Booking a concert tour isn't that much different from booking a local gig -- you're just doing it on a much larger scale. Given the scale, it’s probably no surprise that taking a band out on tour can be expensive. Even a bare-bones tour where everyone sleeps in the van and lives on pretzels might cost more than you’re anticipating.
How to Book a Concert Tour by Yourself
Booking a concert tour is a great way to expand your audience, but there are a lot of things to consider before you strike out in the van. Since you are booking your own tour, you don't have an agent helping you avoid the common touring pitfalls - but that also means you're saving on agency fees. Here are some things you need to know before getting started and how to take the first steps in planning a concert tour on your own.
Set a Tour Budget
If you’re an artist or part of a band hitting the road to build a name for yourself, then you're not likely to make much money from your shows. The tour is likely to be an out-of-pocket adventure, so your budget will need to encompass every stage of planning. Know exactly how much you can afford to spend before you hit the road.
The tricky part of creating a tour budget for your first tour is that there are a lot of unknown variables. You might be able to calculate a rough idea of what you’ll make per show, but always low-ball those estimates, and err on the side of caution if you’re not sure.
Working on a budget will help you figure out where you can trim costs, it will also help you flag things you may have skipped in your planning.
Pick Your Touring Area
So where do you want to play? Make a wish list, keep in mind you have to consider budget first and other factors second. As touring costs a lot, getting the most bang for your buck is critical. One of the best ways to get value for money is choosing your touring destinations wisely.
If you've been getting good press in a particular area, add it to your list. If this tour is more about getting your music to a new audience and promoting a new release, first consider places that are budget-friendly and may have a concentration of music press and industry people. Ideally, you’ll choose places where you have a personal connection of some kind, whether it’s a strong fan base or a promoter you know well.
Do a little research into the venues in the cities or towns you’re interested in. Find gig listing guides to see where musicians in your genre and of your level are playing. Make a short list of venues to approach, not forgetting to include places where you might make a good support band.
Balancing these considerations will help you identify a good area for your tour.
Choose Your Touring Window
Now that you know where you want to go, you need to decide when you want to be there. There are two mini steps involved here. First, pick a window of dates that you can be on the road, factoring in work, family commitments, and other life events that you can’t miss.
Within that window, select a smaller window of dates for each city in which you hope to play. It will help you keep costs down since it will reduce the amount of traveling you need to do.
Write Your Itinerary
Much like a budget, a tour itinerary helps keep you on track and helps you identify potential problems. At a minimum, an itinerary should include the dates and times of your shows (including things that can eat into your schedule like load-in, and soundchecks.
It also needs to include details about where you’re staying every day, with contact information and check-in times. Factor in how long you’ll have to drive every day and include the cost of gas. Contact information for promoters, other bands you’re playing with, and venue details should be on the itinerary as well. Essentially your itinerary should be your go-to guide for everything you need to know about your tour.
Start writing the itinerary as soon as you start booking and keep updating it as you plan. Share it with other band members, either via an electronic means like Google Drive or hard copies. Make sure that there is always a backup in case something unexpected happens (which it almost certainly will).
Be Creative and Flexible
The process of booking a show out of town is essentially the same as booking a show in town. But in areas other than your neighborhood. You're going to have to work harder to convince a venue and a promoter that you can get people in the door. If you've been getting some press/radio play, then you've got a strong case. If you haven't, try asking about sharing a booking with some local acts that are a good draw. Consider being an opening act. Let them know what promotional support you'll provide, such as your website, social media accounts or mailing lists.
If you have handily conquered your local scene, the experience of booking a tour outside of your local scene can feel a little bit like going backward. If you haven't had much press or radio play or your band's profile is essentially zero outside of your area, a gig swap can go a long way towards making your shows worthwhile. Hook up with musicians who have conquered their local scene as you have done yours, bask in their built-in audience, and hopefully, make some fans who will come out to see the next time.
Make some money along the way at your tour stops to keep your van full of gas and your bellies full of food - while spreading your band's brand image and getting your music to more ears. Typically a venue will take a cut of the door revenue, but won't often ask for any percentage of the merchandise you sell. Set up a merch table - and have a trustworthy friend or fan man the booth to make sure all the cash is there at the end of the show. Sell T-shirts, posters, CDs, or other branded items. You can even take credit card now with services like PayPal or Square.
Check and Double-Check Your Budget
You've done the bookings, found cheap hotels, have estimated costs for food and gas. Now, go back over everything with a fine-toothed comb and make sure there's nowhere else you can save money. If you've been realistic, your budget and itinerary will help ensure you'll have a successful first concert tour.