How do you know if you are ready to tour?
“On Tour” is Melting Pot’s touring guide for independent songwriters and bands who are putting together tours in Australia and beyond. Having spoken to so many artists within the Melting Pot community about their experiences, we realised there was an enormous collective knowledge base. We hope that this guide can not only help artists have successful, positive tour experiences and avoid mistakes of those that have gone before them, but also give some well-deserved recognition to the venues and organisations that are working hard to create supportive environments for touring artists. We are aiming this primarily at solo singer-songwriters but think it will mostly be applicable to small bands as well. We know that the guide is likely to go out of date and that this is a very subjective thing - so if you see something that’s wrong or if you’ve got something to add, then please let us know in the comments below.
Welcome back, to the second part of our On Tour series. After numerous requests from artists, we have turned the collective knowledgebase of the Melting Pot community into a music touring ebook: On Tour: A Guide to Planning, Booking & Promoting a Killer Music Tour. The ebook is a handy go-to resource for anyone looking to put their own tour together. It will save you time, money and make sure you avoid the same mistakes of those that have gone before you.
Last time we looked at why touring is still important to independent artists and some of the benefits involved in touring. Today we are looking at being “tour ready” as in – how do you know if now is the right time for you to be embarking on a tour.
Whether you arrange a tour yourself or with the help of a booking agent, it is an expensive exercise both in terms of time and money. If you are not ready to tour, then you risk incurring these expenses without being able to capitalise on the opportunity.
Timelines for planning
How do you know if you are ready to tour? To begin with, you need time! It might be stating the obvious, but the earlier you start the research and booking process, the more organized and cost efficient you will be. As a rough guide, I would recommend working backwards from your desired tour start date:
6 months out: Researching of proposed venues, events
4 months out: Finalising bookings
2 months out: Arranging promotional material, applying for grants, booking accommodation
While this may seem excessive for some, if you are touring an area that you are not familiar with, then you should allow yourself the extra time to select suitable venues and scrounge for promotion opportunities – we’ll cover this in a later part of the series so don’t be afraid to signup to stay in the loop.
Speaking with a number of artists, they’ve indicated that a number of the best venues and locations will book out more than 6 months in advance – so it really can’t be stressed enough: the earlier you get started, the more opportunity you will give yourself to have a successful tour!
It is probably no surprise that your budget is another critical aspect to consider when deciding if you are “tour-ready”. It can be hard to work out your budget at the start when dates have not been booked. But this does not mean it should be ignored.
To begin with, you should have a rough idea of how long you intend to tour and where you are going (duh!). From this you can work out an estimate of your transport costs, accommodation costs and living expenses. For some, this alone can be enough to rule them out. As sad as that may be, it is much better than coming to this realisation half-way through your tour as the debts pile up!
It is important also that when you do know more about the shows you are playing that you do not count the revenue from your shows unless you know it is a guaranteed amount.
You also should be allocating some of your budget to promotion – we’ll cover this in detail in a later post.
It is a good idea to base your tour around something that you are doing. Typically, this would be a recently released Single, EP or Album. This gives you something tangible for the local press to latch onto. Obviously, it also gives you something to sell at your shows which will help keep the petrol in your car whilst on Tour!
Alternatively, a song of yours may have been placed in a TV show or a movie or perhaps you have broken through and have a track being regularly played on triple J.
Whatever it is you are doing, you should make sure you have:
- An angle that will assist you in getting some local press coverage; and
- An ability to build your fan base at your live shows eg. cd sales, signing up to your mailing list leading to a download or your single etc.
From a branding perspective, it is very important that you have a ‘road-worthy show’.
Attempting a tour without having played many shows previously is likely to be a costly exercise albeit with plenty of learning experiences. In most cases it would be wiser to learn these lessons locally where there are no added costs of accommodation, transport while being away from your usual employment.
However, your performance does not have to be perfect in every way (I know how many artists can be perfectionists!) but you should feel comfortable performing what you are doing on tour. Ideally you want to iron out as many things that could go wrong that are within your control as possible in a safe environment rather than having to work through issues for the first time while on tour.
Some artists work on the basis that a tour should only be considered after regularly selling out shows in your hometown, but I would disagree.
While this may be the aim, in some cities there is such a thriving live music scene that it can be hard to cut through the noise. Country and regional towns however often do not have as much variety to choose from and so it can be easier to find a receptive audience.
If you are playing to audiences that have never seen or heard you before, it is worth asking yourself: “If I was in the audience, what would make me sit up and taken notice?”
You would be best placed to know what your essential equipment is but I have compiled a list of things beyond your instruments and gear – some obvious, some not so obvious – to keep in mind.
- A suitcase or bag with wheels – it is just easier.
- Extras of everything – cables, strings, mics, picks, powerboards, capos etc.
- Smartphone battery packs and chargers.
- Vitamins / healthy snacks
- Books / E-reader.
- iPod / music player loaded with music options that everyone enjoys.
- Tour Itinerary (look out for this in our next post)
- RACV Roadside assistance (or equivalent)
- Licence, registration & insurance
- Emergency contact numbers for every member on the tour
- Merchandise and Merch booth necessities.
To summarise this section, here is my checklist for ensuring you are “Tour ready”:
1. Do have time to research and plan the tour?
2. Do you have the budget to go on a tour?
3. Have you exhausted your local opportunities?
4. Do you have a tour concept? (ideally does this include something you can sell?)
5. Do you have all the equipment you need?
Thanks for joining us for today’s part of our On Tour series. If you are interested in purchasing our ebook and all the bonus materials that come with it, you can do so via this link. Next week we will be back with more – we get tips directly from touring artists about how they find the right venues to perform at.
The views expressed in this article are the views of the author and not necessarily the views of Melting Pot.