Touring tips for DIY musicians: tweet-sized advice from the CD Baby community

Photo from Magnet Magazine
Photo from Magnet Magazine

It’s springtime, so naturally touring is on the brain

CD Baby’s Twitter chat in April was all about touring.

Then Kevin Breuner and I had a discussion on the DIY Musician Podcast about our best touring advice.

In that same week Carlos Castillo sent me an article with tips on how to sell more merch on tour.

After all that touring talk, we thought it’d be a good idea to write a kind of summary article with lots of tweet-sized advice taken from those three sources (plus a few more peppered in for good measure).

There’s a lot to juggle when planning and executing a DIY tour. Some of it is common sense. Some of it isn’t. If you’re thinking about booking a tour, or just about to head out on the road, read through these quick tips. It’ll be a good refresher.

Things to remember when booking your tour

Ask fans WHERE you should play in their cities. Write those venues & tell them your fans are willing to show up.

Keep your booking emails short: who you are, what dates you’re looking to play, your draw, and links to music/videos/press/bio.

Don’t be afraid to use your past gig success to negotiate better splits with talent buyers and promoters.

Secure a few high-paying gigs to anchor the tour & then book riskier gigs around those anchor dates.

Routing is key: don’t waste gas or time driving between distant cities. Gas is money. Time is money.

Play smaller venues than you would in your hometown. A sold-out small venue is better than a big empty venue.

Check out IndieOnTheMove.com and photos from venues’ social media or websites to see if the room is right for you.

Look for unconventional venues for off-peak nights: house concerts, retail stores, churches, co-ops, etc.

Use data (CD Baby sales, iTunes trending reports, etc.) to see where you’ll have a reliable draw. Book shows in those towns.

Getting your foot in the door

Put together a compelling line-up and present the whole package for the night to improve your chances of getting the gig.

Gig swap with bands from other cities. You open for them in their town. They open for you in yours.

Day of the show

If you’re not driving to the next gig, don’t waste your day: go promote; play an in-store or in-studio; busk!

Touring is not a vacation. You’re in a city for one day, make the most of every second.

Find local press, bloggers, radio stations, colleges, record stores, or other locations that will let you play for them.

Getting to the venue

Be punctual. Practice your load-in and setup before you hit the road so you can be as efficient as possible.

If you set up before everyone else, help your fellow bandmates set up their gear, clear cases from the stage, etc.

The sound engineer, the bartenders, the door guy — it’s their job day in and day out. Treat them with respect.

Have a stage plot and input list (with band members’ names) to give to the sound person. It’ll make their job easier.

After the gig

Remember to say thank you to all the employees who worked that night.

Follow up with a Thank You email to the talent buyer… but don’t expect a response.

How to settle up

The person you settle up with after the show might not be the talent buyer. Don’t expect them to know all the details.

Print out your contract/email/agreement for every show. You might need to reference it in case of discrepancies while settling up.

Ask questions if something doesn’t seem right about the post-gig payment, but be respectful. Don’t burn bridges.

Costs for sound, door guy, catering, & marketing may come out of your $$. This is normal, but make sure they’re not ripping you off.

Merch

Sell merch items your fans want to buy. Don’t make stuff they don’t want. Not sure which is which? Ask them!

Your merch booth must be portable, well-lit, highly visible, easily accessible, and staffed at all times.

Give the person who mans your merch booth a cut of sales to show appreciation and keep them motivated.

Break your merch booth down LAST. People might have extra cash on-hand after closing out at the bar.

When you’re not on stage, be at your merch booth. Meeting fans and selling merch is more important than partying.

Price per merch item can differ from gig to gig. Corporate party? Charge more. Dive bar? Charge less.

Don’t be afraid of bundling merch items at a discount.

Random thoughts

Something unique (new album, covers record, different band setup, etc.) in conjunction w/ every tour=more press opportunities.

Shower. Your bandmates and fans will thank you. Can’t find a shower? Look HERE.

Eat healthy. Keep the drink or drugs to a minimum. Long tours wreak havoc on your mind & body if you party non-stop.

Logistical stuff

Keep an inventory list of all your gear and merch. Make sure everything gets loaded out at the end of the night.

Sign up for AAA, and don’t lock your keys in the van!

If you CAN bring your expensive gear into the hotel room every night, do it. No stolen instruments!

If you can, get a room on 1st floor w/ an outside entrance. Back your van up as close to hotel as possible.

Always play your best, no matter how many people are in the audience. Make them happy they showed up.

Don’t tour if you’re not ready. Touring can exacerbate your own issues and worsen existing issues within your band.

If you do tour: get ready for unforgettable moments of triumph and humiliation. It’s work, but have fun!

What would you add to this list of tweet-sized touring tips? Let us know in the comments below.

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