How to find venues for your music 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 We know that the guide is likely to go out of date and that this is a very subjective thing - so if you see something that’s wrong or if you’ve got something to add, then please let us know in the comments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 3rd instalment of our On Tour series to mark the release of Melting Pot’s ebook – On Tour: A Guide to Planning, Booking & Promoting a Killer Music Tour. If you find this post helpful then I encourage you to check it out.
Already in this series we have looked at why music touring is still important for independent musicians and how to know if you are ready to tour. Today we are going to look at how you find the right venues to have a successful tour.
When you are not a seasoned touring artist, finding venues tends to feel overwhelming. The key is to be as resourceful and methodical as you can and things will start to take shape.
Many people these days will start their research (any research for that matter) with Google. While this might normally be a good approach, the venues that show up higher in Google search results are more likely to simply have a better SEO (search engine optimization) strategy or larger marketing budget – they are not necessarily going to lead to the most suitable touring venues. It is not a bad starting point – but should not be the only approach to research.
In this section I outline some strategies on finding the venues, locations and events to build your tour.
“It can be time consuming to maintain your own database, but it just needs to be done” – Dan Acfield (The Acfields)
If you are tour-ready and have nutted out a rough plan of where and when you would like to tour, it is worth putting together a database. The database is an easy thing to start with and becomes increasingly more important the more independent tours you organise. Successful independent touring artists use the database and mailing list in tandem – returning to venues and areas where there is a receptive audience and they have loyal fans.
Simon Wright explains how he puts his database together:
“I think the best way to find the venues is look up the local band scene (Local gig guide is always a good spot to start) find a band from the area of a similar style and see where they play (by checking their past gig list on Facebook or Songkick). Ask if they will support you, half the time they’d love to and they help you out with backline sometimes even a place to crash.”
Dan Acfield of The Acfields has a similar approach and explains the importance of the database if you are planning to return to the same locations:
“I think that this approach works no matter where you are touring. The only thing is that it can be time consuming to maintain your own database, but it just needs to be done. The database will need to be maintained, but I tend to do this when I’m booking the next tour – if I find a venue no longer exists, or doesn’t do live music anymore, they are removed.”
When compiling your database, it is important to list as much detail as you can in case you need to call on this for future tours. For example, some venues have various stages, different genres/formats for different nights. Dan said he found it helpful to use Google Maps to work out the distances between venues and how they will fit into his itinerary.
As part of the release of our eBook we have also put together a template to help you compile your venue database. Click here for more.
If you have time, it is also worth looking into performing at some of the universities. University gigs pay well and have a particularly receptive audience, but are booked up to six months in advance. For these reasons alone, they are important to include in your database.
If you have been playing in your local town, then you will have met a bunch of artists that are equally passionate about their music. If they have toured before then find out from them what the best venues / locations were – and any suggestions they have to offer.
These days it is very easy to see where artists are touring or have toured by looking up their website or social media. This is a fantastic way to learn about venues for your tour and if you follow up with the artist, they will probably give you their honest opinion about the venue or event.
I have started to compile a database of the most artist friendly venues and events in capital cities and regional areas in Australia and beyond. If you think this would be of use to you, please let me know. If enough people are interested, then I will complete the database and make it publicly available. My email is liam (AT) meltingpotonline.com
Finding gigs where you can grow your fans
Many places that you tour are likely to have special intimate events that have built a strong reputation for the quality of what they do and with it a strong following of music fans. The great thing about these sorts of events are the audiences are looking for new artists to follow and really give you their full attention.
When I started Melting Pot, I saw a need for live music events that put artists first. From our first Songwriters in the Round event in 2008, the event has been one in which the audience hangs on every word of the artists and are genuinely interested in the songs and the stories behind them.
But outside our events there are many other special regular events that are run all around Australia from The Round (Brisbane) (N.B. I’m told at the time of writing this is not currently running), Porch Sessions (Adelaide), Music On The Hill (Red Hill, Victoria), The Acoustic Picnic (Sydney) and Sofar Sounds (various around Australia) to name a few.
Speaking from my own experience with Songwriters in the Round, these sorts of events tend to get many more people requesting to play than there are spots available. There are a lot of considerations to weigh up such as: which artists are touring, which artists have just released something, are they the right fit for the event, and so on. For an event organiser, the best screening tool is Youtube, so it is extremely important to have your live content available online because this helps in understanding what sort of vibe your music will add to an event.
Like with the databases, prior to requesting to play a show at these types of events, it is important to look at the other events and the sort of artists that perform. No-one enjoys knocking back an artist because they are not suitable for an event. I’ll have more about contacting venues in next week’s post.
In addition to regular organised events, if it is possible, it is worth organising some small intimate house gigs of your own. This is the approach Iris took with their tours of the East Coast of Australia:
“Most of our interstate gigs have been acoustic house concerts, as we’ve found them to be more worth it – i.e. captive audience, guaranteed income/people buy merchandise, and they are gigs that people always remember” – Richelle Boer, Iris
If you have one fan in any location on the tour that is extremely excited about you or your band then it is worth considering putting together a house concert. Ask if you can put on a show at their place on a weekend. You probably need to have some sort of minimum guarantee in place and your fan can then charge guests to cover this. (Of course, if your fan attracts a bigger audience then they receive a free concert!) From an artist’s perspective, house gigs or similar really allow you to connect with your audience and this means you are far more likely to build followers and sell merchandise.
Think small: Wherever you book your shows, remember a small “sold out” or packed out show – even at a coffee shop – will be look and feel better for everyone than a half empty larger venue.
Clearly, another important consideration when putting together a tour is selecting the right support acts. If you are headlining the tour, support acts are key and this is especially so if you are playing a town you have never played before. If you are able to make connections with local acts who are keen to play a show with you, then venues will be more receptive to booking you on the back of a support they already know. You may wish to arrange to return the favour when the bands tour your hometown but you have to be careful that you do not do this too many times or your local shows might suffer as a result.
Building a good relationship with support acts can be beneficial to you on a number of levels. Support acts may be able to provide you with:
· Backline for shows
· Accommodation/couch/floor space
· Introductions to local industry people
· Insight into local media / promo
· A lifelong friendship; you never know!
But the relationship should be two-way so it is important that you do your part. For example, if your support act is pushing a show hard in their town, they should be incorporated into your promo. This should be more than merely including them in your social media posts. The best piece of advice here is to think about what you would expect if you were the local artist playing a show with a touring band/artist.
To sum up, once you have decided on the location of your tour, when scouting out venues make sure you look into the following:
- Initial research: Google, meltingpotonline.com, online music communities and your own networks
- Begin developing your database
- Look for intimate gigs which allow you establish a connection with new audiences
- Can you do house concert(s)?
- Scout out potential local support acts
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 go through the dos and don’ts of contacting venues.
The views expressed in this article are the views of the author and not necessarily the views of Melting Pot.
Author DetailsLiam Dixon
Liam is the founder and director of Melting Pot. Once a regular performer at Melting Pot events as the writer / frontman for local band Creatures of Karma, these days Liam works as a commercial lawyer by day. When hes not busy doing lawyer stuff or with Melting Pot, Liam loves to write, play and record his own music and see the odd gig around town.