Artists who want to build a national fanbase and grow from the ground up have to tour. There's no way around it, and it's one of the most essential elements of becoming a full-time artist. But do you know what actually goes down on the road? Here are eight myths about going on tour that we're happy to debunk for you.
1. One tour will make you a household name
Nope, that's not going to happen. You'll likely start out as the first band out of four, a slot often requiring you to bring a certain number of people through the door in order to secure it. That means you have to sell tickets and prove you're a draw. So take your early-on-the-bill slot, perform your heart out every night, and get invited on another tour, where you might be billed second.
2. It's all groupies and glamour
Try a catered plate of lunch meat and cheese, a bag of Doritos, and a case of beer as your payment with a per diem. Those funds can be as low as $10 per day per member. Living on $10 in a foreign city? That isn't easy. So no, it's not all groupies throwing themselves at you and 24/7/365 glamour, since you are not playing stadiums... yet.
3. A band member can easily manage the tour
Tour managin', like pimpin', ain't easy. But you might not be able to afford a tour manager early on. If you must enlist a band member to handle the job, make sure the most organized and business-minded member gets that gig, because it's a full-time job involving money, interviews, credentials, dealing with promoters, getting the band on and off stage, loading in and out, and about a billion other things. That's a lot to deal with when you have to, you know, perform and be on your game onstage every night.
4. If you play to five people, it's a waste
That's a negative and defeatist attitude. You'll play to five people a lot, and it will suck at times, but play like you're in front of 5,000 people regardless. I have seen many bands perform for a room of five people max, and said bands went on to play stadiums. It all starts at the ground level, and no show is a waste. So perform each show like you're the biggest band ever, and maybe that's what you'll become.
5. Touring is too expensive
Yes, you have to pay for a tour vehicle, gas, insurance, and perhaps some lodging if/when/where you can afford it. But you can map out cheap hotels or get good deals by being web savvy. You can create shifts of who will drive. Mastodon, before they became the critical darling they are, used to drive around in a conversion van and sleep on cat hair-covered couches of fans in the hottest states in August. (They told me that when I did their Metal Maniacs cover story.) The moral of the story is that yes, touring is expensive, but you can do it cheaply if you make the time to learn how to do so. Plan ahead.
6. Touring is all fun and games
If you labor under this delusion, then you better start thinking about a career change – and fast. Yes, touring is fun, but it's not a game. It's your job. It's a career pursuit, so messing around, drinking too hard and too fast all day, and then getting on stage and missing notes or playing a subpar show can ensure that you don't get offered another tour or don't find your audience. Partying is fine, but in moderation.
7. Self-booking tours is impossible
Sure, an agent has access to all the biggest and best tour slots and packages, but you can effectively self-book a tour by hitting up smaller, up-and-coming venues with a little elbow grease and help from Facebook or Google. You just have to have the wherewithal and the follow-through.
8. Touring will make you go broke
If you don't manage your resources or go outside of your budget, touring will make you go broke. But merch is where bands really make their cash, so make sure to plan accordingly, map out a budget and stick to it, make sure it's modest, and suck it all up. Have a reserve of cash so you don't go belly up.
[And if you do go broke on tour, hey, it's still worth it. Here's why.]
Touring is hard, but it's also fun. As long as you're armed with accurate information going into it and have a realistic view of life on the road, you'll be fine. Scout's honor.
You may also like:
- 5 Ways to Avoid Burning Out on Tour
- Do You Have What It Takes to Tour?
- Top 4 Ways to Prevent Common DIY Touring Disasters
- 7 Tips for Making Your DIY Tour Stand Out From the Competition
Amy Sciarretto has 20 years of print and online bylines, from Kerrang to Spin.com to Revolver to Bustle, covering music, beauty, and fashion. After 12 years doing radio and publicity at Roadrunner Records, she now fronts Atom Splitter PR, her own boutique PR firm, which has over 30 clients. She also is active in animal charity and rescue.