I’m a professional French singer-songwriter, originally from Paris, France, now based in Portland, Oregon. I tour in the US, Canada, and France. I’ve also been fortunate to play in Ireland, and a little bit in Australia. I’ve always played solo gigs in those countries and know the French market best. So I’ll mainly focus on that in this article.
Here are a few tips I’ve learned from touring abroad that Chris from CD Baby asked me to share with you. I hope it helps. Smile, be safe, meet great people, enjoy every moment, and have fun!
Tips for Touring Abroad
Advice on booking shows
- Let’s say you are thinking of touring in France. Start by deciding when you want to go and where you will be landing (Paris, Lyon, Marseille…). Be sure to have enough time to book those shows (give yourself a few months at least). Don’t contact venues 3 weeks before you will be visiting; it will probably be too late.
- Make a tour plan. Organize in advance where you want to play, on what dates, and evaluate the distances between each gig. The most difficult part, when you’re starting from scratch, is doing the booking research yourself. Explore the web using tools like Google, Facebook, Reverbnation’s gig finder, Lonely Planet, the American newspaper in Paris (Time out) that lists shows that could be a good place to start, etc. Using keywords are very important. If you google for example “Live Blues music in Paris” you might find a list of venues. Also try to find online forums that talk about the same genre of music you play. For example, there are probably some Blues festivals in the Paris area or non-profits with blues lovers that organize shows there.
- Having local connections is always ideal. Connect with Local bands (using Facebook for example), local organizations (Americans in Paris), a local booker interested in your project, etc. The web is a great tool to connect with people.
- Make sure you have your own website (not just a Facebook, SoundCloud, or Bandcamp Page). If you have a website, it is more useful and I think it looks more professional. Be sure to have a separate a booking email address. Be nice, humble and respectful when sending out emails.
- Talk to musician friends that have already toured in the countries you’re interested in and ask them for contacts and tips.
- If you have friends that live in the country you want to tour, ask them for advice. Do they know about venues near where they live? Do they have musician friends that could help?
- I would recommend being flexible with what you have to offer on stage. It will help you find more gigs. For example, one night maybe share the bill with another band and play a 45 minute set, and the next night play a Pub or a café for 3 hours, throwing in some covers and get a guarantee.
- Offer something different and/or exotic. Pitch your project in an “exotic” way. After all, you will be playing that town for one night only and you are from the other side of the planet! People should be excited to come and see you play. Try and identify what is different about your project, something they don’t have locally.
- Also sometimes it is better to go off the beaten path and avoid the big cities. You will be more exotic and it might be easier to score a gig in a small town than in a big city that always has a lot of cultural events happening at the same time.
- Consider organizing your tour as a CD Release tour. In other words, if you are releasing a new CD, it could be a good excuse to try and book some shows abroad; use that momentum. Another idea is to book CD Release shows first in the US and then in France for example. It will look more professional and attractive to show promoters, press, etc.
- Be flexible on off nights (Wednesdays, Mondays, Tuesdays) and maybe hit some open mics and mingle with local musicians. I have discovered that a lot of musicians abroad have a fascination for America and all the different music available there.
- I think it’s better to book a small tour with less gigs than to be over ambitious and try and book too many shows.
- Try and book venues that already have a PA you can use so you don’t need to haul too much stuff on the plane or from gig to gig.
- Try to travel solo or as a duo. Be pragmatic from a financial standpoint.
- Create a simple contract and send it by email to the promoter that booked you the show. You can also send it by regular mail. Always Bcc yourself in the confirmation email you send and keep it handy in case there is a problem the night you show up at the venue to play the show.
Promote the gig
- Send a poster to the venues by regular mail or by email using PDF.
- Create Facebook events and be sure to invite the venue. Also, send Facebook event invites to the promoter and the other bands you are sharing the bill with.
- Ask the person who booked your show or the local band you are sharing the bill with, if they are going to promote it also.
- Create little fliers or business cards that include your website and email address on it so people that like your show can follow you and stay in touch.
- Make sure to have a mailing list at your shows so your new fans can sign up.
