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if u live on the road theres a new highway code
August 12, 2009 2:17 PM   Subscribe

My band is going on a national rock tour: what should I know?

Unexpectedly, a pretty big-time act wants this indie/psych group I play with to open for them on about 40 dates this fall. The dates are almost all booked, with a little break in the middle.

I have read this thread, and this thread, so I've got a pretty good idea about what to bring in the van, but mainly I'd like to know what you wish you'd known before your own band headed out on tour, or what you, as someone tangentially involved in the music scene in your town, wished that touring bands knew about.

Also: It's been 10 years since I went on the road what kinda stuff should I expect to have changed or be vital to know about now? What resources (besides BYOFL, which as far as I can tell is useless now) most came in handy when you were playing shows around?

FYI I am also the manager/publicist/booking agent and everything else. We have a self-released album and some t-shirts as a starter kit. We're buying a van. We walk the streets at night, we go where eagles dare.
posted by Potomac Avenue to Media & Arts (24 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
I toured with a few bands as driver, videographer etc. The one thing I quickly learned was the great value of a SECRET stash of cash. It always came in handy in some emergency or other.

A little dexedrine helped too. But just a little.
posted by philip-random at 2:28 PM on August 12, 2009


Eat right. Do NOT eat crap or you will pay for it many times over (lethargy, low blood suger, feeling crappy, getting sick, losing energy, etc). It's much better to be hungry than to eat a bunch of junk.

Budget a little $$ for a fresh six-pack of socks (and maybe briefs) every week, and just toss the old ones. Trust me on this.

NEVER fall asleep with your shoes on. This is free license for the other band members to draw on your face with a sharpie. Shoes off, hands off. Shoes on, fair game. You've been warned.

Set up a resource path so you can get more merch while you're out on the road. If you do well, and sell out of stuff early, you will be kicking yourself for the rest of the trip if you can't get more.

By "resource path", I mean talk to your shirt guy and your CD dup guy and let him know you might be calling for a re-up from the road. Know the addresses of a few places along the way so you can drop ship to there and grab the merch en route.

Always be friendly to the sound guy and the club staff. DO NOT be dicks, even in jest. You will regret it.

Have fun, and keep a positive attitude, even if it just about kills you. Flex your "get along" muscles beforehand so you are ready for the inevitable van drama.
posted by Aquaman at 3:12 PM on August 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


If you don't have an iphone or easy way of searching the internet from any location, research local mechanics, tow companies, and music stores in each city you will be in. A broken down vehicle is something that can be fixed without too much trouble if you are prepared for it, but if you are 5 miles outside of a town you have never been to before, that is not the time where you want to be trying to find this information. Music stores are good to know if you show up and someone drops/runs over/steals/smashes some of your gear.

I would also suggest not eating junk food. Get a big cooler, and buy a bag of ice each day. Keep a supply of snackable fruits and veggies in the cooler. Once a week stop at a grocery store and replenish. Apples, carrots, oranges, celery, etc. will be a much better alternative than eating at mcdonalds for every meal. A good healthy snack right before or after a show will make you guys enjoy the tour a lot more, and make everyone a lot happier while spending so much time in a car.

If you aren't bringing a sound guy/girl, give a copy of your CD to the sound person each night. If they like your music, they will either tell their friends about it, or they will use it as part of their preshow music. As a sound person, every time a band gives me a copy of their CD, if their live set is good, I will listen to the CD that night on the way home or the following day. Some of those CD's have become some of my favorites. It is a cheap way to spread your music to people who are active in the local music community.

Learn the names of the sound people at each club. You will get a much better mix if you refer to the sound person by name, rather than just yelling out "hey sound guy".
posted by markblasco at 3:53 PM on August 12, 2009


If you don't already have it, I suggest this book. And a credit card or two with a large enough limit to get you out of a big jam (ie van stolen with all equipment or drummer in jail).
posted by K.P. at 5:00 PM on August 12, 2009


As far as buying that van goes - think about the total weight of everyone who will be going on tour, all their gear, and whatever luggage and merchandise you'll be hauling. Often this exceeds the weight rating of the typical "half ton" van. Overloading your van can lead to a blown transmission, overheating going up hills, scary handling, and a host of other problems.
posted by zombiedance at 5:36 PM on August 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Are you sure you need to buy a van outright? All of my friends who tour, (and I mean professional types who tour all the time and don't have day jobs), rent a van before they go out on tour. Your situation might be different but it can be really expensive to have a van on the road, esp when you're not touring. Just something to consider.

