Ah, summer. The smell of fresh-cut grass, sunblock and warm PBR. It’s tour season, and this summer tens of thousands of up-and-coming bands across North America will hit the road in hopes of bringing their music to new listeners far from home. Without a doubt, touring can be an incredible experience for new bands even if they’re not playing to packed rooms every night. But if you’re unprepared, a poorly planned tour has the potential to cost you and your bandmates hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Here’s five tips to help you save money on tour this summer.
1. Don’t blow money on motel rooms
A surefire way to go broke on tour is to spend money on motel rooms every night. Let’s do the math. If you’ve got a 15-day tour coming up and plan to spend $50 a night on motels, that’s $750. Realistically, newer bands should expect to make very little money for each show they play on tour unless they’re lucky enough to be supporting a national act that draws well. If you want any hope of breaking even or earning a little cash, you’ve got to find a free place to sleep every night.
So, what’s a newer band to do? There’s a few options. Couchsurfing.com is an awesome community of homeowners that give travelers a free place to crash for the night. It’s a good idea to build your reputation on the site by letting people stay with you before you ask Couchsurfers to host you and your band. With enough planning and preparation, your band could have places to stay for your entire tour through Couchsurfing.
Another option is to reach out to fans, family friends and bands you’re slated to play with during each tour stop to see if you can stay with them. I’ve made lifelong friends by staying with random people on tour, and you’re likely to find good people who are willing to open their homes up to you at most tour stops.
2. Bring as much of your own food and booze as possible
This tip seems like a no-brainer, but lots of bands waste cash on eating out and buying drinks at the bar on the road. Bringing a cooler filled with beer, sandwiches and snacks can save your band tons of money on tour. And if you and your bandmates plan ahead and split food and booze three or four ways, you’ll save even more money. Eating a ham sandwich and sipping on cheap beer in the back of your tour van might not seem like the glamorous tour life you were hoping for, but it’s good for your character and can save you precious cash.
3. Play as many shows as you can
If you want any hope of making a little money or even just breaking even on tour, you should plan on playing as many shows as you can in the shortest amount of time possible. There’s two ways to make money touring: playing shows and selling merch. The more shows you play the more chances to make money you’ll have. If you’re scheduled to be out on the road for three weeks and you only have 10 shows booked, you’ll most like hemorrhage money. For a tour lasting three weeks you should plan to play at least 15-18 shows.
Playing a show almost every night of the week will help you cut down drive time between stops. To make this work, you’ll have to find shows in small cities you might not have even heard of before, but smaller scenes tend to be more welcoming to new bands in my experience.
4. Sign up for gas credit cards
If you’re credit score is high enough, consider signing up for a rewards-based gas credit card. If you plan ahead and calculate how much money you’ll need for gas, using one of these credit cards could end up saving you a significant amount of money. This, of course, takes a good amount of thought and planning, which leads me to my next point.
5. Make a plan
People don’t often think of musicians as being smart planners, but that’s exactly what you’ll have to be if you want to save cash on tour. Who’s going to foot the bill if your band’s van breaks down on tour? If the band makes any money after a tour, will the profits go back to the band or will they be split up and given to each band member? If the band doesn’t make enough money to cover gas money, who pays for the trip home?
If you’re already on tour and don’t have answers to these questions, then you’ve got a potential disaster on your hands. Communication is key, and it’s paramount that you and your bandmates get on the same page about finances long before you leave for tour. Otherwise, the financial burden of something going wrong on tour might fall on you. And from my experience touring, unexpected problems come hand in hand with traveling around the country with a small band that has limited resources. So plan accordingly.