Unsigned And Social – Touring On A Shoestring Budget
April 1, 2019
Music Think Tank in Advice, Advice, Finance, Independent, Touring, budget, finances, touring

Guest post by Willa B.

Recently, my band, Storm the Palace, did a weekend tour in England, in the London area. The whole thing offered some good general takeaways for getting the most out of a short space of time when you don’t have much money, being your own PR machine, and utilising the differences inherent to every venue.


1) Grassroots promo – If you’re small and unsigned there can never be too much promotion. It’s great when venues help you out by putting up posters (obtained by you) and giving a few shouts on social media, but nothing works like the personal touch. Text your friends. Make sure they know you’ll still love them if they don’t go, but sound believable when you say how good it would be to see them and hear their opinions. Everyone wants to feel needed and you really do need them.


2) Brush up on your cultural geography – This tour consisted of shows in and around London. One of the first things we learned however, was not to mistake places near London for part of London. The kind crowd in Uxbridge politely but firmly confirmed that Uxbridge is most definitely not part of London. If any of your band members know locals, ask them for information about how the town you’re visiting sees itself. Forewarned is forearmed and if you really do your homework you can even make up jokes specific to the local area which is a sure-fire crowd pleaser (so long as you don’t offend anyone).  Each gig provided drastically different audiences and one of the most rewarding aspects to putting on a show is quickly reading your audience and gauging their reactions to your material. For example, at the first show, filled with stately older folks, we did not perform our expletive filled new single, and we kept jokes about dinosaur erotica to a minimum. For our next gig on the other hand, it was all about the horny lizards and the sweary puppy song. At our support slot final gig we kept chat short and pithy as the crowd was there for volume and fun in the ramp up to the headline act of Imperial Wax.


3) Plan Ahead – It’s unsexy but essential. Spreadsheets may even be your friend. Makes lists and tables, double check yourself, plan out the budget and add in wiggle room where money is concerned, always round up the costs. Account for problems for emergencies (flat tire,  getting lost, road block by sheep, etc.) A week or two before the tour check in with all the places you’re staying and all the venues. This will ensure you don’t end up with, for example, no drum kit or no bed.


4) Find a Driver – Or, in our case, beg one of your parents to do it for free. We have done tours where one of the band members had to do all the driving and it worked but he was tired by the end. Having someone to drive, especially in a city as crazy as London, does wonders for the overall stress level of the band. However, the challenges of parking should be taken into consideration as nothing ruins a gig faster than the knowledge that you’ve run up a £60 parking ticket while trying to bring the beauty of your music to a city. Also, if you’ve hired a van, make sure you read ALL the instructions for turning the back seats around before you remove them entirely from their bases.


5) Know People – This is a basic rule for any indie band. You simply cannot get where you want to without good friends and family because they are your first, and your most faithful, fans. If you’re an unsigned indie band touring in any kind of big city accommodation will be a problem but this can be overcome by a firm support network. Our fearless band leader/singer/guitarist has strong ties to London and so was able to find places for us to stay at each location, only one of them had to be paid for, one place even came with a bonus ancient cat. So whenever you travel pay attention to what people say and learn from them. They could be your ticket to a new place for your band to stay, and a new fanbase to boot.


6) Be Nice to Your Bandmates - Be aware that everyone is working hard with very little reward to make this happen, and you all have to share a very small space. So do your part to make sure that you all have fun. Because if it’s not fun there’s really no point. Be kind and considerate toward your bandmates, and apologetic where necessary. Encourage each other, and be aware how your mood might affect the atmosphere in the van, or the stage, or the hotel room. Even if you’re having a tough day, try and stay smiling, because everyone is tired. And if you’re lucky enough not to be the person who’s done all the advance planning, try not to make last minute or unreasonable demands of the person who has.


7) Be Willing to Sacrifice – No band is going to make it without a lot of love from its members and that love is mainly demonstrated through dedication to travel and practice, and a willingness to chip in monetarily once in a while. It’s also a certain amount of acceptance that sometimes, especially in the early days, breaking even is the best you can hope for. That’s okay. While I would never dream of touting anything for ‘the exposure’ every tour and gig will increase your network of helpful people as well as your fanbase and, if you play your cards right, will in the end produce an unstoppable beast of support you can rely on and nurture.


Willa B. is a bass player and backing vocalist for Storm the Palace, an indie/baroque/pop band from Edinburgh. You can listen to their music, including new single Give Me My F*cking Puppy You Bastard at https://stormthepalace.bandcamp.com/

 

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