A professional tour manager comes on the road with a band to ensure the tour runs smoothly, everybody gets paid, everybody leaves on time, and the accommodations are taken care of. As an indie band, you’re probably not going to have a tour manager the next time you hit the road. Which is a bummer, because that means a lot more work for you!
Some bands have their touring sound tech perform tour management duties, which is a good use of personnel finances, but that may be a couple years down the line for most DIY musicians. So without someone to rely on (and blame things on), we indie artists have to be our own tour managers.
A smoothly run tour is now your responsibility, and yours alone. So how do you do it? Let’s find out!
Make yourself a budget
Tour budgets. What fun. But seriously, they’re essential, and you would be blind to the financial success of the band without one. A tour budget will tell you how much money you should be making and how much money you're spending. Then, you can find out how much money you’ve made (or haven't made).
The other benefit of making a tour budget is that it'll require you to think about things like accommodations, rentals, etc., and then you’ll have to get those things organized. Here’s how to get started.
1. Make a list of the dates you'll be playing
Include income from a guarantee, a realistic amount of door/ticket income, and a realistic amount of merch income.
2. Estimate your daily expenses
Start by figuring out the following expense categories for each day on the road.
- Food/per diems: you’ll need to decide how you’re buying food. Do you give every band member a per diem of $30/day, or do you just go out for meals and have the band buy all the food? Accounting for $30/day of food per member is safe either way.
- Accommodations: this is the perfect time to figure out where you’ll be staying each night. As much as possible, you’ll try to stay for free. But if you have to pay for hotel rooms, this is where you’ll budget for that.
- Transportation: are you renting a vehicle? Will it need maintenance while on the road? Budget for these expenses here.
- Gas: you can make a fairly safe gas budget by typing your trip into Google Maps, adding 20 miles of city driving for every city you’re in, and then dividing the total miles you’ll travel by how far a tank of gas will get you. You’ll be left with the total number of fills you’ll have to pay for, and you can estimate the dollar amount from there.
- Misc. expenses: this includes new strings, skins, etc. Have a couple hundred dollars set aside for this sort of thing.
- Show rentals: lights, backline, etc.
- Fees: booking agents, management fees, room fees, etc.
By going through these expenses, you’ll be forced to figure out many of the annoying details that you may not have considered otherwise.
You should be left with a dollar amount of expenses you’ll have on the tour. Take comfort in the fact that, in my experience, indie bands almost always come in under budget.
Advance the shows
Once the expenses have been added up and all the shows confirmed, a tour manager would begin advancing shows. This is now your job.
You’ll be contacting each venue/promoter two to three weeks in advance and making sure that everyone has the details straight. You’ll need to know:
- What time to load in/arrive
- What time to soundcheck
- Set lengths/number of sets
- Support/opening acts
- Technical specifications of the venue
Basically, you’re making sure that there will be no major screwups on the day of the show. Something as simple as the location of the venue can be a problem if there's incorrect information on the website.
Build an itinerary
As you (the tour manager) advance shows and receive information from venues, the information should be added into a tour itinerary. The itinerary has all of the details for the tour laid out in a day-to-day format. For an indie band, this can be pretty simple. This is the formula I often use:
1. Logistics: when do you need to leave the hotel/accoms? How far is the next destination?
2. Travel: other travel arrangements, e.g., getting to the airport on time
3. Money: paying per diems to band (if necessary)
4. Venue details: location, load-in, soundcheck, technical specs
5. Gig info: set lengths, other acts on the bills, payment, merch, etc.
6. Press: any radio/press interviews scheduled for the show
Having a tour itinerary makes touring organized chaos rather than regular old chaos.
Be the tour accountant
You're also responsible for filling out and keeping track of your budget and keeping proper books for tax season. You need to be keeping track of all your expenses and keeping all of your receipts. Annoying, I know.
Try using software like Quickbooks to keep everything straight. There, you can input the expense, take a picture of the receipt, upload the receipt to the expense, and file the receipt away.
As the tour accountant, you're also responsible for getting paid at the end of the night – picking up the merch money, the ticket money, and/or the guarantee that was agreed upon. You'll then count the money up and enter it into your tour budget.
After the tour
Once the tour's over, you need to add up all the expenses and create a breakdown of how much you thought you were going to spend, vs. how much you actually spent. You'll also want to find out how much you made or lost on the tour. Use this information for future tour budgets, and try to figure out how to cut some costs.
Do you have any tour-managing tips? Let us know in the comments!
Liam Duncan is a full-time musician from Winnipeg, Canada. He likes to record music with friends and tour with The Middle Coast.