metal band from St. Louis, you can search for Facebook groups that are specific to metal fans in St. Louis.

Then share your fliers on those sites a few weeks before the show.

Instagram and other social media can be a bit trickier. But you may be able to hit your target audience by using and searching for the right hashtags.

There are also accounts that specialize in sharing fliers for local shows. If you can find those accounts and get them to share your flier, you’re in business.

Another idea is to send the venue your fliers and ask them to hang them around the club a few weeks before the show.

Food and Lodging

When you’re out on the road, you don’t want to spend a lot of extra money on hotel rooms. So, prepare to do plenty of couch surfing.

It’s advisable to know where you are going to sleep every night before you go out on tour. You don’t want to be scrambling at the last minute, and you certainly won’t want to sleep in the van or on the bus (unless it’s an RV type situation).

Fortunately, lodging shouldn’t be too difficult to come by. There’s always someone who wants to party with the band, right? Just be warned that they will probably keep you up all night!

In any case, you can try to find lodging by hitting up other bands, local fans in the area, and the venue itself. Some venues have green rooms you can sleep in, and, in other cases, the promoter may know of someone that will provide lodging or they may even offer up their own home.

Eating won’t be as much of an issue because it’s not as big of an expense. But some venues have kitchens and will cook for you. The people that put you up may also offer you breakfast or dinner.

Speaking of food, it’s important to manage band expectations. When I went on tour, I tried to stay frugal and eat food bought at 7/11s. But my drummer wanted to eat out potentially blowing the band’s budget and throwing us off schedule.

Let the band know that if they want to have a nice sit-down meal, they must do so at a time that is convenient and the money they spend should be coming out of their pockets. You may also encourage them to bring and buy snacks, so they don’t get hangry when they are on the road.

Make a Tour Budget

To give band members an idea of what they can and can’t afford on tour, it’s advisable to make a tour budget. The budget should include:

  • What you are likely to be making at your shows
  • The cost of the crew
  • Merch expenses
  • What you are likely to make off merch
  • Profit split between band members
  • Gas expenses
  • Other expenses you may incur

It may be impossible to know how much you will make in advance, but if you can estimate, you may be able to manage your band’s expectations.

Merch

Merch will be your main source of income during a tour. Plan to make sure you have all the merch you need including shirts, pins, CDs and whatever else you have available. Taking along a lot of merch can take up space in the van but making an impressive showing will draw attention to what you have to offer.

It’s also advisable to take someone along who can sell merch for you. This isn’t necessary, but if you are bombarded by fans after the show, it can cause you to lose sales. Therefore, it’s best to have a table set up that people can buy from at any time.

If you can’t afford to take someone with you to sell merch, see if you can find someone to help once you get to the venue.

Make an Inventory List

An inventory list is a list of everything that you are taking with you on the tour. Not only will it ensure that you have everything you need when start out, but it will also keep you from losing stuff when you are on the road.

It’s a good idea to check your inventory list before you leave a venue, so you don’t leave anything behind. If you lose valuable equipment, it’s likely you won’t be able to backtrack for it. And it may cause you to be unable to play your next show.

House Shows

House shows can be a great way to make money and get bookings on a tour. People love the intimacy, and you don’t have to deal with the red tape that’s involved with booking a venue.

Of course, you are taking a risk that the show will get shut down, but if you stay discreet you will be in luck.

You will need to convince the homeowner to let you set up the show which will take some doing, but if they can get a portion of the profits, it may be enough to persuade them.

Colleges

Colleges make great tour venues. They pay well and they tend to have a good built-in audience.

The best way to get college shows is through a college booking agent. But if that’s not in your budget, you can call colleges yourself to set up shows. Try to speak to someone on the music committee.

Colleges pay anywhere from $1200 to $1800 a show so if you can get a few college dates on your tour, it will make up for your other expenses. They may also throw in food, lodging and money for gas.

If you are looking to include colleges dates on your tour, get started early. They can be booked as far out as 6 to 18 months in advance.

Know the Lingo

There is certain lingo a promoter may use when booking a show. If you don’t know what the promoter means, you may end up agreeing to something you may not want to agree to. Here are a few terms you should get familiar with.

  • Hard Ticket: A hard ticket refers to a bill where people are coming to see a specific headliner.
  • Soft Ticket: A soft ticket is a bill where the event itself is the attraction and the artists are just part of the show. Festivals are great examples of a soft ticket.
  • Advance: The advance confirms all the details relevant to the show. It will likely be solidified when the contract is signed (if a contract is required) but it’s a good idea to go over the details a few days before the show.
  • Backline: This refers to the equipment that’s being used such as drums, amps, mics, etc. Sometimes the club will have a backline and sometimes the band will need to bring it themselves.
  • Buy-Out: This is a flat fee the club provides to pay for the band’s food in addition to any guarantees or payments.
  • Buy-On: This is when a smaller artist pays a fee to be added to the bill.
  • Hall Fee: This is a percentage of the merch money the club takes from the artist in return for allowing the artist to sell their merch at the venue. It doesn’t always apply, but it may.
  • Load In/ Soundcheck: Many clubs will ask bands to load in and soundcheck hours before the show starts.
  • Performance Contract: This is the contract you sign that locks you in for the performance. Some venues require them, and some do not. They are not generally legally binding, especially for smaller venues. But if you back out of your contract, it can hurt your reputation.

Confirm Your Shows

If you are booking clubs months in advance, it’s a good idea to confirm your shows before heading out on tour. You may want to check in with the club several times before the tour starts to ensure your date has not been double booked or the club hasn’t closed, etc. Believe me, it’s better to know!

Booking a tour is not easy, but these tips will help you come closer to being successful. We wish you the best of luck on your journey.

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