One of the best ways to expand your audience base is to venture out to play in different countries. Playing internationally not only helps to connect with new audiences, but is also a great way to do more event organizing, touring, and to enhance your musicianship experience. Getting to experience new cultures and seeing new countries could inspire new music!
In this blog post, I would like to breakdown international touring on four fronts for independent musicians: The what, where, when, and how. As a U.S. based musician, I would also like to explain to you this process through my personal experiences. Hopefully you can find some lessons and use them in your future touring efforts.
Just like getting started before any tour, it is best to start by asking yourself and determine what is the purpose of this tour. Are you promoting your newest album? Do you want to teach masterclasses and workshops? Do you want to make money?
1. What are you playing?
The first thing to think about is the content of what you are presenting. My purpose before I organized my first European tour was to reach out to my current and new listeners. I had released an acoustic, singer-songwriter style EP a few weeks before and I wanted to promote it. The sonic character of the EP gave me a clue about what my set should look like as well. So, I created a set of stripped down versions of all my previous songs to make the setlist sonically consistent with the EP. It is a really good idea to have a different sonic concept for every tour, as it will not only prevent redundancy for future gigs, but also keep the audiences engaged for the next time they come to your show.
2. Where are you going?
The second part, and my favorite aspect of touring, is planning where to go. This one takes some research. Thankfully, we now have data from digital platforms, who tell us which countries and which cities our listeners live, and how many listeners do we have there.
Once you answer these four questions, you will start with a nice outline of an itinerary.
- Where does your audience live?
- Where do you want to go?
- What places are more economically efficient?
- Where do you get gig offers from?
3. When are you going?
While many musicians will tour in the summer, if possible, I suggest not setting up your first international tour in the summer. Yes, there will be more opportunities, but there’s a good chance that your potential fan base will be on vacation when you’re in their city, so they will never see you. A lot of venues in Europe don’t book shows during the summer months for this reason. Moreover, your transportation and accommodation costs are going to be much higher in the summer. Fall and early Spring dates are nice picks and you can actually draw more audiences, meet your future fans and sell more merch!
a) The research
When it comes to booking an international tour, your network will be one of your greatest assets. Assuming you picked your country and city you want to play, you should start by figuring out if you know anyone who previously played in that city. You can also ask your friends who live in that city for the best venues that you can play. Asking your local friends about venues, cultural centers, or school recommendations will give you a great head start to book gigs.
In addition to the recommendations from your friends, I also suggest doing a thorough Google search and cross-referencing the results. When you are looking up a venue, make sure you get an idea of how big the space is, and try to get an estimate of how many people will show up. Also, ask your friends about the general income level of the city, as that will also give you a more realistic estimate of how much you can charge the audience.
b) The portfolio
Once you have a list of places you want to play, you should prepare a portfolio. You should put a short bio, a few pictures, a couple of examples on YouTube, your performance roster, and finally, a brief description of what you will be presenting. The audiences love knowing more about the artist, so make sure you give them a good idea of what they should expect.
c) The contact
When you put these together, send a brief introductory note to the venue along with your portfolio. A good rule of thumb is not to attach anything and send everything in text and link form!
d) Negotiating your pay
Every venue will pay in a different way. Some will have a fixed price, some will give a cut from the ticket sales, and some will do a pass-the-hat option based on donations from the audience at the end of your performance. Whichever the case may be, it’s important to communicate this beforehand and have a clear agreement on how you will get paid.
e) The promotion
Make sure that you are proactive and you create your event poster, along with social media event pages. Do not expect the venue to do it for you. Sometimes they will, but usually it’s going to be all you. Being on the top of your event promotion will get you a long way and help get the word out to the city.
f) The budget
Don’t expect to profit or break-even on your first few tours. If you do, that is awesome, but touring is an investment that takes time to pay off. Just like the festival business, it takes at least two to three years to break even, but when you persist and cross the threshold, you will get the rewards.
As far as extra revenue streams for your tour, you can also organize some workshops and living room concerts to increase your revenues. Make sure to have CDs and some merchandise with you, as that’s also a great source of revenue.
Having a profitable tour is mostly about having a solid fanbase who will come out to your gig, which is why it is a long term investment. Moreover, as you play and get moving, you will develop yourself as a performer, have better production, and better lighting, and this will scale your revenue up as well. It’s definitely a process you learn by doing, so sticking by your investment and being patient is key.
So these are the four points of organizing an international tour on your own. Keep in mind that touring is all about building relationships with fans, promoters, venues, and friends. It is a venture that develops over time, and it is a long term investment. Be sure to put in your best effort, enjoy your music, and most importantly, don’t forget to have fun!