I was revisiting the article Tour Smart: 10 Do’s and Don’ts for Touring Musicians and thought that this was a great starter piece on what to prepare for during and planning going on tour. After reading How to Tour Without Losing Money by Ari Herstand, I thought this would be a great time to add some other specifics mentioned. I will let Ari explain the details…
“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. Period. Follow these tips on the 8 basics of touring to make touring profitable.”
1. Booking shows
“Every show needs a purpose for the tour. Too many bands think that at every show the CEO of Atlantic Records’ brother will be in the house and he’ll make one phone call and turn them into superstars. That doesn’t happen. So once you accept that this is a business and it’s a slow grow and not a quick dash to play in front of “the right people,” it will change your mentality on the purpose of your tours.”
The purpose of every show should either be or a mix of:
a) To help fund the tour (and your lives)
b) To gain exposure and build a fan base.
“Every show I play I still put to this test. For the shows with the biggest amount of exposure for merch sales, I’m willing to accept a smaller guarantee. The shows that won’t offer much for exposure, merch sales or career advancement, I need a much higher guarantee.”
“But don’t get into the trap of convincing yourself that every show you’ll sell hundreds in merch and DO NOT take free shows from restaurants or friends of your parents promising a big crowd and “you can sell your merchandise.” This is a trap and it almost never is as worth it as you think it will be.”
Play house concerts!
“These are some of my most profitable shows. If you’re a singer/songwriter it’s much easier. This is done by the host and most of the people that come (even just 20) buy lots of merch. Charge the host a guarantee of about $350 but ask them to charge their guests $15 and if 24 people come they get a free concert. Every tour I include a few of these. House concerts or living room concerts can be very profitable. Of course most of your shows will be a percentage of the door, so you need to promote each show in each town heavily! Once you have a tour made up of a healthy balance of (more) money shows and (less) exposure shows then you are ready to begin.”
2. Who is coming with me?
“Only bring people on the roads that are absolutely necessary for your operation to work while still making a profit. If you can’t afford a sound guy at this stage, then don’t bring one. Even if they agree to do it for free, it’s not free. You’re going to have to feed them, lodge them and once they see all the money coming in from the door or merch they’ll make it uncomfortable enough where you’ll get guilted into throwing them something.”
3. Selling merchandise
“Merch is your #1 income generator on the road. Believe it. Some shows you’ll make next to nothing from the door, but hopefully you’ll be able to leverage those in the house to buy some merch.”
“Make sure you always have someone manning your merch table from when the doors open to when people leave. If you can’t afford to bring a merch person on the road find a friend in that city (post your status on Twitter and Facebook to request help) to run the table in exchange for free entrance to the show or even a small percentage of sales. It’s worth it.”
“Especially if you’re on a bill with multiple bands or are playing for hours, most people won’t stay until the end of your set. If they like what they hear (even after one song), but have to take off early and they want your CD, if no one is at the merch table to sell it to them, you just lost a sale. Get a credit card swiper like Square – it’s free. I nearly doubled my sales with this.”
4. Gas Consumption
“Gas can and will kill tour funds. Don’t tour in a larger vehicle than needed and don’t pull a trailer unless absolutely necessary. I know 5 piece bands that can fit all their gear and merch in the back of their van. This is very economical. Or you can buy a super economical veggie oil bus and drive coast to coast on less than $100.”
5. Tour Routes
“The best way to save on gas is to make sure you’re not driving out of the way. No huge tour routing will ever be perfect, but keep the backtracking to a minimum (if ever).”
“Don’t get hotels until you’re making serious money. Even then try Priceline “name your own price” It’s a nice little mid-tour perk to get off of the beer-stained couch for a night. Invest in an air mattress and sleeping bag so you can keep your lodging portable and all you’ll require is floor space.”
7. Wasted money
“You must make a decision early on if you want this project to be just for fun or for profession. If everyone is on the same page that you want to be a professional outfit then you must act like it. Most venues will give you drink tickets. Don’t ever buy drinks at the bar you’re playing, it’s a waste of money and you don’t need it. But always tip your bartender on free drinks. When you stop to fill up you don’t need the $2 bottle of water or soda. Those add up. Get a water bottle and fill that up.”
8. Saving on food
“If you’re out for a while, go grocery shopping as a band. Buying in bulk obviously saves and if you bring a cooler along, you can spend more on ice and less on Subway.”
“The road is a mix of saving and making money as is life, but it’s magnified when you’re on tour. Always keep coming up with ways to make more money (merch combos, house shows, playing colleges, better targeted promos to get more to show up). Don’t tour to just say you’re going on tour. Tour to grow your base while making money.”
Full-time DIY musician Ari Herstand gives you tips on how make a profit while touring. Ari has opened for artists such as Ben Folds, Cake, Joshua Radin, Matt Nathanson and Ron Pope. His songs have been featured on TV shows like One Tree Hill and various Showtime and MTV shows. His latest studio album debuted at #11 on iTunes singer/songwriter charts. He writes an independent music business advice blog, Ari’s Take.