For young, ambitious artists, there’s nothing more romantic and hopeful than the idea of jumping in a van and touring around the country for months at a time. Tours are crucial for grabbing attention, building audiences, carving out performance experience, and building industry connections. And when labels and managers look for new artists to sign, artists who regularly tour are almost always the first to get noticed. But while touring gives artists a lot, it comes with serious risks, drawbacks, and costs to consider as well. A “let’s tour until we make it” mentality could end up breaking up your band instead of bringing you closer to your goals.
The challenges long tours bring to developing artists
If you’re finding momentum at home with your music, it makes sense why you’d want to expand your audience elsewhere through touring. The more shows you play, the bigger your audience will be, right? Maybe. Or maybe not. How successful your tours depend on a myriad of factors, but instead of going into those, let’s focus on the realities of touring for unknown artists. If you’re a developing artist, it’s safe to assume your music isn’t paying the bills yet. You might make a little bit from streaming revenue and a cut of the door from your shows every night, but is this enough to pay the rent/mortgage/student loans for you and your bandmates? Every day you spend on the road is most likely a day that you will lose money. Your bills at home won’t stop just because you’re pursuing your dream. Being out on the road also means being away from the stable job you have at home, unless you’re lucky enough to have a remote job. But even if you do, most employers probably won’t be down with the idea of people working and touring for months at a time.
Even if you’re lucky enough for money not to be an issue for you on long tours, there are still lots of costs to consider. Relationships will be strained and your mental health will probably be challenged at some point. But if you’re a developing artist, one of the biggest challenges of touring to consider is that being on the road makes it very difficult to write, record, and produce new music. If you want to tour for months on end, what are your goals exactly? Are you certain your music is so promising now that it’s worth it to be separated from the reliable ways you have for creating new music at home? The age of putting out a record and touring with it for years is long behind us. Today’s listeners are hungrier for new music than ever before. If you wait too long before putting out new music, you risk being forgotten about by your audience, especially if you’re not established as an artist. For most musicians in this position, staying at home and writing new music is the best option. This applies whether you’re a new band looking for an audience or an artist in search of a label or publisher.
The types of tours that work best for developing artists
Instead of months-long tours that bring you to far away cities that will be hard to return to, consider shorter tours that are more focused on your goals. If a label you want to work with is located in a specific city, consider going there again and again for shorter tours. Rather than spending weeks and months at a time touring, try regional weekend tours that are closer to home and less expensive to visit. You can absolutely build your experience and get closer to your goals with shorter tours. Choose cities that are close to where you live and easy to get to first, and build your experience from there over time. This strategy gives you the benefits of touring along with financial stability and the ability to be prolific by letting you be home to create when you need to. It’s a great balance that will give your band plenty of time at home and valuable performance opportunities to explore on tour.
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.