January 27, 2020
The Ramones had the longest tour ever, playing 2,263 concerts on a tour lasting 22 years. Whether you’re attempting to match the output of Johnny, Tommy and co., or fancy a more restrained touring effort, once your band has released a solid album, you’ll probably want to hit the road.
In this article, we look into every aspect of the touring process. We’ll help your band make those first steps on the road to touring greatness. Everyone has to start somewhere, so here’s Kore Studios’ comprehensive guide to going on tour as a band.
Why go on tour?
There are plenty of reasons your band might want to go on tour. Perhaps you’re promoting a new album, maybe a particularly keen fanbase has grown in a certain area or maybe you just want to have a party with your bandmates around the world. Whatever you’re reasoning for going on tour, it’s important that you consider the steps needed to make it a great one.
For our guide to touring, we’ve broken down the tour process into the following steps: Building a tour team, the logistics of touring, and the actions you need to take while you’re on tour.
The tour team
Unfortunately, touring is rarely as simple as getting a van, throwing in a few guitars and hitting the road. In fact, a successful tour often requires a crack team to make it happen. Depending on the kind of tour you want to undertake, different roles will be required, and not every member of the tour team we’ve laid out below is absolutely necessary.
While not a completely essential part of your tour, tour managers can take the burden of planning the tour off your band’s shoulders so you can focus on the music. A tour manager will work out the logistics and finances, as well as working with promoters and venues to ensure that the musicians have a place to play.
You can even rely on your tour manager to hire any additional crew or session musicians that you need too. Be prepared to shell out though, as tour manager expenses can add up quickly, they’ll often charge up to £200 per day.
If you really want to splash out, you can work with a booking agent as well as a tour manager. These agents will determine the best venues for your band to play, and work directly with them to help secure your spot on the bill. The best part is that they tend to be pretty savvy, and will usually be able to ensure that you’re better paid by the venue than you would be if you went it alone.
Going solo is an option, however. Booking agents tend to charge around 15% of whatever you’re paid by the venue to perform, so if you need all the money you can get, it may be better to contact the venues yourself.
It may sound a little old school in the social media age, but having a solid street team can really help your gig gain traction. Get flyers made up and recruit some fans to spread the word. Your street team should hand out flyers at bars or similar gigs, put up posters and share that you’re playing on social media. You don’t need to worry about paying these guys either, as they already love your band a free ticket and some merch are usually all it takes to get them on board.
So, your one-man DSBM project has made it. Congratulations! But who’s going to lay down those blast beats while you’re at the front delivering an express order of red hot riffs to the audience? The answer: session musicians.
If you’re going on tour and need some extra help delivering the full musical experience that your audience expects, then you’ll need to employ some session musicians. If you have a tour manager, they’ll be able to source them, but if not you’ll have to do the legwork. Fortunately, there are plenty of websites available to help you add that extra set of hands to your touring outfit.
The merch table is one of your most important assets when you’re out on tour. Not only is it a great source of extra beer money, but there’s no better way to build up your fanbase than by sending your audience home with a CD in their pocket and your logo slapped across their chest.
To make sure everything’s working well, you’ll need somebody manning that merch stall. While it can be nice for the band to drop in after the show, somebody needs to be there at all times to help convince the buzzing crowd to part with their hard-earned cash.
Depending on the size of your band, you can either use the crew available to you at the venue or bring your own along. If you have the money to spare, bringing your own lighting and sound rig, as well as a road crew is guaranteed to leave a great impression, but it is very costly and likely not an option for most musicians who are just starting out.
Now you’ve put together a touring team large enough to rival Parliament-Funkadelic (or maybe it’s just you and a couple of mates) it’s time to start thinking about the logistics of going on tour. The obvious things to consider are who you’re playing with, where you’re playing and how long you want to tour for. But you’ll also need to determine where you’ll be sleeping and how to actually encourage anyone to come and see you.
Planning out the dates is always one of the most important aspects of going on tour. First and foremost, you’ll need to work out how your schedule stacks up – you need to actually be able to show up to your tour.
Following this, you’ll want to be aware of who else is touring at the same time as you. You might be a brilliant indie four-piece, but if Kasabian are playing the same night as you, you’ll struggle to get anyone who cares into the venue. Of course, if you’re a synthpop group, you probably don’t need to worry if Dead Kennedys are in town. If another band of a similar genre to your own is playing on the same night as you, it may be in your best interests to get in touch with them and ask to open for them in a support slot (or vice versa depending on who’s bigger).
