This article originally appeared on Ari’s Take.
Last year I went on two national tours covering 40 states and played over 100 shows. I booked nearly every show. It was my first time visiting about 30 of the cities and many of the other cities’ venues I had never played before.
Both tours were financially successful. Let me say that again. Both tours, after expenses, I made money. It blows my mind that musicians tour and lose money. This is totally avoidable, but I hear many musicians just accept this as a reality of the road. Don’t. If you want to be a professional musician, you have to figure out how to actually make money with your music.
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First off, though, you shouldn’t book a tour until you are successful in your hometown. If you haven’t figured out how to get big crowds out to your local shows, then you aren’t ready to tour. There are no real “big breaks” anymore. If you’re serious about having music as your profession then you need to put in the work and accept that it’s a slow game.
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How did I book the tours? Well, it was hard fucking work, but I made sure I went about it systematically.
Most importantly, you need plenty of time from beginning the booking process until the first show. For a tour containing mostly cities you’ve never been to before I recommend starting this process at least 5 months out. You should have nearly all of the shows booked 2 months in advance of the first show so you have plenty of time to promote the tour.
Most likely you’re going to spend the first month routing the cities, researching venues and gaining contact info.
Your routing will never be perfect. Meaning, you have to expect you’ll do a little bit of backtracking and have a few off days because it’s impossible to get every venue’s schedule to line up with yours. You want to keep the backtracking and off days to a minimum though, obviously.
First, on a map (Google maps works) plot out the cities you want to visit. I try to keep drives shorter than 6 hours on a show day and shorter than 10 hours on a non show day. You’re going to spend most of your time on the road, but spreading the long drives out will save you from burnout (and murdering your band members). You also want to plan for about an hour of stops for every 4 hours of driving.
The more members you have on tour, the easier splitting up the driving is, but drastically increases your tour expenses.
Open a shared calendar in GoogleCal or iCal and share it with everyone on the tour. Put in “held dates” with city names. When you get a “hold” at a venue change that color of the “held date” and title it the city WITH the venue name. When you get a “confirmation” change that color again and title it the city with the venue and in the notes of that event list all details: talent buyer name, email, number, day of contact, venue address, time of show, set length, load in time, door time, set times (for all acts), compensation, hospitality. This will all get confirmed in your confirmation email
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These held cities will undoubtedly shift so make sure you keep an updated calendar especially if you have multiple members booking.
Finding the Venues
Once you have the cities you want to visit you have to find the venues that are appropriate for your sound and your draw. If you’ve never been to this city before it’s going to be much more difficult for you to convince the talent buyer (booker) at the venue to give you a night, but it’s possible.
First you have to decide what kind of rooms you want to play. Are you a mellow singer/songwriter? Seek out art galleries, listening rooms, museums, cultural centers, black box theaters and living rooms. Are you a rock band? Seek out rock clubs, basement venues, frat parties, festivals and block parties.
I used Yelp and Indie On The Move for most of my venue research. Yelp is great for audience reviews of the venue and the vibe of the club. Spend time reading these reviews and get a feel for how your project could (or could not) fit in the venue.
Indie On The Move is a newer resource that is specific for bands booking their own tours. They have a great list of venues, contact info and band reviews of the venues. Because they are newer it’s not an exhaustive list, but it’s very good.
Most talent buyers at venues work over email, but some still work exclusively over the phone. Remember this and don’t be afraid of the phone.
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Your initial email pitch should be short and to the point. Well, all your emails should be short, but especially the initial one. You don’t need to include your finely crafted band bio written by your drummer’s girlfriend.
The subject line should be the date with all bands you have on the bill. i.e. “oct 23 – pink shoes and tom johnson.” Make sure you check the venue’s calendar FIRST and make sure that date is open. Also, don’t ask for a night that is clearly marked on the calendar as a weekly 80s night or something. You won’t get it and you’ll piss off the talent buyer because you haven’t done your research and it shows you don’t care about the club.
Keep the email under 8 sentences. Write it in all lower case letters (believe it or not this is how most people in the music industry communicate). Include a link to a live video and a link to your website and/or Facebook. Talk about your history in the area (if any) and explain briefly how you’re going to promote it. MOST IMPORTANTLY say how many people you expect to get out for this show. This is what 98% of talent buyers care about.
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