Musician’s guide to planning a successful tour
Learn straight from experienced professionals everything you need to know about planning an efficient and successful tour.
from DITTO MUSIC
The Academy of Contemporary Music (ACM) is a world leader in music industry education. We caught up with ACM’s Head of Creative Industry Development, who also happens to be the guitarist in hugely successful UK rock band Skunk Anansie, to ask if he had any advice for new bands planning their first tour.
I’ve been touring with Skunk Anansie for the last 23 years – in fact, we’re on tour at the moment – so over the years I’ve learnt a fair bit about being on the road.
As a tutor at ACM, I work with new bands constantly and we often have young support acts join us on tour, so I understand what a big deal getting out on the road for the first time can be. Getting the basics right – like perfecting the music and packing enough pairs of clean pants – is pretty obvious even to the greenest of musicians, but there are lots of hidden extras which are often overlooked.
Planning your tour before you leave
1. Before booking any dates, consider looking into gig swaps with other bands you’ve befriended on social media in their home regions. You can open for them in their town and vice versa. That way you’ll both take advantage of hometown followings and can start to build your profiles in new areas.
2. Assemble a street team online made up of your followers in the places you’ll be touring. They can support you by getting the word out about your gig on social media and on the streets in their region, and you can reward them with free music, gig tickets or merchandise.
3. Plan some press with local newspapers, fanzines and radio stations. Drop them a line in advance, tell them you’re coming to town and are available for interviews, and give them free guest list gig tickets in return. A music press campaign is a great way of building your support network for future tours and releases too.
4. Put a cool, inexpensive merchandise range together before you leave. This will help subsidise the cost of your tour.
5. Create a set list which flows, as this will be key to keeping the crowd interested and their energy levels constant. Think about how the songs work together, and if it seems a bit disjointed at your first couple of shows, try reordering them.
Your Band Tour Checklist
Here’s my handy checklist of things you need to consider when putting together your first tour:
Decide whether you want to Do It Yourself or go through an agent and pay a commission.
Research sizes, capacity, locations of gig venues and decide which ones are best for your band.
Make sure you consider the logistical and economic pros and cons of planning a particular route. Always try to secure a string of dates which can be travelled to in a logical order.
Plan your tour logically & economically
Band and crew costs
Tally up costs for wages, food, accommodation and sundry items for everyone on the tour, including band members, roadies, merchandising people and any extra session musicians.
Sound and lighting
Do you take your own sound and lighting engineers or use the ones provided by the venues? Taking your own can make for an amazing show, but it’s another expense to include. If you’re using the venue’s sound and lighting people, is this included in the venue cost or are these extra costs on top? It’s important to ask.
Make sure you have facilities worked out to pay everyone once on tour and be aware that employed personnel will want to receive their payments on their days off… so they can spend it!
You’ll need to work out what to take, how much stock to bring and have options for reorders on the road if you’re doing really well with it. Work out who is to sell it – your own person or in-house venue staff? Who gets paid for this and is there a commission?
Earn some extra cash selling band merch
Make sure you print up posters, flyers and any other tour artwork and send them out to the venues well in advance of your shows, as they’ll need them to help sell gig tickets.
How much do you need? It’s a good idea to bring spares of some items to travel with, in case you have technical difficulties. Work out the size of van you’ll need based on your equipment… and don’t forget to include space for merchandise. Check that all the music gear you need for a gig is working properly before you start off on tour.
Weigh up the costs of petrol, parking and insurance if it’s your own van, or add hire costs into the mix if you’re renting.
Tour bus hire
Going down the route of no hotels and using a bus company instead for your accommodation and gear transport is an expensive option most of the time. Make sure you’ve done your sums and priced up alternative options before making your decision.
Make sure you can transport your gear around easily
Banners or stage backdrops
These are necessary so audience members know the name of your band while you’re playing, but make sure any you get made up are fireproof, as venues will require this.
Tax and VAT
Are you registered with HMRC? Make sure you’re above board when it comes to the tax man, as if you’re in the public eye, then he’ll come calling sooner rather than later!
How to make your band’s tour a success
The key to a successful tour is booking the right venues to suit your status, good promotion to ensure everyone knows about it, and actually getting the punters to attend your gig.
Well planned tours will make for a happy band and a fun and exciting experience. Badly planned tours will lead to discontent, loss of money, inevitable low morale and lots of band arguments. So have fun, tear the place up and hit the road, but be sure to take care of the serious business first.