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The Legalities Of Touring

You’ve read these tour articles a thousand times — I’ve written plenty of them. By this point it’s no surprise that touring is hard. It’s no surprise that touring is expensive. And it’s no surprise that making your money back doesn’t often happen for DIY bands on their first couple of trips.

That said however, there are legalities to consider. A band is a business, whether you want it to be or not. A tour is a venture. And musicians are people who bring their own lives and difficulties to the table. So when you’re looking to tour, consider some of the legal problems that could stop you from being able to fully experience or continue to tour in the future!

Band or Business?

If you’re selling merch or getting paid for shows, then your band has officially become a business. If you start getting a lot more than you put in — as in, you’re netting over $400 — then you are legally required to pay taxes on that. Thankfully, there are some easy write offs in this case: vehicle maintenance, travel expenses, and food.

Now, if you’re selling merch, you and your bandmates may want to talk amongst yourselves about whether or not you want to register the band legally as a business. You may have to adhere to certain laws — for instance, if at any point you were making a killing and had people working for you full time, you may have to get them insurance coverage, like any other small business. So think carefully before you make this official, because while it may be a good idea on one hand, it could be a lot more than you bargained for.

Past Haunts

Musicians are people too, with criminal records and mistakes in their past. Just because you’re an artist doesn’t mean you’ve never messed up or been in trouble with the law. This can make international touring difficult sometimes, as other countries are hesitant to allow foreigners in with bad records. Similarly, you may have trouble leaving the state even with a fellow musician that’s on parole. Each situation is different, but you absolutely want to be careful if you know a band member has been in trouble with the law, because it could affect the distances your band is able to go (physically and metaphorically alike).

Now, maybe it’s not a felony or crime  that tarnishes your reputation in this case, but something more legally financial. For instance, maybe someone in your band has bad credit. Bad credit is credit scores of around 300-500, and it can get in the way of acquiring insurance (instrument and vehicles), qualifying for van rentals, and honestly may require you to consider whether you can trust them to cover costs with the rest of your band. Just something to keep in mind!

Casualties of Locality

Different states have different laws. And police officers love to go after out-of-state visitors, so tread carefully. Educate yourself on traffic and vehicle laws, as well as alcohol and drug laws. For instance, marijuana isn’t legal in all 50 states right now, and if you’re caught smoking it in the wrong place, you can be fined heavily or sent to jail.

Similarly, if you’re playing house shows and other DIY spaces, you may find yourself dealing with sound ordinance laws and curfews. Be aware of such things, as, again: If you’re out of state, you’re kind of a cop magnet (especially with a sketchy van). Also, be aware of the danger in the places you’re playing. Some places attract instrument and gear thiefs more than others, and as far as the law goes, they don’t really do much for touring musicians very often.

Now, a different kind of locality should be mentioned: your own. What should you do with your home if you start touring a lot through the year? I’ve met touring musicians that are, for all intents and purposes, homeless. They keep their things in storage and couch surf when they’re home. If you are touring more than you’re home, it might be a good idea to consider a less permanent home. Buying a home and having a mortgage are probably not the best ideas if you are barely making enough to eat, like a lot of musicians starting out. Renting a place is less permanent and you’re not as tied down financially, though over time it can add up to be more than normal house payments, especially considering the extra fees lumped on every time you get a new place. Ultimately, do the math: does the amount you pay for your living situation work with how many months you’re gone? Evaluate and choose accordingly.

What legal concerns did I skip over here for touring musicians? Let me know on Twitter @Robolitious.


The Legalities Of Touring

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