In the following article, an experienced musician—who’s experienced the ups and downs of live touring—gives you three tips to keep in mind when booking tours for your act and three things to focus on if you get booked to play a festival.
By Antonio Ponce
We tend to put some things on a giant pedestal if we don’t know how to perform them. The more we keep putting it off the bigger the mountain gets, to the point where you give up before you even try. Booking a tour might be one of those things for many musicians. When you just started playing shows or have gotten comfortable playing shows in your local area, the thought of expansion to other markets can be frightening. A lot of questions and self-doubt will show up, how do you even do it? Will anybody take me seriously? Are we even ready for this step?
Here are 3 tips to keep in mind when you are first booking tours:
• Where and how to book shows? A great quote I came across recently sums it up nicely: “success leaves crumbs.” When we booked our first tour we followed the crumbs of other bands that had the success we were looking for. We knew of a local indie band that had successfully toured North America and Europe. On their social media pages we found the cities and venues they played. We contacted bands and venues in those areas to set up shows. A month after we started contacting we had a summer tour booked across Canada.
• Don’t let the “No’s” get you down. As a no name band from another province/state/country, you will hear “no” more than “yes.” But that “yes” you get will be amazing after so many “no’s.” We contacted many venues, bands and show promoters to set up shows and got told “no thanks at least 10 times before getting a “yes.” Sometimes we got lucky and got only three “no’s” before a “yes” in cities we were trying to get a show booked. In any city there are multiple music venues including, bars, a music festival, halls, people’s houses and basically anywhere a band would be allowed to play music. Your tour can look a variety of ways. If all the music venues say “no,” move on to other venues.
• Focus on marketing the show. Booking tours is fairly easy if you put some effort and time into it. Once the shows are booked you need to focus on filling the rooms. Don’t rely just on the venue or the bands taking part in the show. The last thing you want to happen is putting all that effort to book a tour only to play to empty rooms. Contact any family or friends in the area to help get the word out. Hire a publicist to help get some media coverage for you in the cities you are playing shows in. If it’s in your budget, hire a company or group of people to also help put posters around town or market to their friends. Contact other bands in the area to let them know about your show. Find groups you could possibly collaborate with like student groups, music associations and anything else you can think of. The more people that know about your event, the more likely you will have a crowd to perform for. Use this as a rule: for your marketing, for every 10 people that are made aware of your show, maybe one will attend.
Playing a Music Festival
If you ever get the honor of being invited to play a music festival, you must do everything in your power to get there. Most festival showcases are attended by people who have the power to change your musical destiny, and it would be a shame to miss that opportunity.
Here are 3 things to focus on when performing at a music festival:
• Be professional. This will be the music industry’s first introduction to you and first impressions are impactful. You want to show that you are easy to work with, on time to soundcheck and for your performance times. Basically don’t cause any grief for the festival; the word will get around and you may find yourself blacklisted. You may have a great sound, but nobody is going to want to work with you if you are horrible to be around.
• Prepare a solid show. This is the type of opportunity most musicians dream of, the chance to showcase your music to music labels, managers and high-level music media. Once you get your set list, practice as much as possible so your show is tight, with no leaks or fat. You will also need to fill the room for your show as much as possible. This might mean hiring extra help to market your showcase times. If you are playing a festival with multiple venues in a city, do what you can to get the people from labels and high-level media to attend your show. I would try to find their contact information and invite them personally, if possible.
• Network and Market. Playing a festival also presents a great opportunity to connect with great bands, fans, music media and others involved in the music industry. These connections could prove to be priceless in the future. Attend the shows and chat with other bands and venue staff. Go to the different panel presentations and events the festival may have. You won’t have a better opportunity to shake hands and chat with industry people who would likely never open your email. You should also have some type of marketing material to give out to everyone you meet. We had a business card with our contact information and where they could find our music. Also don’t forget to take down their information. Send everyone you met a note saying it was great meeting them at the festival.
ANTONIO PONCE, author of Don't Forget the Business in the Music Business, was a founding member and drummer of the Edmonton rock band NN. Since leaving the band he has been involved in a variety of businesses including a clothing company, a retail store and renewable energy systems.
For more information, visit apjonespublishing.com.