“Because it’ll be an adventure” ain’t the best answer when someone in your band asks: Why should we drive 300 miles to play this show?
It’s driving time you could’ve spent recording. It’s gas money you could’ve put towards promotion. So you’ve got to make each out-of-town engagement count. No, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take some risks every once in a while, or that you shouldn’t book a gig if you can’t guarantee it’ll be a sellout crowd, but it’s worth interrogating yourself a little before you commit to anything.
When evaluating each out-of-town gig opportunity, go through these five questions. If you answer yes more than no, it might be a trip worth pursuing.
Will I be returning in 3-6 months?
There’s not much point in taking the gig if you don’t have plans to build upon whatever buzz you create the first time around. Even if there’s only 10 people in attendance, the object is to get that to 11 or 50 or 100 on your next visit. But that won’t happen if it takes you a year or more (or never) to roll through town again. So, if it’s a “market” you plan on hitting with frequency, take the gig.
Is there a local artist who can open or headline?
If you don’t have a (big) draw, local bands can save the day when it comes to filling the room. And if it’s a good musical pairing, their fans might become your fans too. Things can be tough when you’re the only act on the bill or if you’re touring with another out-of-towner. Which leads us to…
Do I have fans there?
Have you played there before and drawn a crowd? Do you have subscribers on your mailing list that live there? Do you have social followers who live there? Have you checked your Spotify and Apple Music trending reports (when touring internationally), Google Analytics, or CD Baby accounting and sales data to see how your music is performing in that geographical region? If the answer is no, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t tour through that town (you gotta start somewhere), but it’ll make answering yes to some of these other questions all the more important.
Is there a PR opportunity?
I once drove all the way from Portland, Oregon to Los Angeles in a straight shot with a 6-piece band to play at a crap dive bar just because my publicist had arranged for an LA Times critic to be there. Yes, we played more shows on our way back up north, but still, that’s TERRIBLE tour routing. I ended up feeling like it was worth it though, since it yielded two separate stories in the paper: one about the show and a separate album review. Maybe you won’t have a big turnout at the gig, but if there’s an angle to get attention from local radio, press, or blogs, it might be a relationship worth nurturing.
Can I afford it?
Is there a better way to spend your time or money? Will you have to take a day or two off work to make this show happen? Do you have the vacation time? It’s tough to say what’s “worth it” when it comes to music-making, especially gigging; a show with only five people in the audience sometimes DOES lead to more opportunities if you impress the right folks. BUT… that doesn’t mean every gig is worth taking. Money and time are, of course, limited resources — so be careful how you spend them.
Those are a few of the criteria you should apply to tour dates before confirming the gig. Did I miss any considerations? Let me know in the comments below.