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Advice for Emerging
ARTISTS & MUSICIANS

Ask The Tour Manager... November 2014

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Over the last couple of weeks we have been plying you with lots of advice through our #FundYourFuture campaign about how you can make 2015 a success. From where to spend £1000 on your music, to what the top UK music venues were in 2014 we are covering all bases so you can plan for the next 12 months.

Touring is often one of the most rewarding parts of making music; getting on the road with your mates, travelling from town to town and playing your music for your fans. However it is expensive and if you're not careful you can quite easily dig yourselves into a bit of a financial hole. So we thought we'd put together a blog on where you can save money while touring, and then we thought why not just ask an actual Tour Manager a bunch of questions, so we did.

So let me introduce Neil Ward. He's done numerous UK and European tours with bands ranging from Brit Award winners to emerging indies and has seen pretty much everything on the road. From van break downs to band break ups, he has a wealth of knowledge that he is more than happy to pass on.

Let's get started...

1. What are the biggest areas where bands can save money when touring?

Firstly I must say that whilst there are scores of books and online information about touring I'll come at this from mainly a DIY perspective; that meaning, a band with no direct financial support in the "traditional" sense ie. record label.

The major costs in early touring are travel and accommodation. That's where you can cut costs. Play shows in places where you know you will have somewhere to sleep. You may or may not scratch £50 for a show which needs to be spent on travel or the show doesn't happen. Regularly engage with fans online and ask for places to stay. These people become part of your formative experiences and it builds relationships. You thank them with free tickets and some merch and that person will be singing your praises for the long haul saying that [INSERT BAND NAME] stayed at their gaff before they were big.

In terms of travel the most important thing is have a driving license. If you're 16/17 and are serious about music then having that little pink card will help you infinitely more than a shiny new amp that's probably too loud for the shows you're playing and too big for the vehicle you're in. I saw DJ Semtex speaking at a music conference once and he said this "How's about this week you don't buy those one hundred quid trainers and actually invest in yourself". That always stuck with me. You can get guitar lessons free online but you have to pay for driving tests...

2. In your opinion, can an emerging band make a profit from a tour?

It's more realistic to plan and budget a tour with the express goal to break even and then everything else is a bonus. You'll need to be hot on your merch though as your fees at first won't cover you and it's almost certain you'll eat into personal money. It is absolutely possible though. Time spent planning routes, sorting places to stay, investing in good merch and generally being aware of costs like food and fuel will all help your goal.

3. What's the biggest thing bands waste their money on while touring?

Drinking. I guess that's personal money though. Early riders will probably only allow you to get merry so you'll inevitably buy more, please bare in mind one of you driving. Service station food is pretty expensive, plan ahead. Taking out a driver, merch person, backline tech is totally unnecessary initially. It means you need a bigger vehicle which is expensive. There are, however, a lot of people looking to gain experience when you do have some more space. I did loads of stuff for free at the start, maybe give someone that opportunity. If you can't change your own guitar strings or count merch though then you might as well give up now, and for the love of god take a spare guitar.

4. If a band had £1000 to invest in their tour, where would you recommend they spend it?

Just don't spend it all on gear. Musical and otherwise. You already have your instruments or you probably wouldn't be in a band so deal with them and invest in getting to shows. Put it towards a vehicle. Depending on the size of your band an estate or people carrier is a good place to start. If you can find a good van then great! You might need a bit more for that but i've seen old post office vans, builder's crew vans and ex police riot vans all work well. They're out there, get inventive.

If you're content with something smaller then a Tech 21 SansampDI for your bassist would save space. Carry 1x12 amps too. Otherwise spend it on fuel or merch. Fuel gets you to shows and merch bumps up your money each night.

5. If bands could do one thing to help you do your job, what would it be?

Lift things. Honestly, teamwork at load in and load out really keeps morale up. It's so important if you haven't got multiple techs on the payroll.

6. Are there any tour areas bands constantly overlook?

A good nights sleep is pretty difficult to get whilst touring and when there's an opportunity to have one it's often declined. For your mental health take it once in a while. Ear plugs are useful if you're crammed in a small room and one of you snores.

It's easy to overlook manners and politeness if you feel like shit. Be nice to people. First impressions are really important, this applies to every single person in the venue, not just fans whose floor you need to sleep on. You've got a part time job right? The bartender you just blanked might be interning at that booking agency you really want to get on...

7. Are we missing anything that you think would be useful to discuss?

Get a job.

You will undoubtedly have to invest personal money in this venture. You also need to eat. You need to get to practise. You need that driving license. I could go on. Book your shows as far in advance as possible. This allows you to plan them, get your merch together, practise and get time off work. Do small runs rather than long tours so you can all get the time off. I know people selling out 300-600 cap venues all over the country working at fast food places, building sites, shops, bars, the council, recording studios, venues, security. I think Corey Taylor was working in a sex shop when Slipknot got a deal. Lose your ego.

It's a real horses for courses topic though. It might be that your genre really doesn't sell merch or that you're a solo artist/two piece/DJ where travelling by trains and buses is a legitimate option. You may be a band that absolutely needs a tour manager from the off because of logistics or equipment. There's no hard and fast rules and you need to just look at your specific situation and plan accordingly.

I would advise checking out Martin Atkins and his books "Tour Smart" and "Welcome To The Music Business YOU'RE FUCKED".

For some real DIY inspiration listen to Henry Rollins' Black Flag tour diary "Get In The Van". It's great for a long journey to a show.

Otherwise, if you think my advice isn't complete rubbish then tweet me any questions and of course, keep reading the Sentric blog. They're one of the good guys.

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