The first few years of touring in Europe I would use cheap mobile phones with top up sim cards. But they expire if you don’t use them for six months and the phones locked. You can have them unlocked and buy new sim cards each time but you have to find a phone shop. Also they are country specific so the numbers to dial into or out of a country will change (and the rates) when you take a phone from Holland into England for example. It’s just too easy now to take a smartphone that’s yours from the USA (that has a sim card) and use it instead.
Yes, using your own smartphone is more expensive but you can talk to people cheaply back home via Skype, Whatsapp, Viber, etc. The convenience of having a smartphone to double check an address or look up a hotel on the web is just priceless. It beats lugging around an old laptop and looking for wifi. Of course the most important button on your phone is the “turn data off” button. And try your best to get your emails and and everything else done while you’re on wifi. But there are times you just have to have it to save yourself a lot of hassle.
Trying to use a GPS unit in a vehicle in a foreign country, you can easily type the wrong city or province; turning on your smartphone occasionally to double check your route and the trusty screenshots is good for piece of mind. I’m on Verizon and they charge you $25 for about 100mbs of data and just keep adding when you go over. I usually have to pay about $100 for an average month overseas of data. But it is difficult to tour manage yourself in a foreign country without it. And the battery of my phone is often the single most important thing to manage when traveling via public transit. There aren’t always charging stations and it’s your one lifeline you can’t lose.
In the early tours for me it was lots of B&B’s and hotels and sometimes staying with the agent or a promoter who had a nice spare room. As time has gone on I have made friends with so many folks I rarely stay in a hotel at all. But starting out sites like http://www.hotels.com and https://www.airbnb.com are super helpful.
Obviously you’ve got to have one of those. Give yourself plenty of time. The first year I got mine apparently they had changed the rules and there was a backlog of folks trying to get passports. I had to go through my Congressman’s office and order a second one just to make my trip.
So far the only country that has required a work permit for my touring is the UK. They are pretty darned adamant about it as well. Even when I had work permits I have been detained for awhile as they verified it was all on the up and up. Work permits cost around $150 to enter the country, no matter if it’s just one show or you’re playing every gig for free! So don’t skip it. I know folks who’ve been sent home at the airport.
Every single other country I have been to doesn’t require it. I usually just say I’m on Holiday (even with a guitar on my back). If you are Bruce Springsteen you probably need a work permit for Germany or anywhere else in Europe, but at my level most places aren’t concerned. If you are booking on your own or with a small agent you aren’t making enough for it to be an issue. The agents I use of course report their tours and income to their respective governments, and if the tours were big enough, a permit would be in order. But again: Not the UK!
I always try to arrange to be paid in cash. And sometimes they pay the agent directly too and that’s ok. Traveling with foreign currency is nice to be able to pay for things as you go without having to use your own card. Banks will hit you with a foreign transaction fee and you have to pay the difference in the exchange rate as well.
There some banks (such as Bank of America) where you can deposit money in their Europe banks so that you don’t travel with so much cash on hand. Also, back to making friends. I have often just paid cash to a booking agent or promoter or good friend I stay with and they deposit it in their bank and Paypal it to me. You can transfer money to a friend up to a certain amount on Paypal without incurring a fee. A lot of Europeans use and love Paypal; it’s a great way to send money to people for tour expenses (like if they shipped CDs for you, printed up posters for you, etc).
REGISTER YOUR WORKS:
Also something I had no clue about back when I started: the royalties you generate from public performances. I would be in countries and fill out my set list for them to submit to their respective PROs and think “oh cool, I have some money coming back to me” and never saw anything. I had no publishing admin deal back then. I also didn’t understand that I couldn’t collect them from foreign territories without a publishing admin company representing me.
Eventually I did a sub-publishing deal with an indie based in Europe to help me collect those. However, I never saw a dime from them, or a single statement. It is VERY hard to track down those things from our shores. There wouldn’t be enough money there to justify hiring a lawyer to even try and sadly I think most folks know that. When my current PRO (SESAC) began paying for live performances for everyone I began to understand the process a bit more. Eventually they would even send my Europe tour info along to their International collections department; but it’s not their main area, and it was a very imperfect process.
Now I’m registered with Songtrust (who is partnered with CD Baby and anyone can access an admin deal via CD Baby Pro) and I enter all those set lists in directly with them and that money is collected much more quickly and accurately.
And this leads me to the subject of Distribution deals overseas. You don’t need a big distribution deal anymore, of course. You can do it yourself (I use CD Baby, but there are many others out there these days) but there are times when a distribution deal can be worth it.
If an indie label is able to hook you up with a booking agent that can get you on tour with decent gigs, or if they legitimately are paying to promote your album in the places it makes a difference then you have to look at it as a viable option. I have had indie label deals here in the USA and in Europe. Some have been good, some have been bad, some have been something in between. But it can be a huge advantage to have a partner to work with in a country that is still new to you. And also, when you’re touring, you can get your CDs directly from them once you arrive. Therefore avoiding packing a suitcase full of them that you might have to pay extra for or shipping them, which is super expensive nowadays (and that’s not even considering the VAT tax that hits them when they get there).
But you have to get those CDs over there somehow; it’s just something you have to accept. In the places that I tour, people still buy way more CDs than they do here in the USA. It is declining just like it is here, but not as fast.
These are just some of the main things I’ve learned that I wish someone could’ve tipped me on long ago. Some of the lessons were hard, but most of them were fun. Like anything you have to love the process; and I love touring. I love meeting people from other cultures and learning about their lives. Things that worked for me might not work for others and there are doors that open for other artists that don’t work for me. We all tend to flow towards where we feel we are making an impact and being appreciated.
I hope this helps anyone in the middle of trying to figure things out. And good luck out there.