I’ve been booking tours for roughly four years now. Looking back, I realized that I just dove in with no previous knowledge on what to do and how to do it. Many bands starting out are faced with the same challenges. There was a lot of trial and error, cursing, head-desking, rage, confusion, and guessing in the beginning. Actually, a lot of that still persists today due to the nature of people in this industry. This is not a quest for those who are easily deterred. Surviving the battle of booking and life on the road takes limitless patience, effort, and determination. Since first forging through the unknown on my own, I have learned quite a lot. For better or worse, I want to share my knowledge and experiences with you. I am no expert. I am no authority. I am merely one man that chose to go beard-out into an unforgiving adventure. If you decide to join the ranks and journey forth onto the battlefield, arm yourself with these tips and tactics. They may save your life…or at least a few dollars!
“Where the hell are we going?!”. That is one of the first questions you need to ask yourself. Determine how long you will be on the road and plot a realistic course. If you are touring for under two weeks, you probably shouldn’t attempt to conquer the entirety of North America. I started out referencing the tours of bands similar to the one I am currently booking. Find a band in the genre you play and see what cities and venues they tend to favor. You are not a pioneer. A slew of other agents have laid the groundwork, so let that save you some time. They are familiar with the markets and promoters in each city, and soon you will be too. It’s all about building a network of contacts for your future tours.
Keep your drives under 10 hours. I’ve found it best to arrive at the venue before doors and avoid the wrath of the sound engineer. Allow yourself ample time for rest stops, lunch (if you are too posh for road PB&J), traffic delays, and any unfortunate emergencies or vehicle issues. Don’t be that band that cancels a show because someone left the headlights on overnight and your battery died. You were smart enough to become a AAA member, right?! The next venue is 6 hours away, you woke up at 9am, and 2 hours to replace your battery won’t result in a bunch of angry Facebook posts from disappointed fans. Oh, and don’t forget to keep a few Gatorade bottles on deck for the one member who never seems to need the restroom when you are refilling your gas tank!
Now that you have an idea of where you want to go and what venues or promoters you wish to work with, it’s time to make contact. Most decent companies will have a website or Facebook with their email address. Few will only book through Facebook, and even fewer insist on working strictly over the phone. I prefer to book through email, with Facebook being a second choice. It’s very important to have a trail of your negotiations! I will warn you now, 83.972% of the people you are about to contact are complete asshats that will bring your blood to an infernal boil. Stay strong, do your best, and weed out the contacts that aren’t worth your time. There are decent people in this industry. Try and work with them as often as possible, but remember that sometimes you have to do business with people you dislike. It’s the nature of the beast.
Every promoter and talent buyer will need the same information from you, so the next step will be a lot of copy and paste. Introduce yourself and your band, briefly describe your sound, and then ask for a hold on the date you need. If you have accomplishments or tour history in the area, note that as well. Never EVER forget to include links to your music and videos. If you have a link to a Youtube video in your email, an image of it appears at the bottom and is irresistibly clickable!
Some people are rad and respond within a few days. Most take a few weeks, or don’t respond at all. Ass. Hats. Don’t let this discourage you. If a few weeks have passed, and you haven’t heard from someone, it’s okay to send a followup email. Unless the venue/promoter website states that responses can take longer, there is no harm in reminding them that you are interested in working together. Tuesday is a great day for a followup. It gives the person you are emailing a day to catch up from the weekend. Although Followup Friday is tempting, you risk having your email buried over Saturday and Sunday.
After you secure most of your holds, the route becomes reality! Remember to allow for some flexibility in your dates. Some venues will be unavailable and you have to adjust your route to compensate.
You are about to confirm the dates you’ve held, but the party isn’t over! It’s sad to say, but a lot of bands just stop there. Unless you are reaping the benefits of a trust fund or have the ability to shit solid bricks of gold, you better negotiate your payment up front! I promote concerts in Southern California when I’m not on the road and I can’t tell you how often I hear touring bands ask after the show “Hey, so do we get any money tonight?”. C’MON! There are a lot of shady people out there that will take your money! Make sure you reach an agreement with the venue or promoter before the show is announced and have it in writing. Contract, email, text. Anywhere you can prove what was agreed on. When you go to settle at the end of the night, know exactly what you are in for. It doesn’t happen all the time, but I have had talent buyers say “So, what did we agree on again?”. Even worse is when you have a door deal and the count is wrong. Always keep an eye out for that.
Knowing what to ask for is a vital piece of the booking puzzle. The two most common ways to get paid are guarantee and door deal. A guarantee is just that. You are guaranteed the agreed amount of money for your performance. A door deal is a percentage of the ticket and door sales, usually with some bills attached for sound and security. Common door deal splits are 80/20 and 70/30. Unless you are an established act with a solid draw, you really shouldn’t hope for more than a $100 guarantee. Most buyers will prefer a door deal over taking the risk of losing money on a band they haven’t worked with before. It’s a game of give and take. Figure out what you are comfortable with and ask!
Hospitality isn’t given at all venues, but it never hurts to see if it’s available. A meal on the road is more than useful, and a few free drinks never hurt either. Just remember, that these things come at a cost to the buyer or club, so consider it part of your payment when you are negotiating.
Do you like wasting time? No one does! You chose to go on tour and bring your music to old and new fans, sell a ton of merch, and probably bring home a few STDs. None of that shit will happen, if no one knows about your tour. Get your physical and virtual ass out there and promote! Choose a unique and interesting design for your admat and be sure to send it to all the venues you are performing at. People travel a lot, especially other touring bands, so having a list of your tour dates for them to see in one city can get them to your shows in another city! There really isn’t a secret to promotion. TELL EVERYONE! All members of your band should tell everyone they know to tell everyone they know and so on. Songkick is a useful site that will publish your tour dates onto Bandcamp and YouTube, while allowing fans to track you. Bandsintown is another popular artist tracking site you should consider using. I shouldn’t have to tell you that Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and your own website need to have your tour dates as well. If you already have an email list, use that too. If you don’t, make a form and encourage your fans to sign up online and at shows. You can also ask the venues for a list of local blogs, stores, and news sites that would cover or list your show.
A few weeks before the show, you should email your contact and advance the night. Verify the load in and set times. Do the sound engineer a kindness and send over a stage plot, especially if your have some whack ass setup. Not all bands set their drums facing backwards, or require 9 DIs. You may even learn the venues can’t support your ideal setup. Find out if you are getting a sound check. Most of the time you won’t, and most bands don’t need it! Tie a fancy ribbon around your ego, tell it it’s pretty, and then repeat after me. A line check is fine! I will take it on faith that you said it out loud, and stifle the urge to rant more on the subject. Advancing your show will give you the chance to get any information that may have changed since you first received it, and it also reminds your contact about the show. I shit you not, I have gone to advance shows and the venue completely forgot about us, it, and our negotiations. Asshats.
Before you hit the road, make a tour book that includes all important information on your travel and shows. Avoid having everyone in the van constantly ask you questions, and slap them with the binder bound book! I usually include the date, estimated drive from the previous venue, load/door/show/set times, venue address, payment/hospitality details, and promoter contact info.
This list is far from complete, but I had to start somewhere! There will be many many many more entries about this. If you have any feedback or questions about booking tours, post them! We are all in this together and I commend all who courageously step up to keep the dream alive.