We’ve written many-a-post on Grassrootsy about booking shows and tours. Today’s article comes from full-time touring artist Shenandoah Davis (shared by our friends at Pyragraph). This chick knows what she’s talking about! Her thoughts and suggestions on how to properly book a tour from start to finish are insightful and helpful…especially for readers who are new to the game and like things spelled out. Read today’s post and let us know what you think!
Author’s Note: I have spent about three of the last five years on constant tour with my own project and Seattle band Grand Hallway. I book tours. I’ve booked eleven of my own tours in the continental US, and worked with promoters and booking agencies on trips to Europe, New Zealand, and Japan. These tours have included house shows, venue shows, and everything in between.
6 MONTHS PRIOR TO TOUR
Most venues start to fill up about 4 months in advance, so you should have your tentative dates mapped out about 6 months before you plan to leave.
After you have your potential dates in each city, begin scouting out venues in each city and gather their contact info. I always try to schedule drives of 7 hours or less (although in the Midwest, it’s not always possible); on one very long tour in particular, I managed to play almost twenty shows in California alone (leaving plenty of time for swimming, thrift store visits, and three nice sit-down meals a day).
Now is a good time to set your priorities: Do you want to cover as much ground as possible, play as many shows as possible, focus on a certain metropolitan area, or get back home by a certain date?
Write your booking e-mail.
Do include links to your music or electronic press kit (many venues have specific information they want to receive, so check the booking page of their website and tailor each e-mail directly to that venue). Include a basic description of your band, any notable acts you’ve played with, and give them a couple of dates to choose from. See “BOOKING: WRITING THE PERFECT EMAIL PITCH“.
4-5 MONTHS PRIOR TO TOUR
Send out your booking e-mails.
Try to contact at least three places in each city. Now is also a good time to reach out to any musician friends you have in the cities you’re traveling to and ask them either if they’d be willing to play a show with you while you’re in town or if they have any recommendations on venues or bands.
Keep track of your booking e-mails.
I typically do this in a spreadsheet, including the date I contacted them and the dates requested. Give folks a week or so, then send a short follow-up (including any availability changes as you begin to confirm shows). See “HOW DO I FOLLOW UP WITH A VENUE THAT HASN’T RETURNED MY EMAIL?”
Draft a press release.
Whether it’s your first time or your tenth time visiting a city, you will get many more curious faces in the crowd if you get an article in the alt-weekly, or at least a shout-out from a music-minded blog. It should include information from your bio (how your band got together, your most recent release, anything you deem extra-special about you), and a hi-res photo. Here is a great template for writing a tour-specific press release. Also check out “WRITING A PRESS RELEASE – PR 101“.
2-3 MONTHS PRIOR TO TOUR
At this point, you should have at least half of your shows booked. If not, it’s time to get a little creative.
Fill in the gaps.
Check local calendars for other events coming up in the town that you could potentially hitch onto. A farmer’s market with a stage set up? An open mic night that might host you in a featured slot? A fancy house show network? Sure, shows like this aren’t as exciting or high-profile as playing at the town’s largest, coolest venue, but shows like these are a good way to rustle up a bit of gas money to get you from city to city, and also a good way to find at least a few kindred spirits who like your music and may help you book a “real” show on your next trip (or at least show up and bring a few friends).
Despite new music-discovery websites popping up all of the time (Last.fm, Reverbnation,Grooveshark, Rdio, and Pandora to name a few of the larger ones), word-of-mouth remains most people’s favorite way to discover new music. “Gap-filling” shows I’ve played include public libraries, private elementary schools and art openings; while touring in New Zealand, on our scheduled days off, the four of us would roll into a small town, split up and go pitch our “international touring band” to bars and restaurants downtown to see if they wanted some live entertainment during their dinner hour.
We once rolled a piano that was part of an art installation across a cobblestone street to play an impromptu set in front of a restaurant, where they ended up feeding us and paying us a few hundred dollars. Surprise shows like this also help break up the monotony of going from venue to venue, sound check to sound check.
Make some new merchandise.
Sure, you have a CD that you sell at shows, but do you have T-shirts? Silk-screened posters? Coffee mugs? Acoustic EPs? Any other weird stuff? On the road, you’re likely to gain a few instant fans who want to support you however they can, and some benevolent people do that through buying your cool-looking stuff. Consider making a tour-only item or something with a very limited quantity — not only is it a great way to drum up some extra funds, but your audience will appreciate having something special that they can only buy directly from you.
In the past, I’ve made short runs (usually 50 or less) of 7-inch records, EPs filled with 90s cover songs, tote bags, baby clothing, coffee mugs. . . you can make whatever you want. If you sell them, great, if you don’t, you eventually will.
Send out your press release.
Remember when you sent out your booking e-mail to a few venues in every city? There’s no reason not to send that press release to every single music journalist and blogger in the town you’re visiting. Send a little note along with the press release, and offer to do a phone interview. That means include your phone number.
Try to set up in-studios.
Check with local radio stations to see if you can drop in the afternoon of your show and play a few songs. This is a great way to drum up a last-minute audience (and also a great way to get your music to a radio station). If you set one up early in advance, mail them a CD as well; if not, leave a few while you’re packing up from your in-studio.
1 MONTH PRIOR TO TOUR
Advance your shows.
Find out how you will get paid for each show to avoid confusion the night of the show. Ask if they are able to provide dinner or sleeping arrangements. Know how they deal with guest lists and drink tickets. Know what time they expect you to be there to sound check. All of this seems pretty elementary, but asking in advance makes everything flow much more smoothly when you get to the venue, ESPECIALLY since the person who booked the show is often not at the show. Don’t take it personally, but don’t hesitate to show the advance email you received from the person who booked the show to the bartender/sound person/whoever is paying you at the end of the night if there are any discrepancies.