A good tip that I've always liked is to have 2 band members, (preferably where at least one isn't drunk), separately perform "the idiot check," ie making sure that your drummer hasn't left his cymbals on the drum riser etc. It really sucks to realize you've left something behind after you're on the highway.

Have a wicked tour!
posted by hector horace at 6:28 PM on August 12, 2009


Is the name of your band and/or the band you are opening for a seekrit or could you tell us curious ones?

Also, 2nding renting the van.

My expertise is merch-related: Cool t-shirts are a great money-maker/easy seller. Much more so than CDs, contrary to what some bands think (seriously, those damn CDs never sell that well, and you'll run out of Ms and any girl-cut shirt before the tour's over). People who even kind of liked your band will buy a shirt if it looks really cool. And don't use shitty t-shirts or Hanes Beefy T or thick shit like that to make your shirt. People hate those.
posted by ishotjr at 8:12 PM on August 12, 2009


Also: either bring extras of things that might break or get lost, or know ahead of time/have an easy way to find out where the closest music store is (for things the venue won't have). When I worked at a radio station, I can't even count the times we loaned odds and ends to touring bands as a favor, or helped them find where to buy things like strings.
posted by ishotjr at 8:15 PM on August 12, 2009


I agree about being careful with what you eat. You don't want to be stuck on the shitter in some club in West Virginia with everyone else onstage wondering where you are (this happened to me).

Plan for every contingency. What if your bass player quits the band three shows in (this happened to me)? Don't get the cheapest van possible because it will break down catastrophically when you're in the middle of nowhere (this happened to me). Don't become mildly alcoholic as a result of getting free drinks every night (this happened to me).

That's all I can think of right now. If you posted the clubs where you're playing there might be more specific advice about playing those places.
posted by ludwig_van at 9:09 PM on August 12, 2009


From my limited experience as a merch guy - people LOVE free stuff, like stickers. If you don't have stickers already, make some - if you do have them, make more. Also hot on the merch front are cloth bags, especially now that lots of places are outlawing plastic bags.
posted by Gortuk at 7:13 AM on August 13, 2009


I'm only not marking best answers because i'd be accused of grade inflation--this is all awesome.

Ludwig_van: The list isnt finalized yet but it's a bunch of large to medium sized clubs in pretty much every city in the US and southern Canada. We're playing CW Center Stage in Atlanta for instance, and TLA in Philly, and every House of Blues we stumble over on the West Coast. Once the dates are official I'll post them if I'm allowed.

ishotjr: I didn't want to self-link too hardcore, so some of my band's music is now in my profile. The band we're opening for hasn't announced dates yet plus I'm still worried about a jinx so we're not talking about it! Seeeecrets.


Thanks again!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:49 AM on August 13, 2009


My answer comes from the angle of a listener with 0.0001 experience in band promotion, but it maybe bears repeating, as it has to do with how I find out about shows? Massive apologies if it's totally obvious stuff. Links below mostly go to local-to-me (Rochester NY) answers.

Know the free weekly newspapers and magazines and make sure you're listed in them. I have no idea how you'd find city-specific events pages, but they do do exist outside the MSM. Also, try to get a sense of what radio stations might be friendly to a stop-by from you, like a college or similarly independent station. Contact station managers or other relevant staff & send CDs to them. I firmly believe that local radio still has a great deal of power. Do you have any kind of street team infrastructure? Friends-of-friends/AskMeFites/etc. who'd be willing to post fliers in the week or two leading up to the show in each town, in return for free admission? Are you on Facebook? :) If so, set up Events that your fans can Attend and Invite their Friends to. Free & easy promotion. (See also: Twitter, which one of my favorite bands is pretty rad about.) Get your band on JamBase or other concert search engines/organizers.
posted by knile at 7:55 AM on August 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


A friend of mine started betterthanthevan.com to help bands find cheap/free places to stay on tour. Might be helpful..
posted by zennoshinjou at 8:39 AM on August 13, 2009


My recommendation -- from dealing with touring DJs and watching which ones get local followings and which don't --- Find local messageboards and introduce yourself to the local scene before you go. Hang out with locals before and after the show (and I don't mean groupies).

