So, you want to rock a tour, do ya?? Congratulations on your decision to become a highway pirate! It’s time to cruise the land with your bandmates, crew, your favorite sweat pants, your noble steed, and all your special quirks fully loaded to test each other’s patience and sadistic behavior. Here are top touring tips and suggestions from Midnight Mob on how to make a tour successful, fun, inexpensive, efficient and – most importantly – safe for all.
Can we leave him in Texas?
Before you decide to make a few week-long commitments, look inside the van and understand this will be your home along with everyone else. It is your communal bedroom, living room, office, bathroom (to an extent of course), kitchen and changing room. Then look at your bandmates and crew. If you have any doubts about being able to deal with anyone’s personality in such close quarters, then we highly recommend to book a long weekend excursion first and shoot for maybe 8 hours out. If you comeback and you all don’t want to leave the van, you’re Golden Girls.
If you come back and the drummer made a voodoo doll of the singer, or a crew mate decided to use the tour dates as a relaxing vacation rather than being useful, then you’re more like Murder She Wrote. It is so important to have the foundation of the band on the same page when traveling. You either love it or hate it and it’s not for everyone. If there are people in the van who need to stay at a hotel all the time either cut them loose immediately or be very clear to pay for it out of their pocket and not out of band funds. If there are complaints about showers, you can stop at Flying J truck stops and pay for a $10 shower; it’s glorious and totally worth it if no one has money for a hotel.
I Love You Glenn Vanzig!
Adventure! Let’s do this! It’s time to bite the bullet and make the band bond blood sacred. Do your research hardcore before you purchase your vehicle and/or trailer. Don’t buy the first thing you see and don’t cheap out. Buy something that will last years with basic maintenance even if it costs $5,000 more than you wanted to spend. Your band should be equally putting money towards paying off the van. All for one, one for all. You don’t want to be that lame band that’s constantly asking other bands to borrow their van because your ghetto blaster van keeps breaking down. If a killer show comes up 10 hours away and you break down on the way or have zero confidence in your transportation, you can kiss that connection goodbye for sure, plus others because your rep will be tarnished. People talk. When you find your chariot: name it, christen it, worship it, respect it and take care of it as if it is the last unicorn on Earth. We take our steed, Glenn Vanzig, to the car doctor one month prior to leaving for tour to make sure everything is up to par and limit any potential BS.
There’s No Money in Ham
Be prepared to play wherever, whenever, however. Your lifeline is money and reputation. The only way to make money and boost your rep is to kill it every night even if it’s for the bartender or the other band. Don’t be the lame band that refuses to play because no one showed up. You never know who’s watching and the “bartender” could be the talent buyer or owner. If they see you kill it for no-one, then he/she will hit you up for a huge show coming through and then you can start a relationship. We had two extremely lucrative situations ($thousands) happen to us. One was showing up to a venue in New Orleans in the early afternoon asking to play at like 2pm. We were scheduled to play that night at the same place but figured what the hell it’s New Orleans. We became friendly with the bartender and she said go for it. We played for two people and sold one CD. Two months later, we received an email from the individual that bought the CD saying that he runs a festival in AL and wants us to play. We did it for two straight years and were paid a massive guarantee, two nights + two rooms at a Holiday Inn, free drinks and food plus tons of promo.
The other experience was in NYC playing a venue that was not suited for our sound. Instead of hamming it in, we turned way up and released the beast and played for maybe five people. One of the five was a higher up for Pepsi Co and we were paid a ton of cash to write a song and perform at private NYC penthouse party. We’ve also had venues just give us hundreds of dollars, places to stay and food just because they really dug what we were doing with the effort and professionalism.
Take Your Wood Out
You will encounter show cancellations and other weird events that may force you to improv a bit so bring your acoustics. In addition to your electric set or more involved set, have a stripped down acoustic set in your back pocket. Being able to handle yourself acoustically is incredibly impressive to people. It shows off the depth of your band and opens yourself up to a totally new audience. Plus, slow nights at most venues are Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday but some coffee shops and bars have killer open mics on those nights and it’s without any red tape. This works for great band relaxation and bro-ing out with each other. You’ll make some money, minimal gear movement, it’s a different environment and your singer will appreciate the lighter night. It’s also great for asking the locals for the low down of the area and any contact info so you can organize something for the future.
