We’re all making music in a digitally driven industry, but touring is still one of the most reliable ways to form meaningful connections with existing fans and earn new ones. Unfortunately, the act of unestablished artists bringing their shows on the road comes packed with challenges, risks, and costs. Plan, do your research, and tour in a smart, measured way, and you’ll be able to weather whatever troubles that come your way. But venture out without realistic goals and a plan, and you’ll likely experience disaster sooner than you think.
Start with reasonable goals and base your tours around them
Without priorities and benchmarks, your touring efforts will be a huge waste of time. In other words, don’t tour unless you’ve got a good reason to. Are you trying to promote an album? Gain performance experience? Catch the attention of music industry tastemakers in a specific market? To make touring a positive, enriching, and career-propelling experience, you’ll need to shape it in a way that addresses each of your goals and priorities. If you’re an American band from the midwest, your main goal might be to play in markets on the west coast where streaming platforms show your music is being listened to the most. Many bands in this position choose to take on too much too soon by extending goal-oriented tours across the country, and doing this can stretch your resources thin and distract from your priorities. Whether it’s money, time, or attention, you only have so much steam to work off of when it comes to touring. Remember, the work involved in DIY touring includes not only booking and performing, but also promoting the shows you’ll play on tour. When unestablished bands tour in a way that prioritizes their goals, they put themselves in the position of being able to tour sustainably.
Tour within your means
For most young bands, the dream of dropping everything to tour indefinitely seems like a great option. We often look at these dramatic “make or break” scenarios and only consider what happens when we find success after taking a risk. But the truth is that quitting your job, breaking up with your partner, or paying for a long tour with a high-interest credit card can sink not only your band, but also you as a person. Your excitement is invaluable, and you’ll need it along with loads of optimism and ambition to succeed in music. But touring outside of your financial and personal means is a very bad idea. Once you have realistic goals charted out for a tour, plan out what you can realistically devote to it in terms of money, time, and energy. You might start with a plan for a nationwide two-month tour and reduce it down to two weeks, and that’s okay. Smart touring means prioritizing sustainably, so don’t bite off more than you can chew.
Focus more on promotion than playing as often as possible
It makes sense why unestablished bands want to play as often as possible on tours. There’s experience to be found and a chance to earn a little money and new fans each night, even if you play in the middle of nowhere. But when you zoom out and measure the true costs of playing seven nights a week all over the country, you might find that this approach distracts from your goals and strains your resources. Instead of playing as often as you can, you’re better off focusing on the most important shows on your tour through promotion. The time you would’ve spent playing in other cities can be used to show up to cities early and promote through radio, acoustic performances, and media interviews. It all comes back to the idea that touring shouldn’t be something where you constantly put yourself out there and see what happens. If you’ve got great music to share, building realistic and sustainable goal-oriented tours can help you find audiences. Spreading yourself too thin can backfire and hurt your efforts. Shorter and more focused touring is almost always a better bet than long, aimless tours are.
Your music and time are valuable, and touring in a smart way means honoring your art and your resources. By centering your tours around your goals and means, you’ll set yourself up to connect with new fans and further your career.