That kind of shit makes a big big difference in terms of getting invited back to gigs on your own. I can think of a few not-amazingly-talented 'opening' djs for big name acts that ended up getting booked over and over again for local shows, just because they were cool guys and people wanted them to come around again just to hang out. Plus it's cool to know a bunch of people around the country -- it can really come in handy.

Oh and give out lots of CDs, if you can afford to -- doesn't matter if it's just in a bunch of unlabled cds with marker on them in a white paper sleeve -- you can sell fancy packaged cds, but it's more important that people hear you than that people pay you early on.

I'm sure the clubbing scene is different from the rock scene, but I don't think it's THAT much different.
posted by empath at 11:18 AM on August 13, 2009


tourformation.com puts up info like this everyday. They have a bunch of it assembled here. http://musformation.com/2009/07/the-musformation-guide-to-playing-live-and-touring.html
enjoy!
posted by caution767 at 1:38 PM on August 13, 2009


Oh and give out lots of CDs, if you can afford to -- doesn't matter if it's just in a bunch of unlabled cds with marker on them in a white paper sleeve -- you can sell fancy packaged cds, but it's more important that people hear you than that people pay you early on.

This is a good idea, but I think you need to be careful. Personally I'd recommend against the CDR w/ marker route. If you're going to represent yourself with a physical item make it look good. I think a lot of people get a bland-looking CDR and never listen to it because it looks amateurish. And for the same reason I think you should charge something. Free equates to worthless for a lot of people. And if you say "We're selling this album, and we're giving away this free CD," people tend to say "I'll take the free one, thanks, later" and you don't sell any albums. So my personal feeling is you should have a CD with 2-4 tracks and design an image to be printed on the CD with the band name, website, and tracklist, stick them in sleeves and call it an EP, and sell it for $1-3 alongside your albums which you sell for $10-15. Then people come over to your merch table and buy at least the cheaper one or maybe both, and you know they're gonna listen to it since they paid for it and it looks nice.
posted by ludwig_van at 6:08 PM on August 13, 2009


But give CDs for free to people who can help you in some way, e.g. people in other bands, press people, sound people, etc.
posted by ludwig_van at 6:09 PM on August 13, 2009


I'm currently, right this second, working for the Robot Chicken On Wheels Tour or I'd post a nice long response. Expect something more when I get back to home later tonight, but the most important thing I can think of off the top is SECURITY. Make sure your van is locked when no one is watching it, your trailer is securely locked to your van, and pick up a safe to bolt into the floor of your van to hold money and valuables. Don't drunkenly let a random untrusted fan help you load or you will wind up with less stuff than you started. Ok back to work. Laters!
posted by knowles at 8:00 PM on August 13, 2009


So I'm going to try and go over everything I've learned through careful observation, lots of questions, and making mistakes that has made my rock life that much better.

40 dates isn't bad, but some fucked up shit will happen over the 6+ weeks of tour. Expect at least one flat tire, two oil changes, and if you're lucky no major injuries. Keep a small first aid kit handy for the minor ones like cuts and blisters. Tums, tylenols, cough drops, and any other medicines you might need.

Get as many names, phone numbers, and email addresses for the venue, venue contacts, promoter, production manager, and house sound guy as early as possible for each of the dates from your booking agent or label contacts or managers. You can probably email them a short introduction and attach your stage plot, rider, tech rider, and input list so they will have them at least once, but chances are you will have to email these documents at least one more time. At least one week before the date of the show, call everyone and touch base starting with the promoter. Confirm the address for your GPS, everyone else's name and numbers, when load-in (this might change) is, what the parking situation will be for your vehicle, when doors are (this will change), and when you go on (this will also change). Ask if they need anything from you and what they need from you. Ensure that you communicate with someone associated with every show. This is called advancing. It's part of what a TM does. Get in a solid rhythm of advancing a week's worth of shows at a time, I like to knock it out on Wednesdays, but inevitably you will be unable to get in touch with people here and there. Try to do it before the day of show, but you may encounter shows where no phone numbers works and no one knows anything yet you show up and they go off. Be diligent about advancing and try to stay on the ball and ahead of it. Make time for it. It's important.

