It’s no secret that touring can be one of the main highlights of being a musician. However, DIY touring is fraught with a number of potential difficulties – many of which are avoidable when taking the right precautions.
There is little in life that can truly compare to the excitement you feel when pulling into a new city, knowing you have a show to play there that evening. Should this be your first venture into life on the road, you’re likely to have a number of questions about how it all works.
Touring is what YOU make of it, and should not be something you approach tepidly. Embrace your time on the road and immerse yourself in your new environment – after all, touring offers a vital platform to make an impression in what is a highly saturated market, often presenting a number of invaluable networking opportunities along the way, an opportunity to gain new fans, develop relationships with venues and visit new places.
This two-part blog (part two is available here) outlines a comprehensive list of tips I’ve picked up during my time as a touring and gigging musician, which will hopefully help you get the most out of your experience. Feel free to add your own tips in the comments.
Preparation is key. There’s nothing worse than spending a day travelling, using whatever scarce petrol money you’ve managed to scrape together to arrive at a venue claiming to have no record of you being booked to play, to which you then have an expectant crowd to disappoint. Keep regular contact with venues – touch base before you depart for your tour and a few days before the scheduled show. Should a show not go ahead for whatever reason, you’re then given time to make new arrangements or can at least give sufficient notice to your fans.
Things are likely to go wrong – so plan ahead so you’re able to deal with them when they arise. Pack spare strings and drums sticks, as well as tools to carry out repairs such as allen keys, screwdrivers and a soldering iron. Though be mindful that there’s a fine balance between extensive planning and having to haul around unnecessarily large amounts of equipment.
Produce a detailed itinerary – including hotel and venue addresses, as well as soundcheck, set, and loading times – to be enshrined into one single sacred document, which will serve as a key resource for the entirety of your time on the road.
Plan your tour strategically
Play Manchester the day after Liverpool, rather than Plymouth followed by Dundee – by avoiding long, possibly tedious and draining journeys you can prevent accruing hefty petrol costs. When travelling between locations, plan for the possibility of traffic and to arrive with plenty of time to spare. Keep a note of contact details for venues and promoters in case you find yourself running behind schedule.
Moreover, if you’re still establishing a fan base you should organise your shows on days that are likely to generate the largest crowds such as Fridays, Saturdays and student nights, and instead take days off when venues that are expected to be a little quieter.
Know your parts and equipment
You may have written an awesome song but make sure you do it justice by playing it flawlessly each night. You need to make sure you’re tight and locking in with your fellow musicians. Make clear setlists for each musician, noting any changes of tunings etc. to ensure smooth transitions between songs – nothing kills the energy and momentum of a set more than the band discussing which song to play next or waiting around for a fellow musician to tune.
As a guitarist by trade, I want to lend a bit of advance to my musical counterparts (which may or may not be applicable to you, depending on your instrument of choice). In recognising that this could in itself be a post, I will just briefly touch upon a few key recommendations. Firstly, it is paramount to invest in a good quality tuner. You want to be sure that you can quickly tune in between songs – choices such as the Boss TU-3 or the TC-Electronic Polytune are a surefire way of doing so. Secondly, invest in good quality cables, crucially this also includes patch cables – if you have a pretty extensive pedalboard there’s nothing worse than trying to pinpoint which cable is causing you an issue – I also would like to take this opportunity to reiterate the importance of keeping a number of spares cables too. Thirdly, tape everything! Use duct tape to fix your strap to your guitar, your cables to your inputs and if you want to ensure that you keep your tone consistent each night make sure you put tape over your controls too.
Similarly, if your equipment is temperamental, make sure you have necessary repairs carried out before you depart. Unforeseeable accidents and damage can happen but preventable problems should always be addressed beforehand. If there’s no signal coming from your guitar while you’re on stage, there could be a lengthy list of potential considerations why – but less so if you part with that dodgy cable or fix that unreliable input before playing a show. Issues are not always quick to diagnose so do not leave anything to chance; take precautions to save yourself a potential embarrassment from technical issues arising while on stage. It’s worth investing in good-quality, durable equipment that you can rely on, which may save you money in the long-run by virtue of having to purchase replacements less frequently.
The way you conduct yourself while on tour is crucial. Respect the soundchecking and unloading times you’ve been given by promoters or venues. Be nice to everyone who’s played a part in putting the show on, and most importantly your fans – after all, without them you’re not able to do what you love. Don’t let your egos get the best of you, respect the sound guy’s suggestions and offer your sincere thanks to that fan buying one of your shirts.
Similarly, do not expect venues or the other bands to provide equipment for you. Should you need to borrow something, arrange this in advance out of courtesy and to avoid a potential headache when you arrive at the venue. Many venues would expect you to supply your own equipment, therefore a failure to do is likely to reflect badly on your group. Further still, if you’re serious about putting on the best show possible, you probably want to use the equipment you feel most comfortable using and that you can achieve the best sound with (assuming your gear is of a satisfactory standard).
Remember, it’s a pretty limited inner circle within the music industry and news can travel fast. One act of arrogance or inconsideration on your group’s part could later come back to haunt you.