As much as we’d like there to be, it’s clear there’s not going to be a defined end to the pandemic’s impact on live music and other events. Rather than an overnight shift back to normal, we’re in for a long, drawn-out process involving bands cautiously hitting the road and venues slowly opening their doors again. If you’re a developing artist that books your own tours, your already hard and complicated job just got even harder and more complex. But there’s some good news for unestablished DIY touring artists as well. Here are some tips for getting back out there:
Expect and prepare for big changes
DIY touring isn’t going to be the same as it used to, but what does that mean exactly? In the short-term, it means smaller shows, enforced social distancing, lots of evolving restrictions, and a frustrating wait-and-see approach with venues. It means playing outside whenever possible and a need for developing bands and solo artists to play more unconventional shows, like house concerts, in order to get heard and seen. The changes over the long-term aren’t as clear, but you’ll be better off now and in the future if you anticipate changes and respond with flexibility. Your tour might fall through at the last minute because of things out of anyone’s control. Fans who otherwise would’ve loved to see you might skip your shows for the time being. These are challenging and frustrating situations and they require artists to be understanding and resilient. If you can be flexible during this uncertain time, venues and fans will thank you for it.
Do what you can to make fans feel safe
This tip mainly applies to artists who are creating their own performance opportunities. Shows in basements, backyards, and living rooms are great for lots of reasons. They’re fun, intimate, and can compensate musicians more than conventional shows if there’s enough planning. But there’s a new and important consideration with these types of shows, and that’s the safety and comfort of fans. Some fans aren’t going to be comfortable seeing you play if the audience isn’t masked, even if everyone is vaccinated. The same goes for fans being hesitant to show up to shows where the crowd stands shoulder to shoulder. These can be frustrating and annoying considerations to think about on tour for artists who already had a lot to worry about and keep track of, but they’re important right now. If you come in with a plan and set expectations for shows going in, rules will be easier to enforce. When you play conventional venues, ask what their COVID policies are and share that information with your fans so they know what to expect.
Take every opportunity you can to bring live music to communities that need it
Here’s a silver lining for ambitious DIY touring artists right now. The world is starving for live music, and they can’t easily get it at giant venues and festivals like many are used to. Developing artists can fill this gap right now by being nimble and innovative. Touring isn’t going to look like it used to, but there are unique opportunities to bring live music to people when they really need it. Instead of playing in a venue, you might set up shop on a street corner or in a parking lot with a business owner’s blessing. Instead of playing packed venues, you might have to settle for limited capacity lounge-style shows with higher ticket prices. As long as you’re nimble and willing to go outside of your comfort zone, you’ll have some exciting chances to play in front of people now that you might not have had before. This is a unique opportunity to leave a lasting impression with listeners during a time when live music experiences are more important and cathartic than ever. You can meet the moment by being resourceful, flexible, and willing to cope with uncertainty and other challenges.
DIY touring has never been easy for developing artists, and the pandemic is making things a lot harder. But there’s a lot of good that you can accomplish with live music right now for your career and for your fans. Hitting the road right now might be something that earns lifelong fans for 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.