Going on your first tour is an awesome idea in theory, but anyone who’s done it can tell you that there’s plenty of logistics involved that most people don’t think of. As a local artist or band, it’s probably not part of your regular routine – yet. And no one’s begging you to do it – yet. You do want to check off those boxes, however, so at some point, you’re going to have to pull the trigger and go on that first tour.
So how do you make sure that said tour isn’t a complete fucking disaster? Sure, you could Google “how to go on tour” and read twenty Wikihow articles that tell you to bring food, save money, and/or remember to bring your guitar. But if you don’t want general advice and are instead looking for actionable tactics from actual local bands that you can actually use, then I congratulate you for finding this. You’re in the right place.
Full disclosure: I’ve never gone on tour. But don’t worry, you won’t be reading my advice. For this two-parter blog post, I interviewed Bay Area bands Lungs and Limbs and Doctor Striker about their most recent tours in the Bay Area and beyond. From them I learned everything that nobody tells you about local band touring, and I’m here to share their insights with you. This is Part 1 with Lungs and Limbs.
Lungs and Limbs: Research, Show Trades, and Getting Creative
Lungs and Limbs is a San Francisco-based alt pop band, known for their thick, hip-hop-and-80’s-inspired beats, cowboy guitar licks and hook-laden vocals. Their self-released debut EP Lifelike (2015) received positive press from critics in the Bay Area, Boston, LA, Germany and beyond. On December 2nd, 2016, Lungs and Limbs will release their second EP, Big Bang, at their show at SF’s Neck of the Woods. You can listen to the premiere of the EP right now exclusively on Myspace.
I first saw Lungs and Limbs at Slim’s in SF, along with Dangermaker and Survival Guide, back in September. I was a big fan of their futuristic, expansive sound, and an even bigger fan of the band sticker they gave me: a bunch of whales being abducted by UFOs. Dope.
Karina Rousseau, frontman of Lungs and Limbs, graciously shared her takeaways, best practices, and experiences from their fall Northwest tour with Survival Guide.
Location: 7 cities in Oregon and Washington
Length: 10 days
Purpose: To do their first joint tour with another project (Survival Guide)
Describe Your Tour in 3 Words: “Super. Duper. Fun.”
#1 Secret to a Successful Tour?: “Having a good time. If you’re going into it to really have as full of an experience as you can, you can’t really go wrong. You’re gonna play better, you’re gonna feel better. Prioritize making the most out of the experience.”
Top 5 Takeaways:
- Get a friend to help.
- Give bands a reason to play with you.
- Always be ready to sell.
- Get creative with venues and lodging.
- Cover your bases.
1. Get a friend who likes your music to help you with the bill.
Karina: “It’s ideal if you can find a friend who’s excited about your project and can help you do research about locations and bands to play with. Lungs and Limbs did most of the booking ourselves, but we had a friend help us surf SoundCloud for bands with similar sounds to ours, make some connections, and message people in different cities.”
2. Give bands a reason to play a show with you in their town.
Karina: “When building a bill, it can be hard to find bands who are willing to take a band from out-of-town. On how to sell yourself to a band when you’re not from the area? It’s different with everyone, but some reasons include:
- If you have a sound they actually like.
- If those bands are trying to tour in your area.
If it’s the latter, you can offer to do a show trade in your area. Show trades are usually a good way to get in, but it’s not always possible, so it’s good to think about other things you can do to hit someone back. For example, if you can’t offer a band a show trade, you can give them a list of other people they can hit up in the area.”
Author’s note: This advice is very much in line with the universal marketing principle of “offering value”. What can you offer a band that will make it worthwhile for them? Always offer value.
3. Always be ready to sell.
Karina: “Don’t worry if you don’t make a profit. If you can earn back your gas money and break even on tour, you’re doing a great job. Be on top of your merch sales. Even if it’s one CD or T-shirt, be ready to sell it at a moment’s notice. Selling five shirts can pay your gas for the day and make all the difference.”
4. Get creative with venues and lodging.
Karina: “When choosing venues, we connected with our friends and other bands who would recommend their favorite venues. We also got creative. We connected with the city of Seattle to organize a show in a public park. Those are cool because you don’t need to draw an audience – there’s a built-in crowd. We played at a bowling alley, and an acoustic set in a used collectible bookstore. Think outside the typical bar and club venues.”
On venues: “We had a friend who gave us access to a Crossfit gym as a place to stay. They had a parking lot, showers, and a big open warehouse gym space all night long to use for practice space.”
5. Cover your bases.
Karina: “Small things can go wrong. After we drove to Oregon, we realized that two of us had expired driver’s licenses. No one thinks of this, but if you’re playing at bars, your IDs should be up to date. We almost couldn’t play at some venues. Make sure you cover your bases, check the venue sound system, and leave for shows on time.”
Got more tour questions for Karina? Lungs and Limbs is having their EP release show along with Vast Wild and their tour partner, Survival Guide, this Friday December 2nd at Neck of the Woods. I recommend hitting up both Karina and Emily Whitehurst (of Survival Guide) for more actionable advice on organizing and running a tour. Tell them I sent you!
Stay tuned for Part 2 of “The Local Band Tour Advice No One Gave You” with Paul Striker, frontman of Doctor Striker. Paul and I discuss house parties, internet promotion hacks, and how to organize and play packed shows out of town. Trust me: you will want to read this one.
Have valuable insight into music marketing? Want me to promote your show, venue, or open mic? Interested in writing a guest blog post? Shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and Lex Talk Music.