Being part of a touring band is a double-edged sword; it’s some of the most fun you’ll ever have, but it can also be the most stressful thing you’ll ever do. There are a lot of factors that can make or break a tour and, unfortunately, you don’t control very many of them.
You probably aren’t going to get a booking agent, so don’t stress out about trying.
Agencies know what’s going on, because that’s their job. They’re always on the lookout for new clients but only after you’ve proved that you want to tour. A lot. Sending them press kits isn’t going to work if the farthest you’ve traveled to play is Ogden. Don’t let that deter you. Setting up a tour on your own is hard work but completely worth it in the end. Just make sure you do it right.
Before you pack up the trailer and go, make sure you’ve planned it all out far, far in advance. That means planning the cities, the route and who, if anyone you plan on touring with at least three to four months in advance. The more prepared you are, the more fun you’ll have.
Finding shows and bands to play with is hard work, but with the rise of MySpace, any band, anywhere, can find a venue in which to play—as long as you’re not picky. Your first tour won’t be filled with awesome clubs, professional sound gear and people lined around the block to get in. You’ll most likely be playing basements, skate parks and coffee shops for very few people, but at least you can tell people you’re on tour instead of working at a call center or busing tables back home.
The easiest way to book a decent show is to find a popular local band whose style is similar to your own in whatever city you’re hitting and ask them for help. A show trade is usually a good way to go about it, because nine times out of 10, that band has been or will be in a similar situation. MySpace is perfect for this reason, because every band has a webpage with a built-in audience that you can use to your advantage. MySpace was built as a social networking Website, so what better way to use it than to network your way into another city?
Money is the tricky part. If you’re dealing with someone for the first time, try to casually broach the subject to see what can be done. Don’t hit them with a $300 guarantee and dinner for the entire band—because it’s just not going to happen, and it’s usually a surefire way to get no response whatsoever.
All-age shows pay the bills based on how many people show up—not how many buy booze—so playing bars is a little bit different. Bars generally pay better, but people are there for the drinks first and the music a distant second. It depends what’s most important to you: playing for a few people who genuinely like what you’re doing and making only a little money or getting paid reasonably well to play for a packed house of people who can’t tell the difference between your band and the jukebox.
A good, reliable van and a basic knowledge of how things work in said van are also very important. For instance, if you’ve never changed a tire on a big van, it’s probably a good idea to practice doing so before you leave. Otherwise, you might wind up spending three hours somewhere in South-central Los Angeles figuring it out the hard way, fighting the setting sun and nearly missing your set. A spare gas can is also a good idea, unless you want to find out just how much effort it takes to push a van and trailer half a mile up an exit ramp to a closed gas station at 2 a.m.
No matter how much you plan or how much effort you exert, there’s always something that can, and will, go wrong. If you let it get you down, you won’t have any fun, so it’s best to roll with it. You won’t come home rich, but you will return with the know-how to do things better the next time. Touring is definitely something that you just need to do and learn from your mistakes. Sometimes the worst tours are the best ones because you have stories to tell for the rest of your life—and that’s what it’s all about, right?
Trevor Hale, a frequent City Weekly contributor, played guitar in Cherem for seven years and currently plays in Tamerlane. He’s wicked cool.