How to Survive on Tour
There is no doubt that touring is a necessary part of every musician’s career.
Most musicians have a love hate relationship with the road. They may love performing for crowds, checking out different states and towns and meeting their fans.
On the other hand, dealing with band member personalities in close quarters (like a tiny van) for days on end can really start to wear on your nerves. And while the constant partying can be fun, you really do need sleep every now and then! And creature comforts like good food and a comfortable bed can be in short supply.
Despite the ups and downs, touring is necessary if you want to make it big. It helps get your name out there and you can make money playing shows and selling merch if you plan correctly.
So the question is, what can you do to survive on tour? Well, here are some useful tips that will make your touring experience more pleasant.
Start Out in Short Bursts
Before planning a full-scale tour, start going out for overnight and weekend road trips.
For instance, musicians like me who live in Los Angeles may start out going to Fresno and San Jose. The next trip, we might add on San Francisco. Eventually, we may add Oregon to our itinerary.
By doing these short bursts, we’re building up a following in the areas surrounding us. So we might start to have better crowds and better pay in Fresno giving us the freedom to take a chance on San Francisco.
In some instances, fans from Fresno may travel to SF to see us. Or maybe they’ll have a friend in the area who will come see us on their recommendation. This will build a following that will help us draw better crowds so we can get more shows in other areas.
A shorter tour will also give bands a feel for how things will go when they start expanding their horizons. They can determine what their traveling situation is like, how the band is getting along and other relevant factors.
It’s better to test these things out over a short road trip as opposed to having to deal with them when you’re on the road for a week or more.
Promote in the Area
These days, it’s very hard to get out of town gigs. The sad truth is, it’s hard enough for bands to get their local friends out to see them, much less for an out-of-town band to pull a crowd.
That’s why it’s a good idea to build a buzz in the area before you even try to plan a tour.
Consider sending your music out to local radio stations and getting interviews and reviews with local papers. Slowly make your way over by playing shows in surrounding areas and building a following there that might spill over.
If the promoter finds out you’re in a band they heard of but that hasn’t played in the area yet, they may be eager to book your band.
Eating right is probably the best thing you can do on tour, but it’s not easy!
When you’re rushing from town to town and not making a lot of money, you won’t have a lot of opportunities to eat a good sit-down meal. But at the same time, you need energy to put on a good show every night.
And if you’re HANGRY, you will only be more likely to get annoyed with bandmates when you’re squeezed into a van for hours on end.
The best thing to do in this situation is to pack snacks that are high in fiber. Fiber gives you energy that will keep you going for the show and it also makes you feel fuller longer so you’re not jonesing for your next meal.
Here are some examples of foods that are high in fiber and portable.
- Whole grain bread
- Fruit with skins on
- Granola bars
While eating high fiber foods, be sure to hydrate with plenty of water. The last thing you want to happen on tour is to become constipated.
Get Plenty of Sleep…If Possible
Sleep may not be easy to come by when you’re on tour. People will be excited that you are in town and if you’re crashing with a local band, the party might be at their place!
The van may not provide the best sleeping accommodations either.
But the bottom line here is to get as much sleep as possible. You need to stay healthy to maintain a high energy level for performing every night. A good night’s sleep will pay off in helping you pull off great shows throughout your tour.
Being cramped in a van doesn’t leave a lot of opportunities for physical activity, but get what you can take. If you stop off to get gas, get out and stretch your legs.
Just got in town for a show? Take a quick walk or run around the block when you get a free ten minutes. This will help you blow off steam and it will promote circulation in your body.
Take Something to Keep You Occupied
With hours on the road, you are sure to get bored. Take something along that keeps you occupied and keeps you from yelling at your bandmates.
Obviously, it’s easy to get carsick so not every one of these will be ideal for every person. However, books, a pen and paper, electronic devices and music are some examples of things that will keep you occupied on the road.
If you are more tech oriented, you can bring along equipment like a MIDI controller, Ableton Live, Apple Logic or Propellerhead Reason. These tools will help you piece together song ideas so you can come off the road with new material.
Make Sure Your Vehicle is in Good Condition
When it comes to traveling on tour, bands with a generous budget can afford to go by plane. In most cases, you will end up in a van, or if you’re lucky a bus.
Putting miles on the van can take its toll and the last thing you want to do is break down. Not only will this add to tensions and expenses, it may keep you from getting to your next show on time. In some instances, it could mean the end of your tour.
Before taking your car on the road, here are some steps you will want to take to avoid breakdowns.
- Change the oil and filter
- Change the air filter
- Change the cabin filter to keep musty smells at bay (this is a very good tip for bands on tour!)
- Cover headlights with a protective cloth to keep them free of dirt
- Make sure all your fluid levels are good
- Make sure your tires are full and not overinflated
- Change spark plugs
You will also want to make sure that you have everything you need to make your car trip as pleasant as possible. Here are some items you may consider taking along.
- A trash bag
- A jack and spare tire
- A cloth to clean the windscreen
- A fire extinguisher- cause hey, you never know!
- Car chargers for your devices
- A plastic funnel to add fluids if necessary
- A spare key to be kept somewhere other than where the original key is kept
- A toolbox
- Your owner’s manual
If you have the budget, you may consider renting a van. That way you can be sure that it is well taken maintained and if the van breaks down, you can find another rental facility and switch it out.