Socialism Is King
In the world of touring it’s key to be social and to make full use of social media. This is not for the introverted, but if you are introverted and want to stick it out then make it up by organizing the equipment or keeping an eye on things; basically help out in another way. Just don’t be a sad donkey. Before you leave for your dates it’s a good idea to have your band agree on some sort of daily social media thing, like every morning is a video tour diary or maybe a photo with the latest fan. Whatever it is do it every day on all of your social media and close to the same time every day. Video tape the bananas out of everything. You may think it’s stupid now but a month from now it’s really entertaining or good footage to splice into something else to be used on your social media. Invest in a communal band Dropbox Pro account so all content can be emptied from all phones or wherever so you have room to keep additional content.
From the stage, promote your social media, and tell every person you talk to where to find you on social media or help someone on the phone to find you. Your website should be the hub off all this info so if you can’t think of something, say the website name. If you’re doing it right, your social media numbers should spike when you are on tour, which means your info is getting across and people started following your journey. A massive help is running Facebook ads in order to promote each show and your brand. No one knows who you are so get their attention and at least let them know this show is happening. Utilizing Club Flyers is a great way to have 500 color postcard type flyers printed for $20 either shipped directly to the venue or a generic one with all of your social media on it kept with the merch tub. When you show up to the show throw them all over the venue and whatever is left over at the end of the night take back to use again.
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Respect, Walk, What did You Say?
If you and your bandmates don’t respect each other or any other person involved in each show, then you’re screwing the pooch. You are each going to have your quirks, requests, diet restrictions, pet peeves, etc. Work together as a family, a single unit looking to take over the world. Be the 300. If one person doesn’t like smoking in the van then don’t, if one person doesn’t like trash in the van, then pick it up, if one person doesn’t want fast food then go somewhere that has options. Bottom line…there is no arguing over petty stuff. If you have a problem with something, bring it up and talk it out. Give a high five and work with each other and you will be happy campers which means kick ass shows, more money and even better memories.
This respect extends to the security, bartender, sound guy, stage manager, owner, the dude in the bathroom that gives you a paper towel, lighting dude, ticket window person, promoter, the guy that plays lotto all day at the bar, other bands etc… Make sure you introduce yourself to everyone with a smile, be humble, professional and have a pleasant demeanor. Your band is a brand and it’s all part of the show. Plus it’s less stressful. Not everything will be to your liking, but that’s life. You still get to do what you love and a complete stranger opened their doors to you, so be a sexy guest. The number one rule is, you are not entitled to anything. Don’t complain if a venue doesn’t want to guarantee you money. Be happy you got the show and prove to them you’re worth the loot. You’ll be surprised how many venues will throw you a bunch of cash anyway.
We recently played the largest motorcycle festival in the US, the Sturgis Buffalo Chip in SD and opened for 3 Doors Down and played after Kid Rock on two separate nights for thousands of people. There were things promised to us on the day of each show that didn’t happen and one of the shows we had a severe chunk cut from our set because of an insane lightning storm that almost canceled Kid Rock’s set. We’re convinced Kid Rock is Thor due to his ability to channel lightning during sets at Sturgis. We didn’t get what we were promised but who cares. We said thank you for informing us, no worries and we can’t wait to play because we’re having a great time here because genuinely this is how we felt. We put on two baller shows and two employees that we were talking to happened to be scouting for the Rocklahoma Festival. Now we will be playing Rocklahoma 2017.
We had an experience in NC where the town put an obstacle in the venue’s way and the venue wasn’t able to rectify it before the show. The owner apologized, gave us the run down and we said we understood, no worries. The owner was so enamored with our patience and understanding that he immediately started calling his buddies in other cities to see if we could squeeze on a show last minute. Unfortunately, it was no go, but he threw us gas money. Then we huddled up, picked another city, rocked out an open mic in Charlotte and sold tons of merch there.
No Glove, No Love
Protect yourselves and each other out there. Remember you are in a foreign land where people might talk different, act different and look different. Keep tabs on each other and don’t leave to walk around the city without telling someone. You’re surrounded by strangers that might not have the best intentions so be street smart.