When scouting locations there are a number of factors to keep in mind. The first thing to consider is the route that your tour is going to take. Whether you’re playing on a county, country or continental level you want to ensure that your tour route is economical and logical. We find that it’s best to aim for a circular route – the last thing you’ll want to do after a gruelling string of ten dates is to double back on yourself.
You also need to be realistic and understand that you’re going to probably start playing in pubs, not the Albert Hall, and whatever you’re paid is likely to reflect that. Still, that doesn’t mean you can’t be picky and you should always keep in mind what you believe you’re worth whenever you’re negotiating with a promoter or venue manager.
Once you’ve settled on the cities and venues you want to play, there are a couple more logistical elements that you’ll want to keep in mind. Most important are your sound and lighting setups, as well as your backdrops.
We’ve touched on sound and lighting and our point still stands: if you bring your own you’ll be able to create an incredible show that directly reflects the music you’re playing, but it is expensive. For most smaller bands, you’re probably better off making do with the venue’s equipment and upgrading once you’ve really managed to establish yourself.
Your backdrops, banners and any other stage decoration, however, are essential to your setup, especially if you’re the opening band. The audience needs to know who’s playing, especially if they’ve never listened to you before, so make it absolutely clear through your stage setup. Unfortunately, some venues will have restrictions against this.
The headline act
If you’re struggling to get on the bill at the venues you want to play, playing as a support band can be very beneficial. It goes without saying that you should support a band who play the same style as you to help attract new fans. Just reach out to bands in the area you’re looking to play, send over a link to your music, and ask to play with them. Once you’ve built up a network with other musicians, consider gig swapping; where you open for them in their hometown and they open for you in yours. This’ll help to grow the audience of both bands in locations where the larger band already has a fanbase.
So you’re going on tour with your band, but where are you going to stay? Unfortunately, you’re not Keith Moon and won’t be blowing up toilets in the Hilton anytime soon. No, when you start out on your first tour your best bet is to hook up with fellow bands in your scene and ask to crash with them. You can also speak to venues and promoters, as they may have a flat that you’re able to stay in. Hotels are often the most expensive way to stay while on tour, but good deals can arise every now and then, so it’s worth your while to keep them on your radar… just don’t drive a car into the pool.
A great setlist is often the key to a great tour – it’s also one of the more fun logistical elements of the entire tour. Let your creative juices flow and you’ll no doubt have a brilliant setlist on your hands. The key is to ensure the tracks flow and to deliver a mixture of new material and long-standing fan favourites. If you’re just starting out, throwing in a cover that the audience will throw themselves into is a great way to win support. You should also be willing to change your setlist as the tour progresses – if something isn’t working a little rearranging could benefit your shows going forward.
We’ve briefly mentioned how a street team can really help to sell tickets to your gig, after all getting a solid crowd is the most important part of the touring process and will help ensure you can do it again in the future.
You can’t rely on your street team, however. In the social media age, it’s really important for the bands themselves to be involved in the promotion process. Fill your Instagram, Facebook and Twitter feeds with well-designed promotional material to ensure everybody knows when and where you’re going to play (and how much it’ll cost them).
Going on tour
You’re finally on tour! Congratulations, you made it and you’ve taken the first steps on the road to international fame, fan adoration and the potential disdain of multiple hotel chains. But how can you ensure that the first tour isn’t your last, grow your fanbase and actually make some money?
As we mentioned before, merch is a key aspect of any good tour setup. Vinyl, CDs, posters, t-shirts, cassettes, novelty bobbleheads of each band member. Whatever it is, the more merchandise you have, the more people are going to be spreading the word about your band.
Recording your tour both on film and audio is another really important aspect of the tour process. Concert footage is perfect for social media promo videos and could even be used in a full music video. If you’ve gained a bit of traction, you could also release a live album to really show your fans what they’re missing and encourage more people to show up for the next tour. The live album might sound like a cash grab that bands only use as their careers are petering out, but the likes of Mayhem’s Live in Leipzig or Johnny Cash’s At Folsom Prison demonstrate just how much of a positive impact a live album can have on a musician’s career.
After reading this comprehensive guide to booking a tour for a band, we’re sure you’re armed with all the knowledge you need to have a truly excellent tour. If you can’t wait to tour, but still need an album under your belt, then give Kore Studios a call where we can give you a rockstar-worthy recording experience.