For many independent artists organizing do-it-yourself tours, a common question is, “How can we make more money on tour?” One of the simplest methods: by spending less. Here are some ways you can cut your expenses while on tour which leaves room for more profit.
Whether you’re planning a national, international, or regional tour the goals are the same: earn income while promoting yourself in a familiar or new territory. Reaching out to fans and connecting personally at your concerts are the keys to gaining a dedicated fan base and generating buzz around your band. Admittedly, while overall comfort plays a key role in combatting tour fatigue and maintaining performance levels, sometimes comfort isn’t an option. If tour expenses are outweighing guarantees, try implementing some of these cost-cutting travel techniques tailored for the DIY, self-booking independent artist.
Couch Surfing is the art of being hosted by a local fan or stranger, and is the ultimate form of hospitality. Luckily, there are thousands of people willing to let you stay on their couches, floors, and guest rooms for free! It does involve give and take and some time investment (as does everything meaningful in your career), but this tactic alone can save you thousands of dollars. Start by creating and completing your profile on CouchSurfing.com as a group. Provide pictures, a group bio and individual bios in a very personable manner (ie. NOT your band’s promotional bio). Once you know the dates of your tour, contact potential hosts by sending a personalized message detailing your plans in the city, why you think you would get along, and let them know of any goodies you can offer in return. Possible host treats include adding your host and friends to your guest list, cooking a special dish, brining a unique something from your previous stop, and a copy of your album. Since most hosts can only accommodate a smaller group, if you are traveling with a posse, use multiple hosts. Be respectful, clean up after yourselves, and if there is free time to be had, it is very possible your host will show you their take on their hometown, adding a nice touristic touch to your experience. The system works on references, so to build your credibility, try to host other travelers in your home city or at least attend local events. A nice side effect of hosting is creating a deep connecting to a a foreigner who then will potentially ‘spread the word’ in a different area or country.
Consider contacting your fans via Twitter or Facebook detailing the dates and city of your tour and asking if anyone would be interested in hosting you. Your fans are your biggest supporters and will often be glad to help.
Check with any local bands that you are playing with to see if you could stay at their place. In return let them know that next time they come through your home town they have a free place to stay.
If you can’t make any of the above options work, consider getting a motel room outside of downtown that has a free continental breakfast and double up on beds. Kayak.com is a great search tool for this as it compares rates from many sites, or use Priceline’s Name Your Own Price tool and make the motels fit within your budget. AirBnB.com will provide a similar experience to couch surfing, but you’ll have to pay a nightly rate. And there’s always the option of sleeping in the van…
First off, if your show is catered…enjoy! You may be able to pack some of the left-overs for the road. If not, try to limit yourself and band members to a per diem, remembering that there is no rule that states that you must use the entire amount each day. Saving a few dollars each day will add up, and by the end of the tour the less thrifty band members will stand jealous and amazed by the saver’s take-home.
The grocery store is your ally, and you can easily buy ingredients and meals so the whole band can dine on the cheap. Don’t always order a value meal at fast food restaurants, order only what you need and consider drinking a free cup of water instead of soda. To each his own on the health content of food consumed, but packing some multi-vitamins for the group can help keep your immune systems strong and performers feeling energized. If you’re really doing your planning, follow daily deals on Yipit.com (a deal aggregator) for your tour stops and you could quite possibly avoid paying full price for a meal for the entirety of your tour. Combine this with splitting large portioned meals with one another and everyone is dining for a quarter of the normal price.
Take it easy on your bar tab (if you weren’t able to negotiate free drinks), spending up to $8 per beer each night will drain your income fast. If you must drink, consider saving the drinking for elsewhere where you can buy at retail. Besides, you’re at your merch booth connecting with fans right?
If you will be driving quite a bit, find out if there will be a plethora of Costcos along your route. Gas prices are usually quite a bit cheaper than the average station, and saving a few dollars on each fill up can mean a lot when we’re talking about filling up vans over hundreds of miles. A membership card is needed, so do the math to see if you can justify the $50 initial cost, remembering that it might actually come in handy for other bulk band purchases as well.
Many credit cards offer a ‘cash back’ percentage on gas purchases. Some are tied to specific vendors while others apply to all gas purchases. Find a no-fee card which works best for your band’s account and save up to 5% automatically at each fill-up.
Be sure to also check GasBuddy.com to find the best current prices in a given area.
Of course if you are a band, this is unlikely to work; however, rideshares can be another mode of transportation for solo artists to move about the country while avoiding the woes of vehicle ownership. The pros: no parking fees, less gas fees. The cons: can be unreliable, may be unsafe, timing must be less critical. Another major con is the non-existent to limited public transportation systems in American cities once you arrive. European tours and/or the roaming busker are better suited for this alternative transportation method.
Free wi-fi is abundant, but often there is pressure to buy a $5 latte to enjoy the privilege. To avoid paying data charges on each phone, forking over wireless surcharges at your accommodation, and driving in circles till a wi-fi signal appears, try using mobile internet such as the Clear 4G Rover Puck which creates a mobile hotspot and will allow up to eight wireless connections. Use this as your home internet service as well and essentially your connection travels with you on the road for no additional cost.
Do you have any other money saving tour tips, or a positive or negative experience with any of the tactics mentioned above? Please share in the comments.
Scott Horton helps artists achieve their sonic goals through his online mixing and mastering service Virtual Mix Engineer. Download his FREE report “After The Mix: An Artist’s Guide to Promoting & Exposing Your Recorded Music.” Scott may be reached at studio at virtualmixengineer dot com.