How to book a tour as an independent band
Many people asked us about how we transformed our band Marbin into a sustainable business (touring 250 days a year). We decided to share what we’ve learned in the past couple of years in the hopes that it would get more good bands out and about.
In the next few articles/videos we’ll explain how to book shows (that are well attended and pay guarantees), promote your shows (not by begging your friends to come or wasting money on posters/flyers), make extra money on the road and save it, build a following, and describe who wants to take your money and why you shouldn’t let them (booking agents, PR companies, managers).
Booking a tour:
1. What venues to play.
There are two types of shows:
- A. Destination shows: Venues that will be empty unless people are coming specifically to see you. If it’s your first time in a town and you’re not famous, you won’t bring anyone, nor will you make any money or new fans. Always a door deal.
- B. Entertainment shows: Venues that have a good house crowd, and the job of the band is to keep the people engaged and drinking. We’re usually talking about, three–four hours, so be prepared. These venues usually pay a guarantee of around $500 for a weekend, and $300 for a weekday. Another deal these places will give you is bar-sale percentage. Thirty percent is the usual and it’s okay for a weekday, but not for a weekend.
As a rule of thumb you should always get guarantees for Friday and Saturday. For the rest of the week you can try getting guarantees, but it’s hard to avoid bad deals (especially in the beginning).
2. How to compile a good venue list.
- A. Finding the right venues: The most effective way is very simple. Look where bands that get paid play and write it down. Bands that get one venue that pays tend to play other venues that pay.
- B. Making a list: Excel works best. Open a new tab for every state (will prove to be effective later on). What you need to have in your list is: Venue name, city, phone number, contact person, email, what days of the week they have shows, notes.
3. How to contact the venues.
Phone is king, but you’ll have to email as well.
- A. Phone: Call and ask to talk to the booking person. If he’s not there (they’re usually away, keep calling!) take his/her name, so the next time you call you can ask for them specifically. Also make sure to ask for their email and on what days of the week they have shows. Always update the list. When you get to talk to the booking person it’s all about the personal connection. Make them remember who you are, so when they look through their hundreds of emails your name pops out.
- B. Email: Email with the date, a short biography, and a link to your music. If you have a following in the area let it be known, but don’t lie about it (it’s a terrible move). If your email is too long nobody will read it.
- C. Follow up: After a day or two, try calling to see if the booking person had a chance to look at your email. After a week or two you can email again.
[Image of Marbin from the band's website.]
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