I’m not an expert on booking tours, but I did book one and my band miraculously broke pretty much even on our revenues and expenses. From one musician to another, here are some helpful ideas to consider:
1. How to start booking.
Select the start and end date for your tour and figure out a window of time you’ll be in each city you want to play. Contact the promoter or venue at least 2 months in advance and give them a few choices of dates, so they can go straight to them on their calendar.
Also, include what you sound like in the text of your email because it will probably give them more reason to click on your band’s Web site link if you’re the right type of music for them. Lastly, try to include press reviews and pictures in your press kit–I’d recommend saving money on postage and just emailing a Sonic Bids’ electronic press kit.
If they decline booking you, don’t give up yet—ask them to recommend you to someone else in the area who could help book your band’s genre. Almost every promoter, venue owner and band I contacted gave me more people to contact.
2. Clinching those dates
Follow up with a phone call over email, if the promoter or venue’s Web site doesn’t state a contact preference. I called a venue in Tampa while the owner was carrying a Thanksgiving turkey and I cracked a joke about it to break the ice. It was way more personal than emailing with him.
Sometimes, venues will ask you to look for bands in their city to play with you and then contact them back after you have a line-up. Another strategy is to offer show trades on your favorite social networks. Out of all the types of people I’ve asked, promotion companies were the most responsive, local bands were the second most responsive and venue owners were the third. Music foundation Web sites like The Austin Music Foundation were great resources to find people to contact.
3. Additional booking tips
Base your dates on one major gig if possible, like ours was based around playing the GoGirls Invasion at SXSW that we had won through Sonic Bids. And don’t forget to book dates for the way back—or else you’ll have a long way to drive with no free place to stay.
4. Securing housing and money
Email the other bands on your bill or even the venue owner for some floor space to put your sleeping bag on. Out of three other bands of people and a venue owner, someone will probably let you crash on their floor for a night.
Ask for a guarantee when appropriate. I say when appropriate because you don’t want to lose a gig by asking for too much. Do your research on what is the usual payout at the venue you’re playing at. For example, I asked Breakin’ Bones Entertainment what the usual payout was at the venue that she booked us. It was pretty high, so we asked them for a guarantee and got one.
5. Getting a van
If you already own an insured van, you’ve lucked out of this expense. Otherwise, you’ll have to reserve a rental van early. Don’t forget the window chalk to write your band’s Web site on the windows along with fun drawings. Also, we wrote “Austin or Bust” on our back window. We got quite a few friends on all our social network sites this way!
6. Ice for the cooler, gas, food
Don’t forget to bring a cooler. Make sure that it doesn’t leak though. Ours did and one of us left his smelly socks in the area that turned into Lake Smelly Van. We bought new ice nearly every time we stopped for gas. We saved a whole lot on food expenses since we ate out of our cooler most of the time. And that money was definitely needed considering the price of gas these days.
7. Promotion and social networking
I saw so many hilarious and resonating promotional techniques, but I’ll save those for another post. On the note of promotional techniques however, I’d like to end with a quote from a blog post called “The Story of a Rock Star” by Mark Nissley that I read a while back. He’s referring to a rising star in the ‘90s who’s so obviously Jewel:
“…While all the very talented musicians around her spent their time between and after sets, hanging out back stage and drinking (among other things), the teenage girl did something different. She met her fans and really talked to them. She told her story at every show. She positioned herself at the exit and shook every patron’s hand. She asked people if they liked her music. She asked people to come back and see her. One of those hands she shook was an executive from Atlantic Records. They came back to see her, and brought a contract.”