If you don't have these right now, then make them immediately:

- backstage rider- as an opener you won't always get this, but when you do it's awesome.
- technical rider- this is where the equipment, musical gear, and lights you're traveling with, any special instructions, and anything unique or problematic that people should know about your live show.
- stage plot- do a top down scale drawing of your stage layout, where the mics go, where you need power, mark the inputs, indicate where the monitors will go. stage right and stage left are right and left as you are standing on the stage looking at the audience. make sure this corresponds with your
- input list- every input you will need from the front of house sound board. indicate any direct boxes you might need. outboard effects, ipods, CD player, everything.

OK that's all for now. More later. I hope you like tetris.
posted by knowles at 6:35 PM on August 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


So now hopefully you know where and when your shows are and who to talk to when you get there and who gets the blame when things go wrong (tour managers, production managers, and promoters all ultimately get the blame). Let's talk about the van.

Aside from hotel rooms and generous friends' houses along the way, the van will be your home for the six weeks you will be on tour. Think about what you've done in your life over the past month and a half. You need to be able to squish is all into a vehicle and move it around the country every day. Pack and travel light, one big bag for soft goods (clothes) with nothing breakable inside that can be thrown around and piled in the trailer (if you're using one, more later), one toiletry bag with all your shower/bathroom supplies in it, and one day bag for your laptop, cellphone, ipod, and all the other stuff you want with you at all times. You can always bring more stuff, but space is limited and everyone has themselves and other people to worry about. Be considerate. Grab a car charger for your phone, and look into who needs AC power for laptops etc and get at least one appropriate AC/DC inverter. Long drives can be brutal, so bring something to entertain yourselves, TV series on DVD, lots of movies, video games, but that stuff needs to be accounted for as thieves will break into a van to get a LCD TV and xbox.

Bathe often, do what you can to not stink. New socks, gold bond, deodorant, febreze, and taking 10 minutes to splash off every chance you get go pretty far. An 8 hour drive sucks, but an 8 hour drive with a dude that smells like onions and balls is going to cause tension.

And please, for the sake of the show, maintain your van. Not getting there will cost you a lot of money. This means regular oil changes, checking your tire pressure, not towing a trailer with overdrive on, keeping your fluids at acceptable levels, carrying jumper cables and spare fuses, and whatever else you might need to keep the vehicle you get around the country and spend a great deal of your time in running.

Again, more later. Please consider not only yourself, but everyone in your touring ensemble in every decision you make.
posted by knowles at 10:37 AM on August 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


fuck it im marking everyone with best answers this rocks so hard
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:50 PM on August 17, 2009


For the van:

A giant canister of unscented baby wipes.

You can clean your face, neck, hands, pits.... any time.

You will thank me later if you do this.
posted by markjamesmurphy at 10:00 PM on August 17, 2009


Oh yeah, I keep remembering this whenever I'm not by the internet, but if you get there at the same time the headliner is loading in, you might be able to make use of the local hands to load your stuff in quicker. Also, if you drive at night until you get to the next city and get a hotel room after the audit, like 5-6AM, you will have it for the rest of that day and night until checkout the next calendar date. If you can plan when you're going to do this, possibly when you have a short drive the next day so you can hang in the city where you're playing, then you can maximize party time and not have to wake up early and do all your driving in the morning. I feel like I'm being incoherent, so I'll STFU for now, but I'm trying to remember to update this when I can.
posted by knowles at 1:13 AM on August 19, 2009


All of this advice will indeed be taken or at least considered strongly.

We leave in two weeks (dates) playing a few selected homemade weird instruments I'm making based on this thread. We'll be a-bloggin' a-tweetin and a video-tapin' the whole tour if yr interested in results.

Thanks again.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:33 AM on September 14, 2009


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