Summertime is one of those wonderful times of year where it simply feels like anything and everything is possible. The sun is shining, you’re eating a lot of ice cream, and all your favorite festivals and bands are rolling through town. If you’re reading this article, odds are you’re one of those bands that are planning to do exactly that—embark on your very own summer tour.
Since there are a lot of ins and outs to booking a solid tour, we’re here to go over some of the basics in helping you prepare. From scheduling to merch, we’ve got your go-to guide for making this the coolest tour yet.
Know your routing
One of the first steps to preparing for any tour is to have a solid idea of where you’re actually going. While there’s something incredibly free-spirited about throwing caution to the wind and announcing that you’ll just roll through town and play whatever’s available, if you’re hoping to make an impact (or any money) on your tour, then you definitely want to have a plan, and that starts with routing.
Ideally this is something you should start working on at least 6 months out, especially if you’re hitting a lot of cities you don’t have a strong following in.
When it comes to deciding on the cities you’ll actually stop in, there are a couple basic steps. First and foremost, figure out your timeline. Before you start researching venues you need to know when you’re actually going to be in their city, so this is the first step.
Finding the perfect venue
Next, you want to find the venues that make the most sense for your band. IE: your genre and the crowd size you can draw. Don’t have an ego about this—if you’ve never played a city, you can’t expect to play a huge venue. However, being new to town or having a smaller turnout doesn’t have to be a negative. Use it to create an even more memorable experience for your audience. You can use this to create a more intimate experience with your fans by doing house shows, art galleries, and other unconventional venues that will use your smaller crowd size as a benefit rather than a hindrance.
I once attended a listening party for a small local band at an art gallery. They had balloons, snacks, drinks, and played in a little corner to maybe 20 people. What I loved about it, and what I remember most, isn’t that it was 20 people—it’s that I felt fancy because I was in an art gallery eating hors d’oeuvres and listening to an acoustic rendition of a band I’d hardly known a day prior, but who by the end of the night I loved.
Know your audience
This brings us smoothly into our next point—knowing who you’re booking the show for. Some of the cities you hit will be places that you know you have a strong fan base, while others are likely to be uncharted territory. Either way, you want to be sure that you have a strong grasp on who your audience is, and how that affects the way you market to them, play to them, and what kind of presence you have in their city. For instance, if you know you have a really strong fan base in St Paul, Minnesota, you could play that two ways. Either book a well known venue you think you can fill, or consider doing house shows for a more intimate experience for your most hardcore fans.
On the flip side, if you know your fan base is lacking, try to pair up with another band who has a strong following and would be interested in headlining, and/or sharing your show with their own audience.
Don’t just show up and hope for the best—take the time to know how strong your fan base is in different parts of your routing, and plan accordingly.
Create an experience
Everything from the merch you bring on tour to the show itself should leave fans walking away in awe.
Part of this is just good showmanship—you should be putting on an incredible show every time, regardless of if it’s a hometown show or a show to five people in a city you’ve never been to. Practice putting on a memorable live show all the time (and ask your closest friends and other artists you trust for honest feedback) and continue to hone that skill until the day you leave for tour. (and don’t stop there, that’s just the beginning!)
There’s also something to be said for exclusive tour merch. Offering a limited edition t-shirt, poster, or something super brand specific that fans can only get if they go to one of your shows, personalizes the experience so much. I can’t tell you how much I’m still kicking myself for not grabbing a one-of-a-kind tour hoodie when I saw Brian Fallon on a solo tour late last year. It’s been 5 months and I still think about that hoodie constantly.
Angela Mastrogiacomo is the founder and CEO of Muddy Paw PR. She loves baked goods, a good book, and hanging with her dog Sawyer.