I believe that good information should be spread and even though I do booking for bands, I’m not afraid to share, step-by-step, how I go about this process. That’s what this music blog is all about, partnering up with artists to take the next step. I hope this helps your music career.
This is a more concise version of an earlier post which you can read here. I recommend you read that one too.
Once you’ve decided that you want to and are able to tour (and you’ve figured out the why’s), it’s time to plan the how, when, and where’s. This is what I do.
- Decide on a Date Range. I strongly recommend that you plan, at minimum, 4-6 months in advance. Booking a tour requires months of contacting, follow-up work, and filling in gaps. Some venues book at least 6 months out in advance, some only one month at a time. You’ll also need plenty of time to market, promote, and contact local press.
- Choose Your Tour Route. Decide the general direction where you’d like to go. Chances are that you will probably have to make adjustments along the way. Some cities are easier to book than others. Decide how much you want to drive per day (I recommend spacing venues out 50-400 miles apart, depending on the region). and if you want any days off. Big cities have more venues to choose from but often times require a “pay to play” option or will hardly pay you at all. Smaller towns outside of the city tend to pay more and are sometimes easier to book. I also recommend sticking to major highways (such as booking along I-5).
- Begin Contacting Venues. Start by looking for venues along your tour route. Websites like Indie on the Move, byofl.org, and onlinegigs.com are free, searchable databases. You can also buy more details (and sometimes reliable) information from Billboard Music (they offer a touring guide for about $20), The Indie Venue Bible (about $100), and more. Most promoters prefer email. Some still use Myspace, some use the phone, some have their own contact form. Whatever it is, find out their preference and stick to it. Don’t use one generic message or method (nobody like spam) and answering the question on their mind: How will you make the venue money? How will you bring people in the door? No venue cares about how “good” your show is if you’ll be playing for an empty room. Nearly every venue would rather hire the crappy local band that can sell the place out over a touring, professional band that can’t even get their guest list to show up.
- Follow Up With the Venues. Most promoters are inundated with messages and are constantly juggling dates, bands, rentals, and other events. Get a confirmation, make sure you are on their website. Check in to see if they want posters mailed to them, see if there are local media contacts you should be following up with. If a promoter gave you a “hold,” find out what you need to make it a confirmed show. Follow-up again one more time before you leave for tour.
- If You Have Gaps…and chances are, you will…have a back-up plan. If a show doesn’t pan out and if want to fill the date, start thinking creatively. You can contact nearby towns, check Craigslist to see if someone wants live music for their party or corporate event. If you’re out of venues, try doing a search on Yelp or Google Maps for live music. Contact local radio stations, record shops, bookstores, skate shops, church groups, roller skate arenas, restaurants, malls, any place where you might make a good fit. Hot Topic used to allow touring bands to do an acoustic set (some stores still do). Ask your friends/fans in the area if they want to do a house party. Or, begin contacting all of the venues you already reached out to and see if something opened up. Get in touch with bands in the area to see if they can help do a gig-swap.
The most important thing to remember is that this takes patience, consistency, follow-up, and a little bit of salesmanship. Keep at it everyday. Set up an appointment with yourself to contact venues, promoters, etc. for at least 1-2 hours per day (and more as you get closer). Never miss that appointment.
If you are consistent and tour often, you’ll begin building relationships with promoters and it becomes easier and easier. Then who knows? Maybe you’ll begin booking for other bands. That’s how I got started.
Simon Tam is owner of Last Stop Booking, a full service agency that offers tour booking and music consulting services. Simon has appeared on stage at over 1,200 live events and has traveled North America presenting ideas about the music industry. Simon’s writing on music and marketing can be found at www.laststopbooking.com