Want to learn how to get your band on the road? Need tips on building your fanbase & contacts in different cities to book bigger gigs?
Last week we made the trip over to Liverpool to soak up some industry knowledge at , a day of panels, discussions and keynote speakers from the music industry sharing their expertise.
With a panel boasting national promoters, booking agents, artist managers, and tour managers for the likes of Wolf Alice, Foy Vance, Jamie Woon and Everything Everything, we knew we were bound to pick up some nuggets of advice to share with you in answer to the above questions.
Before we get started, to familiarise yourself with the roles that an artist manager, booking agent and promoter play in the process of booking gigs and tours. You do not need a team of this scale to take your band on the road, but it always helps to know who you may be dealing with along the way.
* START LOCAL
The best foundation to start playing bigger gigs or booking shows in other cities is to build yourself a solid fanbase and a sturdy reputation as a great live act! This all starts at a grassroots, local level by playing your own live music circuit regularly. Refine your stage craft and set list until you’re a gigging juggernaut that’s the talk of the town!
* MAKE FRIENDS & BUILD RELATIONSHIPS
The key to moving your killer live show to other towns and cities at this stage is getting to know bands, promoters and venue bookers in surrounding areas. If you’re playing shows with other bands on the bill, stay and watch them, chat to them after the show, tag them on social media. Making friends with bands and artists from other cities can allow you to tap into their network of contacts and set up gig swaps – always a great way to get known in a new city.
Get in touch with promoters and venues from nearby towns and cities and let them know how popular you are on your local circuit. Send them your best track, keep them up to date with what you’re doing, and before you know it, you may have a gig booked.
* DO YOU HAVE A REASON TO TOUR?
So you have some great gigs in different cities under your belt. You may have played some decent support slots or even some headline shows, so naturally your mind turns to the next step; booking a small tour.
Firstly, you need to know that you can draw a crowd in various cities if you tour – hopefully your groundwork of growing your fanbase and making contacts beyond your hometown has paid off.
Other than being the next logical step, is there any other reason to make a tour worthwhile? Tying a tour in with a release of a single or EP gives you something to promote, and hopefully something to sell to the rapturous crowds you’ve just blown away, so planning a tour with your future releases in mind is always a good idea.
* MAKE A BUDGET
Before you start planning a tour of any scale, make sure you learn about deals, percentages and get to grips with a touring budget. Hitting the road is a costly thing for a band of any size and nothing will ruin the vibe of your time on the road more than losing money from your own pocket.
Whether you’ll be offered a guaranteed fee for playing, or just a percentage of door takings – make sure you know how the set-up for each gig will work. Take into account all the costs you’ll incur; van hire, petrol, somewhere to sleep, food and drink. Of course, there are numerous ways to cut costs on these factors and if you have friends in other cities who can put you up for the night and cook you a fry-up in the morning, then bonus!
If you have merch and releases, make sure you bring plenty along to sell – another good way to bring in cash whilst on the road.
If you’re being offered riders, try not to be wasteful – anything the venue or promoter spends on this will ultimately be taken from the profits of the gig, which might affect what the bands are paid, so think before you request those 5 bottles of vodka. Crisps, fruit, chocolate bars can make for a handy snack whilst on the road, so don’t waste anything you don’t use on the night.
* BE PROFESSIONAL
The top tip from the tour managers on the panel, who spend much of their life on the road, was to always be professional. First impressions count and you want to build long-lasting relationships with the promoters, engineers and venue staff you meet.
And on a more personal level, look after yourself. It’s natural to be excited about going on tour, but try not to treat it as a holiday. Too much excess and night after night of sleeping on floors can take their toll, both physically and mentally, and if you’re not feeling your best, your performances will more than likely suffer too.
* TIME TO EXPAND YOUR TEAM?
At what stage do you start looking for an agent or tour manager? Again, you need to consider that any additions to your team will cost money. A tour manager will be paid a fee and a booking agent will take a percentage of your revenues, so you need to be at a stage in your career where these developments make sense on every level, including financially. Any opportunity to save money is still always sensible to consider. For instance, you may want to look for a multi-skilled tour manager, who can double up as an engineer, as one less person in the van will cut costs remarkably.
Until you can sell plenty of tickets on your own, there is little point approaching a booking agent to book you larger capacity venues or festival slots. This is a primary factor they’ll be looking for, as well as loving your music and knowing you’re a great live act.
The touring network is close-knit, so if you’re getting a reputation as an amazing live act, then word can easily get around. You never know who is watching a gig and who they may tell. It’s worth noting that agents and promoters rarely get the chance to select support acts when booking tours – this is often down to the label or artist – so if you impress the right people live or befriend enough bands, this could ultimately lead to some bigger gigs or decent support slots, without employing the services of a booking agent.