Unestablished bands often have the experience of being in the middle of a long tour they’ve booked themselves with having no idea if what they’re doing is paying off or not. DIY touring can be filled with unpleasant experiences, whether it’s playing in front of empty rooms night after night or having to skip meals and sleep in the van to save money. Most bands know the end results of what they want to have happen through touring, but it can be tricky recognizing the small successes it takes to make big things happen. If these three things are happening for your band through DIY touring, then you’re doing something right:
You’re seeing an increase of national and regional press
In the age of playlists, blogs and newspaper coverage are still big exposure opportunities for artists. One of the biggest benefits a band can get through a small-scale tour is an increase in regional and national coverage. Obviously, what pretty much all musicians want from touring are larger audiences for their music, and tasty write-ups in blogs and newspapers based in the cities you perform in can help bring the masses to your music. But here’s the thing: In order to actually get some decent press as a small band, you’ll need to do tons of work to make it happen. In addition to the duties of booking a tour, a separate DIY press campaign will need to be launched and maintained to bring meaningful media attention to your tour.
More song plays, views, downloads, and playlist adds
It might be hard to gauge while you’re up on stage playing in a tiny venue, but your touring efforts could be paying off in ways that have nothing to do with crowd size. Believe it or not, audiences often check out and become fans of artists they hear about coming through their cities without going to shows. Listeners might want to check out your stop through town, but are sometimes too busy to make it to the show. A surefire indicator of a successful DIY tour is a noticeable increase in your song plays, video views, social media interactions, and playlist adds. You might need to return to a city multiple times to build a meaningful fan base there, but an important measure of DIY touring success can be found in the numbers of new fans listening to your work at home and not necessarily in person at the venues you play.
The shows you’re playing are at solid venues
A sign that you might need to head back home and go back to the music career drawing board is if your project is playing terrible, bottom-of-the-barrel venues night after night. Every band has rough nights, but if your tours only play out in bad venues, something fundamental needs to change about the way you tour. Even under the best of conditions, touring can be a difficult experience for bands, so it’s simply not worth doing unless you’re playing in venues that will showcase your work and effort in the best light.
If your project isn’t experiencing real success on the road yet, don’t let it get to you. It can take years to build meaningful touring momentum, and having a hard time getting there doesn’t mean your music isn’t promising. The answer almost every time is for artists to keep tweaking and creating until something works in a big and clear way.
Patrick McGuire is a writer, musician, and human man. He lives nowhere in particular, creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.