Written by Taylor Pile
OMG you’re going on tour? Congrats!
It can be one of the best experiences of your life. However, if your tour isn’t managed correctly, that show in Austin, TX, that you’ve been looking forward to all these months might not happen. Have you changed your oil? Can your van make it the entire distance of the tour without breaking down? Have you confirmed ALL of your dates with the booking agent AND club manager? These are all things we’ll be covering in this article.
There are a lot of things to take care of before your band will make it across the country and back, but let’s start with the most important part of your journey: THE FUCKING VAN. Some of the best advice that can be given is to pick the furthest destination from home, take your van to an auto mechanic and ask them to make sure it is safe for its voyage across the states. I can’t even begin to stress how important it is to get everything taken care of before you leave your hometown, regardless of the cost. If you break down in let’s say, North Dakota, you are going to have bigger problems than your pocketbook, like YOUR ENTIRE TOUR.
Once you’ve made sure your van is safe for the road, the journey of making your vehicle bearable while you’re out has just begun. Do you have an aux cable, or at least a CD player? The radio can get incredibly monotonous, especially in the middle of the country. If there is any room in your budget, install a CD player with a spot for an aux cable. You can easily buy the CD player and install everything yourself for about $140.
Air conditioning can be crucial depending on what time of year it is. From personal experience, AC isn’t incredibly necessary if you’re touring in February or March. On the other side of things, say a June or July tour perhaps, AC can be a life saver. Open windows simply just won’t cut it when it’s 90 degrees and you haven’t showered in three days.
A GPS is an absolute must. One that tracks traffic is especially great because it will give you the ability to estimate time of arrival at the next venue. Giving the GPS a name and yelling at it when things are getting stressful helps as well. On top of that, it might not hurt to get one that is tough enough to endure a few “throwing episodes.”
The Trailer (If Applicable)
Even if you have enough room in your van for band members and equipment, things will inevitably get claustrophobic. In other words, a trailer is highly recommended. A decent used one can be purchased off the Internet for around $600 bucks. If your tour isn’t especially lengthy, a Uhaul trailer isn’t the worst of ideas – they usually run around $20 dollars per day. Regardless of where you get your trailer, MAKE SURE that the left blinker, right blinker, and break lights are all working properly before you drive off with it! Checking tire pressure and for loose lug nuts is a must as well. The trailer can be just as much of a burden on your tour as your van (it is after all, carrying all your gear). If anything seems off about the trailer (rust, excessive wear and tear, etc.) make sure you have it checked by a mechanic immediately!
So your van is safe and comfortable, you’ve named your GPS, and your trailer’s lights are working. Now let’s talk about things you can do to help make extended driving time as enjoyable as possible. Below are some things I have picked up in the past couple years.
Kill, Fuck, Marry
This game can go on for hours, and the rules are basic: Pick three people and you have to kill one, have sex with one, and marry one.
Would You Rather
While this classic may seem a bit immature, it can get very difficult — and hilarious — if your band is creative enough. The rules are simple: just ask any question in the genre of “Would you rather?” For instance would you rather sleep in a litter box for a week or watch Creed music videos with the band for an entire day?
This is where you can be creative and come up with things to keep you interested that are specific to your band. For instance, on my last tour with VISIONS, we collected different types of hot sauce at every food stop/restaurant we went to. The results were tremendous and I now have an incredibly vast knowledge of America’s hot sauces.
Merchandise, merchandise, merchandise. The way I see it, going on any tour for longer than a couple weeks without merch makes very little sense, as its sale will probably be the largest (if not the only) source of gas money. Diversification of merchandise is also important, because the more items you have available (and unique items at that), the more you will ultimately sell. It is essential to budget how much money you’ll need for gas to get you from state to state before the tour begins, and factoring reasonable merch sales into this equation will go a long way in helping you know what to expect. In my experience, selling 20 shirts per show can usually get you to your next destination. Merch is especially important if you are a supporting act, or splitting door money in half with another band. In either case, merch and album sales are some of the only real ways to have a profitable tour.
Depending on the size of your tour, you might want to consider having merch specific to the name of your tour, i.e shirts that say “Visions of Kody Summer Luvin’ Tour 2010.” However, this makes sense only if your band is very confident they can sell a pretty sizeable amount of merch. If you have tour-specific items left at the end of tour, it’s likely they won’t sell. The leftover shirts are only good for when; A) a girl stays over and needs something to wear that will make her walk of shame less obvious, or; B) you run out of clean laundry.
Putting cash from the door and your merch/album sales in your wallet isn’t the best idea. You need a specific way to differentiate your personal money from what money the band is actually making. A secure way to manage your cash is to bring along a lock box or small fire safe. You can usually get a good one for about $20 online. Getting a lock box is easy, but the most important part is that everyone in your band has a key to it. Face it, we all lose keys, especially while on a national tour where you have a million different things to think about. It’s also important to keep someone posted at the merch table When the lockbox is out in the open to make sure no one walks off with it. Because that would suck…
A compliment to your lockbox is the Square App. What is Square? Square is a stupidly simple credit card reader that you can plug into the auxiliary plug of your iPhone, iPad, Droid, etc. You swipe a fan’s credit card and they deposit the money directly into your band’s bank account. The software and hardware portions of Square are both completely free, though the service does take 2.75% percent of each sale. In my opinion this is not very much considering how many people are using credit cards these days. Not to mention the app can also keep track of all your cash transactions, and even includes a tipping feature! If you’re the type that likes things digital, Square is also capable of emailing receipts to people that buy your merch.
Let’s face it, while it is possible, brushing your teeth in a moving vehicle sucks. Bring mouthwash for all those times you want fresh breath but don’t want to hassle with a tooth brush going 80 mph.
Ketchup, Hot Sauce, anything to make the shitty drive through food you’re eating mildly interesting.
C’mon… don’t be a dick and make everyone else in the van smell you for two months.
As far as clothing goes, the main things you need are socks and underwear. Those are the two things that can truly get disgusting if your band mates get too lazy to do their laundry.
And speaking of laundry, make sure you bring plenty of quarters. A lot of laundromats in bumblefuck Tennessee (no offense to anyone from Bumblefuck, TN)don’t have change machines. Keep in mind that change isn’t specific to laundry either, it can also keep you entertained during those four hours you have between sound check and your set. i.e Big Buck Hunter, Pac-Man, etc.
Tour Logistics & Finances
Confirm Confirm Confirm!
Now that you have some ideas to keep you entertained in your mildly comfortable, SAFE van, I’ll tell you something that is an ABSOLUTE MUST. Before leaving for your next destination, call the promoter of your next show and make sure that A) the show is actually happening; B) there will be parking; and C) you’re on the same page about load-in time and sound check. Always plans for traffic, because anything can happen on the road.
Another crucial piece of advice is to always ask the promoter for money due to you, even if you only played to a crowd of four. A lot of times, venues/bars have a budget to pay bands regardless of draw.
Keep track of show details, sales, & expenses! Here’s the day sheet that our band uses to keep track of show details. My suggestion is to print one out for each show and put it in a binder. This document can help you keep track of all the money you make from merch and spend on gas, but it doesn’t end there.
Download Indie Ambassador’s day sheet here!
Get a small zip-lock bag (or for the digital types, try shoeboxed) and put your receipts for EVERYTHING in it, including partying. This will make writing off tour expenses much easier come tax time. Doing so will also ensure that once your tour is over you can do the math to see what your expenses were, and if your tour was profitable.
For instance, you’ll be able to tell if that day off in New Orleans was a good idea…wait, of course it was.