Touring is hard. That’s always been true, whether you’re Taylor Swift or a brand new band with very few fans.
But given the challenges of inflation and unpredictable attendance at live events in 2023, touring might feel more difficult than ever. Especially if you haven’t built a reliable touring network and audience yet. You don’t want to take a leap of faith, play a bunch of empty venues, and go home broke.
So if you’re an artist who wants to get on the road, here are some tips to help you make touring a profitable adventure that actually moves your music forward:
Create a Killer Show
There’s no use hitting the road until you can consistently create unforgettable moments for an audience of strangers. Don’t leave “inspiration” up to chance. Make your arrangements, banter, and movement as captivating as possible. And remember, your live set can differ from the recordings!
Make an Irresistible Merch Offer
Ticket sales, a bar percentage, tips, or a cover charge might not be enough on early tours. So always have one or two items for sale that fans need to take home with them. The more tour-specific and urgent the merch offer feels, the better.
Start In Your Region
Lean on local connections to hit the nearest cities. The same way you’d ask your neighbor to borrow some milk, not a stranger two states away.
Seek Out Gig Swaps
It all comes down to favors. Trade opening slots with out-of-town acts. This is one of the most timeless and effective ways to start touring.
Don’t travel too far from home until you’ve proven you can be profitable on the way. Start with a long-weekend. Then add one more city with each tour.
Only play cities you suspect you’ll return to within 6-12 months. Otherwise you risk that audience going cold on you.
Streamline Your Lineup and Gear
Reduce as many costs as you can without hurting the quality of your show. Do you NEED four keyboards if one controller and a computer does the trick? Is your duo just as capable as your quintet?
Can you crash on a couch instead of a hotel? Can you eat trail mix instead of sushi? The secret to touring on a budget is… the budget.
Create a marketing funnel to intro your music to geo-targeted audiences. Then run followup ads to sell tickets or drive event engagement. If you can work directly with the promoter or venue to get quick access to ticket sales and customer data, that can be a big benefit.
Promote Every Date
Do everything you can: posts, posters, DMs, calls, press, blog outreach, record stores, college and comunity radio. Because your music is depending on it.
Supplement with Social
Not every event has to be IRL. So explore livestreams, AMAs, and other ways to connect with fans you can’t meet in-person. Once you have a sufficient livestream or social audience in a particular town, it might be worth adding it to your tour itinerary.
Repurpose Your Efforts
Every show is a chance to capture photo and video content that helps you re-engage attendees afterwards. Don’t drive a thousand miles, play an incredible concert, and have nothing else to show for it.
Make a Followup Plan
Get fan emails. Meet everyone at the merch table. Be professional with venue staff. Befriend other acts on the bill. Then be sure to reconnect with those people so every tour can build upon the last.
Do a “Tour Sprint Review”
Meet with your bandmates, your family, or your team after every tour to assess what you can do better each time.
Touring isn’t easy. But it’s doable.
By taking the right steps, it can also be a profitable way to make lasting connections with your fans.