- Write a blog about your adventures on the road. I’m sure a lot of your fans that follow you back home would like to know how things are going and enjoy the trip with you. You might also make new fans in the process — and most important of all: it’s something you will be able to show your grandkids.
Logistics for your tour
- Once you have some gigs lined up, write down all the details you know about each gig. For example: load in time, do they have a sound guy, do you take care of your own sound, are you the only one on the bill, who are you sharing the bill with, booking contact, what is the money situation, is there lodging, food, drinks, etc. You can write it down and print it out. I like to use Google calendar. A lot of venues have WIFI, so you can connect to that calendar pretty easily.
- I have learned to bring the bare minimum. Travel as light as you can. Don’t bring 10 effect pedals and 3 guitars!
- Bring a hard case for your guitar. More and more, the Airlines let you bring your guitar as a carry-on (thanks to the Musician Union that has lobbied in Washington DC to help us do so) but it’s unfortunately still not systematic.
- Check the voltage of the country you are touring in. US is 110v. A lot of countries in Europe are 220v; you will need converters.
- Check your phone situation before you leave. Does your wireless provider enable you to have roaming in a foreign country? In France, I would recommend you buy a local cheap phone with a rechargeable SIM card. It will help you control your expenses and cost you far less money than using your US phone. Also having a smartphone that can connect to the web is very useful and handy, provided you use WIFI and not your Data Plan (data plans are expensive!)
- Bring your laptop with you, connect to WIFI wherever you can and use Skype to make calls (they have different packages with unlimited calling available for pretty cheap).
- Learn how to speak a few words of the language of the country you will be traveling in: hello, thank you, I’m trying to find… You get it. Learn some valuable phrases in the local language, and brush up on your cultural etiquette.
Traveling from one gig to another
- I would recommend taking the train or the bus rather than renting a car.
- The train system in France is great, fast, safe and relatively cheap if you book your tickets far in advance.
- Book your tickets in advance using the web.
Lodging while abroad
- Ask if the venue provides lodging when you first book the gig.
- Ask the band you are sharing the bill with if you can stay with them for the night
- Use https://www.couchsurfing.org/
- Make friends at the show so when you come back the next time you can stay at their place and they can stay at your place when they come and visit your country.
Staying healthy on the road
- Touring is awesome, for sure. But believe me, staying healthy is very important. I love meeting people, hanging out and partying. But I’ve learned to choose my moments. Granted, I’m not 25 anymore, but if you go on tour and don’t take good care of your health, don’t sleep much or not very well and drink every night, I’m pretty sure you will lose your voice after a few shows, get sick or even have to cancel gigs because you are not feeling well.
- Fast food sucks. Go to local groceries stores and buy your own food. It will be cheaper AND healthier.
- Some culinary customs are different than in the US. For example in France it’s still pretty difficult to find gluten-free options or even vegetarian options in smaller towns. Be sure to check before you eat anything if you have dietary restrictions.
Money while out on tour
- Use Traveler’s Cheques.
- Have cash with you, but not too much.
- Bring a credit card that works in the country you will be touring with enough money to use it in case something comes up. Notify the credit card company when you are traveling to another country; often they have fraud protection and if they see your card used in another country, they might suspend it (only to protect you). By warning them first, you can avoid this hassle.
- On your first tour, don’t have high expectations. You might lose some money or break even. That’s ok. See things as an adventure, a cultural experience. Take some time off to visit the places and cities you play in. Those memories will be priceless.
How to plan for customs
- When going to Canada you need a working permit to play in certain clubs. A musician friend of mine after landing in Vancouver, BC actually got sent back to Portland because he did not have that permit.
- Contact the embassy of the country you want to go play in and see what the laws and rules are. Ask the local promoter who booked you. Your local Musician Union can also be a good asset.
Merch and promotional materials
- Have some Merch ready for your tour.
- If you can send your merch by mail beforehand, it will often be cheaper and you won’t have to worry about it on the plane.
- While you are on stage, tell people that you have merch for sale. You’d be surprised how many people want to help.
[Passport picture from Shutterstock.]