When we played Sturgis in SD we stayed with all the bikers camping on the land. Four of the six decided to get some sleep so they retired to the van. Squeeze and Beatz decided to go to an open bar on the campgrounds which was about 3/4 of a mile away from the van. They hung with some other travelers until the bar closed then ventured back to the van. They didn’t take into consideration, though, the temperature dropping to about 30 degrees and it being pitch black on the campgrounds. Plus Glenn Vanzig is black so you literally could be standing in front of it and not see it. After about 40 minutes of looking for the van, Beatz and Squeeze split up. Squeeze found the van within five minutes, put on a jacket and was good to go. When he went back for Beatz minutes later, he couldn’t find him. Squeeze decided to go to sleep but then knew he had to find Beatz. On his quest to find Beatz, he scored some free pizza, which was a bonus. An hour later he saw a Gollumy looking creature in the distance under the moonlight going from tent to tent in search of shelter and compassion. It was Beatz and he was relieved and appreciated someone coming back for him. Beatz apparently gave up at some point and slept on the dirt shivering in between some tents for awhile. Beatz later returned the favor going back for Squeeze in Charleston, SC when someone was looking to light fireworks off in their apartment at 1am.
Also if you plan on driving that night after the show, designate that responsibility to someone who agrees to be sober and rested. There’s no harm in taking a nap while the other bands are playing if you absolutely have to drive that night. There is also no harm in pulling over in a parking lot if the designated driver is just too beat or if the person riding shotgun can’t stay awake. Take your time you’ll figure it out.
Once Bitten Twice Shy
Dealing with venues and promoters is tricky. It’s pretty similar to reeling in a river monster or finding Bigfoot. Once you have a date make sure you ask as many questions as possible preferably in one email because most likely they will only respond once, maybe twice. Once you confirm a show, you need the following info: set time, set length, load in time, payment if any, how payment is settled, all social media tags, contact names numbers and emails, where to mail promo, parking info, local press contacts, backline, how many bands, when bands start, other band names, pre-sale ticket info, wifi password, do they live stream, green room and any bonus accommodations. The more you know the smoother it will be.
Show bloggers and media members you’re for real with a slick-a** EPK
Glenn, You’re So Tight…
Pack up your gear right after you play. At this point you’re going to be the most alert, feel your best, you know all of your gear is accounted for because you just used it and everyone will love you for cleaning up after yourself and keeping your stuff out of everyone’s way. Packing your van/trailer should be ritual. Tour Van Tetris is an art and this art has an order. Make sure you have hard tour cases for everything so nothing breaks when constantly moving gear around. Your heaviest gear will go in first to give your vehicle proper balance and minimize wear and tear, but everything after that is your own special puzzle. Just make sure you do the same thing every night so all the gear is accounted for, this way if a packing job doesn’t fit right you know something is up and can be fixed immediately. Use bungees to keep the gear really tight so nothing gets loose and causes damage. Each member’s gear is their own responsibility. If the microphone is left behind, the singer shouldn’t be blaming anyone but himself or herself. As a precaution bring extra cables, mic’s, strings, batteries etc… just in case. No one is perfect, but if you have to rock the credit card because something was left behind, take it in stride. Being clear about everyone’s responsibilities will keep the poop off the floor.
Claim Your Land & Rule Like A Boss
Your merch is more important than catching 20 river monsters. Get to the venue early! Everyone will love you for this because you appear to be professional. Best parts about arriving early are no stress, possible venue freebies, best parking and most important….the first pick at your merch spot, which means electricity! We bring a small card table, wood trifold march board with lights and then additional lights. Sometimes there’s only one outlet. Claim your spot, light up and let other bands be ignored in your shadow. Also, it’s crucial to accept credit cards. Don’t miss out on sales because you’re too lazy to set up something on your cell phone or tablet. It’s really easy. We recommend Square to not only process all credit card transactions but to also enter all cash sales. Square is a fully customizable POS system to manage all sales and inventory for as little as $30. You can also run tons of analytic reports. Square is also on the cutting edge in accepting the latest types of payments such as Apple Pay or contactless payments. After you make your booty for the night, make sure you immediately settle up with the venue.
Long Distance Runner
Those are our tips for all you out there. They have been put together through years of mistakes, triumphs and keeping an open mind learning from others. Your tour will never be immaculate. If it was cleaner than Taylor Swift, then where’s the adventure? One final tip is to eat healthy and stay hydrated. You don’t see any drunks with a hot dog dangling from their mouth finishing the marathon.
Estee Denise 'Nisey' Ratliff - May 24, 2017
I’m not even in a band and found this article so well written! I enjoyed the entire thing! ^_^ Definitely will pass on!
Joe Martin Jr - May 25, 2017