A How-To Mini-Tour Your Region (and Feed Your Rambling Soul)
Touring has always been the standard of well-established musicians. Big tour announcements, big tour names, big tour cities and venues, life on the road. What could be better? Or better yet, more mysterious? I’ve always wondered, how do they do it? How did the Grateful Dead play more than 2,300 shows over the course of their career? What did Dicky Betts mean when he sang, “Lord, I was born a ramblin’ man, / tryin’ to make a livin’ and doin the best I can”? How did Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers continue to fill arenas right up until his untimely death in 2017?
Well, I’ll cut to the chase, it was a lot of WORK. A full-time, lifetime commitment to a lifestyle that drowns the toe-dippers but rewards those who dive in headfirst. It takes planning; and diligence, and most of all, courage-and perseverance. But guess what, anyone can do it!
I am not qualified to talk about national mega-touring; it is just not in my wheelhouse. I am, however, experiencing great success and satisfaction in my own little neck of the woods known as New England, playing small clubs and coffee shops, and I would love to share with you the process that I use to book shows in five states and keep the wheels rolling.
STEP 1 – PICK YOUR DATES
This is the easy part. This is the diving-in-head-first part that I mentioned earlier. Here’s how to do it: Open your calendar, scroll 4-6 months ahead, and pick a week. For the purposes of this article, I suggest you choose a Wednesday through Sunday time frame. Write those dates down, burn them into your brain. That is your tour. Just make sure you won’t be blowing off any major birthdays, holidays, graduations, vacations, etc...
STEP 2 – PICK YOUR LOCATIONS
Open the map and zoom out. I’ll make it easy for you: maps.google.com. Look at where you live, I am in New England so that’s my range. My best advice is to try and stay within a six-to eight-hour range of home base. Travelling to far off exotic cities sounds great but showing up at a gig after eight hours of driving is not for the faint of heart, nor will you be at your best when you get there. If you are having a hard time figuring out which cities to target, I recommend going for the medium to large cities whose names are still there as you zoom out on Google maps. I’d pick 6 or 7 and start there.
STEP 3 – FIND YOUR VENUES
Once again, Google is your best friend, and this is where the real work starts. It’s time to investigate your chosen locations. I’d start with a simple google search: coffee shops in [CITY NAME]. What shows up? Start a list of places and dig in. First off, scour the website for a calendar, and figure out if they have live music in the first place, don’t waste your time. If they do, great. How do you stack up against the other performers on their calendar? Be realistic. If you are folky, avoid the metal clubs. Also, is this a venue where you could potentially headline? Or should you maybe shoot for an opening slot? Word your emails accordingly. Find the booker’s email address. This usually takes a little digging and sometimes you have to play Sherlock. You may want to find them on Facebook or Instagram and then shoot them a DM. “Hey, just wondering if you could give me the email address of your booking agent, I’m a touring artist and I’d love to play your venue!”
STEP 4 – EMAIL THEM
As you find cities, venues, booking agents, email addresses – put them in a spreadsheet.! Organize them by city, state, etc. Keep track of this stuff because timing is everything and it’s very easy to miss your windows of opportunity.
To get you on your way, a booking email in its most basic form:
Greeting (Hi ….)
Introduction (2 -3 of the best sentences ever written about what you do. Get someone else to write it if you are bashful)
Booking Request (I will be touring and would like to book this date(s) …)
Juicy Bits (Your most awesome YouTube, Soundcloud links. Hyperlink them over words.)
Thank You (THANK THEM FOR TAKING THE TIME TO READ YOUR EMAIL :])
STEP 5 – TIMING AND FOLLOW UP
You want to email these venues 4-6 months in advance. Sounds crazy, and maybe it is, but if it is, they will let you know. I have worked with venues that book six months out, and others that book the month of. It doesn’t hurt to be ahead of the game. If you get a response, amazing, you are in; maybe. If not, follow up in two or three weeks. I usually try to make this a Monday or Tuesday practice. Just because you are out jamming on a Friday night does not mean it’s a good time to shoot an email from your phone. Remember, this is the business side of things. Foster these relationships with style and grace. DO NOT be pushy. DO NOT be arrogant. Great opportunities will come to you with time and perseverance. Stay the course and follow-up.
STEP 6 – LAND THE GIG
Once you land the gig, HOORAY! You are a rock star. Put it on your calendar, tell your family you’re going on tour, and start figuring out that setlist.
*My first step after locking in a date is to get on AirBNB and find a place to crash after the show. I highly recommend this; I’ve found it to be very affordable and have never had any issues. Well, I had one issue, but if you stick to five-star rated lodgings, you should be good to go. It’s s best to land rooms pretty far in advance, especially on weekends.
ODDS AND ENDS, MY FRIENDS
Here are just a few housekeeping chores to consider as you embark upon your regional mini-tour lifestyle:
· Make a tour poster, it’s fun and it’s worth it. Ask a friend or hire an artist. As great as you are at Photoshop, it’s more effective to have someone else interpret you.
· Make posters for each show and mail (yes, like at the post office) them two or three weeks in advance.
· Make Facebook events because it’s 2019 and that’s just the way it is.
· Follow up with each venue the morning after the show while you have coffee and grab breakfast before you hit the road. Let them know you had a great time, tell them you’d love to return, THANK THEM for the opportunity.
· Bring your mailing list and BE BOLD. You have to score a couple of emails at each show and do your best to get those people out to see you again. Email these folks the next morning as well. Tell them how great it was to meet them and share your digital awesomeness with them (Spotify, YouTube, etc). Here’s an inspiring historical statistic: Phish had 18,000 physical mailers going out to fans in the mid-90’s (NO EMAIL!).
· Have a website. No getting around it, you need a place to send people. Over the years I’ve worked on mine, and I’ve found that this is what gets the most hits. Here’s my example of an EPK PAGE; everybody’s is different, but you need to explain who you are, where you’ve been, and what you’ve accomplished.
· If you’re just starting out and don’t have a killer resume, find some open mics and try to get featured. “Featured Performer at …” is a great place to start.
· TAKE YOUR TIME. It’s gonna take time; remember this is a way of life, not a passing phase. Music gives back what you put into it, so give it your all.
FINAL NOTE - BE POLITE.
For goodness sake. No matter how great you think you are, or people have told you you are, booking agents don’t owe you a thing, and they have literally zero obligation to book you at their venue. Remember, playing music is a privilege and must be treated as such. You will get absolutely nowhere by making demands or being rude and overly aggressive with your booking tactics. Patience, Daniel san. I look forward to seeing you on the road.