How to Book a Killer First Tour

Making waves in your local scene can be really exciting for a newer band trying to make a name for themselves. But if you want to be taken seriously by fans, press, and labels, you’ll eventually have to leave the comfort of your nest to make an impact on other scenes in your region.

Bands that can successfully break out of their local scenes have access to priceless playing experience, national exposure, and connections with fans and like-minded musicians they couldn’t have found at home. However, touring can be an immensely difficult experience for not just new bands, but even groups who’ve been at it for years.

Properly planning for your first tour is massively important, so we’ve got some tips that will give you a better chance at making it a success.

Make a plan

Bands that fail to plan ahead usually end up with tours filled with all sorts of preventable disasters. If you wait until a month out to start booking shows, then you’re about three months too late. Contacting venues four months in advance will give you enough time to scope out venues, find bands to play with, and contact press outlets to get write-ups and create buzz for your shows.

If you’re a newer band, assume every talent buyer you contact will have no idea who you are. It’s your job to somehow convince venues to not only listen to your music, but to also book you at their club. This takes a ton of effort, so plan accordingly and give yourself plenty of time for follow-ups and coordinating logistics.

Learn to pitch

If you want to book a successful tour, you’ll need to have someone in your band who can craft persuasive pitches to send to talent buyers. This person will need to be able to tell venues who you are, what you sound like, what your band has accomplished, and why they should consider having you play their club.

You should expect to write dozens of individualized pitches to venues if you hope book even a few shows for your first tour, so get ready to do some difficult non-music-related work.

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Take the right route

Part of the planning process should be taking time to thoughtfully route your tour. Playing a show in Memphis one night and then New York City the next is not smart routing. In addition to being exhausted from the driving, your band will lose ungodly amounts of money, unless you route your tour in a way that has you playing cities that are close together.

Also, it’s not always a good idea to route your tours around major scenes like New York City or Los Angeles unless you’ve got a good reason to do so. Smaller scenes tend to be kinder and more welcoming of smaller bands. Keep this in mind if you’re venturing out on your first tour and considering rerouting the whole thing just so you can play a big city on a weekend.

If you want any chance of making money or at least breaking even on your first tour, try aiming

to play shows five or even six nights a week. This means playing tiny clubs in cities you’ve probably never heard of, but playing that frequently will give you as many opportunities as possible for making money on tour.

By the way, don’t hit the road until you’ve got stuff to offer at the merch booth. Selling albums, shirts, stickers, and other pieces of merchandise is the best way to earn revenue on tour.

Test the waters first

When people think of bands touring the country, they conjure up epic scenes of bands selling out shows, partying, and having the time of their lives. If you’re lucky, your first tour will be an experience you’ll never forget, but it will most likely be a difficult experience filled with sparsely attended shows, frustration, and long stretches of tedium.

An incredible amount of work will go into getting the chance to play a quick set of songs you might have been working on for years. If you go into your first tour expecting too much, you’re bound to get disappointed.

Before booking an entire tour, test the waters by booking a weekend of shows in a few cities in your region. This is a good way to get a taste of touring without the commitment of being gone for weeks or months like you would on a normal tour.
From booking shows to sleeping on floors, touring as small band can be an insane amount of work, but it pays off in big ways if it’s done the right way.

Patrick McGuire is a musician, writer, and educator currently residing in the great city of Philadelphia. He creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.
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