This may seem somewhat ridiculous considering you will have heavy amps to carry around, but the less you take, the less strain it will put on the van. This will keep the van in better shape and it will consume less gas.
Smaller amps will also take up less space in the car.
Sure, everyone wants to look impressive when they’re on tour and bringing large amps is a great way to do it. But if you have a smaller amp you think you can get away with using, consider bringing that instead.
The travel light rule can also refer to personal belongings. Sure, everyone likes to look their best on stage, but packing a different outfit for each night increases the likelihood that something will get lost when you move from town to town.
It will also leave you with more to sort through which can be difficult when you’re cramped up in a van and trying to get to your destinations on time. It’s best to pick one or two stage outfits you really love as well as some comfy clothes you can wear when traveling.
Keep other items such as beauty and health products to a minimum as well.
If you like to do an elaborate stage show, you may want to take some of your set with you. It will impress out of town crowds and help you build a following. But even here, try to scale down as much as possible.
Think of taking items you absolutely can’t live without and leave what’s unnecessary behind.
Plan Your Dates Well
Your tour itinerary will make all the difference when it comes to whether or not your tour goes well.
Planning a tour is not easy to do. In an ideal world, you would be able to plan a course and fill in the dates from there. But the reality is, the club that you want to play may not have the date you need open.
Therefore, a tour can take some backtracking. You may end up driving 11 hours one day and 3 the next. You may end up with a day off doing nothing because you couldn’t find a conveniently located club for that date.
Unfortunately, even the best tour planners will come across these types of challenges, especially if you’re not a well-known band that the promoter is willing to clear the club for.
The best thing you can do is try to be creative. If you’re looking to fill in dates or have time to spare, see if you can schedule a radio interview instead of a club date. If you have a relative in the area, think of making a fun day out of your day off by giving them a visit. You may just get a free meal and a place to sleep out of the deal.
Finally, before going on tour, confirm all your dates. You’re coming a long way and the last thing you want to do is drive 18 hours to find out the show has been cancelled. Believe me, it’s better to know.
When you’re on tour, merch is very important.
For a lot of bands, merch is the best way to make money. It’s likely the people who came to see you will want to help out by buying merch.
You also want to leave a lasting impression. Selling t-shirts, pins, stickers and physical music product will help people remember you….and if you’re coming out all this way to play, they better remember you!
Make sure to have a good variety of merch including physical audio products, t-shirts in various sizes and any other items you typically sell.
When you’re on the road, you may just end up spending more money than you’re making. Getting guarantees will help.
Explain to club owners that you’re coming a long way to play and that it would be great if they can reimburse you for gas and other expenses. It’s likely that they will be able to throw you some amount of money.
In addition to money, you can also ask about food and a place to sleep. They probably know other bands in the area that can put you up if they can’t do it themselves.
I know this all seems like a lot to be asking for, but the worst thing they can do it say no. Remember, when you’re promoting your band, you have to be a little bit pushy to get ahead. Of course, that doesn’t mean you should be rude, but at the same time, don’t be afraid to ask for what you need.
Set Some Ground Rules
If there’s one thing that can break up the band quickly, it’s a tour. After being in the van with your band members for hours on end, you will find something about them that you can’t stand. To avoid things getting ugly, it’s important to set some ground rules.
One important ground rule is to control the drugs and alcohol. Abuse can be a real issue on the road when there are so many hours with nothing to do and every time you turn around everyone is there to welcome you with a bottle or a hit.
You really can’t control your band members and with drugs and alcohol taking the lives of so many musicians, you can see how even the best managers and facilities won’t work. However, you can ask band members to refrain from drinking before shows so it will not affect performance.
You can also make sure that they are on the bus on time and hopefully not throwing up on everyone while drive!
Money is another potential problem. If you’re making any money, explain to band mates how you plan to split it.
Conflicts can arise because bandmates see money coming in and may not end up with anything in their pockets because it’s going right back into expenses like gas and food. Be as transparent as possible when it comes to information on income and expenses.
In addition to these basic ground rules, you may also want to establish some boundaries or a way to effectively communicate if a band mate is getting on your nerves. For instance, you can establish a ‘me time’ for every band member so that they can have moments for themselves amid the craziness.
Finally, make sure that no band member is getting too much dumped on them. Everyone should be helping with carrying equipment and driving and no one should have to end up sleeping on the floor every night. This can lead to hurt feelings that can make touring unpleasant.
Promote, Promote, Promote
With so much going on, it can be hard to remember to promote your shows. But it’s essential to stay active on social media and remind fans you’ll be coming to their town.
Before leaving on tour, create the resources you will need such as digital fliers and online events. In the days leading up to the show, share fliers and events on social media so you get a maximum crowd. Call or text family or friends that live nearby to make sure they come check you out.
You can also film videos while on tour that you can post on your channels to remind people where you’ll be when.
In general, tours give you so many opportunities to promote. Your fans will want to know how your tour is going. Posting pictures from various locations will give them a behind the scenes view that will be exciting and make your band look impressive.
Going on tour is not easy. The tips in this article will make it a tiny bit simpler. What do you do to stay sane when you’re out on the road?