For the uninitiated, touring often appears like a glamorous affair filled with big, rewarding shows capped off with fun nights that play out in exciting different cities. Touring certainly can be fun and rewarding, but there’s an immense amount of work and sacrifice involved, and, depending on what’s going on with your project, it’s often not worth it. But setting inaccurate reputations aside, many bands set out to tour knowing full well they won’t likely earn money, fans, or acclaim by doing so when there are much better ways to build their careers. Here are a few things unestablished bands should focus on early in their careers instead of touring:
Building local and regional presence through live shows
It might be hard at times, but you should resist the urge to ditch your local scene and focus on touring. Momentum is a powerful asset for a band, and it’s much harder to grow organically away from home than in your own local community. What if your community is small or not friendly to the kind of music you make? Instead of booking massive national tours, try focusing on the cities in your region that are closest to you. Something bands don’t often consider early in their careers is longevity and sustainability. If you can build something exciting at home and branch out regionally, you’ll be able to set up places to play with built-in audiences and profit centers that can sustain long touring later on. And while it might be interesting to ponder what it’s like playing shows on the other side of the country, you shouldn’t be playing shows in places that you can’t easily return to or that don’t have a real demand for your music.
Pitch music to playlists and local radio
Touring is usually expensive for unestablished bands, but pitching music to playlists and local radio stations is free or really cheap depending on whether you choose to send physical music through the mail or not. In 2019, playlists are some of the best vehicles for music exposure that young, ambitious bands can turn to. Landing a spot on one modestly followed playlist could garner more audience attention than an entire national tour filled with sparsely attended shows. Sending music over to local radio stations is another way to build momentum from home, and an increasing number of stations build playlists around the music they’re spinning, so you’ll get the added benefit of that as well if your music is picked up.
Focus on writing great music
We’ll end this blog with the most important point, which is that unestablished bands should be throwing the majority of their energy into writing the best music they can. It’s a brutally competitive music climate out there, and though it might feel exciting to tour, it won’t do you any good unless you’re promoting stellar music. By building something incredible at home and touring when it truly makes sense to, you’ll be creating a sustainable legacy that will carry you throughout your career. Focusing on touring when you’re just getting started could discourage you and distract from the thing you should be completely focused on: your music.
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.