How to Book a Tour & Get Paid Gigs

Book Your First Tour!

 

You’ve got your group together, you’ve got a couple songs you’d like to push to the public and you’re sick of playing the same ol’ venues that hire you every weekend. Let’s go on a tour! But how do I book a tour? Do I need to hire a booking agent? Do I need a tour manager?

 

My name is Brett and I have been playing in indie bands for over 15 years. I’ve always taken that leadership/organizational role and took great pride in getting my band THAT gig, getting us the MOST MONEY on the (proverbial) table, and being that sense of organization for our business…I mean band…I mean, well you know what I mean. And if you don’t, read this. I’m going to tell you exactly how to book a tour, get gigs for your band, how to be your own booking agent, and how to be your own tour manager!

 

So let’s start out with a couple basic questions that you may be asking yourself if you’d like to expand your audience and do some globe-trotting!

 

What do you want?

Well, aside from wanting to book a tour, my guess would be you want to gain more fans, get more people listening to your music and put a little change in your pocket in the process. This article can help you with likely the first two…the third one is a bit more challenging, but not impossible! If this is your first tour the first thing that you should expect is TO MAKE NO MONEY! Phew, now that we’ve got that out of the way I can explain why. Why will I make no money? You may ask. Well that is because anyone outside the bubble that you have been playing your music in likely doesn’t know who you are, or what you sound like and probably will not pay top dollar to see you play…yet. Getting yourself in front of as many people as possible is your goal. That’s not to say staying on top of your finances and budgets isn’t important! Actually it’s more important to make sure you know exactly what you’re getting into. For some help on this topic before you head off and book a tour, read this article.

Where to start?

 

Ready to book a tour now? Well, crack open Google maps and let’s have a look at where you want to go. Where should you go? With today’s streaming sites you can likely look up where your music is having success near you and that might be a great place to start! It doesn’t really matter where you are going, as a band there are common live music nights (Friday’s/Saturday’s) and there are non-common nights (the rest of them). You are more valuable to the music scene on Fridays and Saturdays than you are on any other day of the week. There are some exceptions (long weekends/holidays in the middle of the week, special events) but generally you will make your most money on the weekend. Try to book these first! If you can get a skeleton of where you are going to be during the weekends, it will be much easier to fill in the gaps during the week with smaller shows to keep the van full of gas and your stomach full of fast food.

How do I book shows? 

It’s great to start off with a window of time that you’d like to be on the road. That will make it clear to the venues that you are contacting when they can hire you. 

TIP: Consider contacting venues 6 months before you start a tour. It seems like a long ways away, but some venues book their live entertainment 6 months at a time. Last thing you want is to call a place and be told they already have acts for that dates you wanted. 

The next thing that you should familiarize yourself with is “cold calls” and “cold emails.” The easiest way to explain this is contacting someone to hire you without any prior contact with them. You want to keep it brief and to the point. If these managers have time to read your email you want to make sure they don’t fall asleep half-way through. You’re basically trying to capture their attention in 30 seconds or less. 

TIP: As cumbersome as it may seem, send each email separately! This will make a huge impact when you book a tour for your first time.  Make each email personal to who you are sending it to. It is very easy to spot a “copy and paste” or “mass” email that starts like “Dear venue manager.” Here’s an example you can use! 

 

Hi Mike (upon doing some research I found this managers name),

We are Project A, an indie rock group from Timbuctu, IL. We are releasing our debut album on June 13th and are heading out on a West Coast tour (always make it seem like this tour is happening, whether it is or not, and they will be missing out if they don’t respond). We will be heading through Albuquerque the week of June 22nd and were wondering if you were interested in having us at your place to promote our new album and sample your famous twice-smoked bacon burger!

Looking forward to hearing from you,

Project A (Brett)

Booking Agent

This was short and concise and really tried to make a connection with the venue you’d like to be in. It might be cumbersome but I guarantee you will get better results by sending individual emails and creating relationships with these club owners then putting them all into your To: bar and hitting send.

Now don’t get discouraged when your emails don’t get immediate responses. It will take time. If I could put a number on it I would say if you got 50% of your emails responded to you’d be doing good. Of those 50% of responses you can likely expect 50%… to not be interested. Some managers won’t even read them. They might go immediately to junk mail. TIP: Some emails are set to detect spam. The more links, attachments, and photos you have in your email the less likely it is that it will end up in front of who you want it to. So remove those and keep your signature simple but professional.

Once you get a response, it’s game on. They will tell you that they basically aren’t interested, or they are, in some way, shape, or form. Remember they are business owners and they’re not just just going to hand you the keys to their establishment, they need this transaction to make sense for them from a business stand-point. They will probably start with a few questions like this (I will do my best to include sample answers that I have had success with in the past).

How much do you charge? 

This is probably the most common question you will get and you had better be prepared with some good responses to keep their attention.

    • We have never been to Albuquerque before and are more concerned with growing our fan base and spreading our music than getting paid. What do you guys typically pay your bands on a Friday night? 
      • This approach puts the ball back in their court so they can dictate how much they are comfortable with shelling out at the end of the night. There’s a few different types of payment structures that have different amounts of risk for the venue and your group. Once you have a number or deal from them you can decide if it is feasible for you to lock this show down in your calendar. Don’t leave anything on the table. Money isn’t the only thing of value when it comes to booking shows. Hotel rooms, meals, drink tabs at the venue are all valuable to you so use these as bargaining chips when you are negotiating with a venue. Ask them if they have a typical rider that they provide bands with. Some will give you 2 large pizzas and a $100 drink tab. Great! That’s $150 that you don’t have to spend to feed and water your crew. If the price is a little bit low, this is something you could suggest they tack on to make the deal a bit sweeter. I may do another blog at a later date about negotiating tactics with venue owners – but for now you can use this awesome Quote Template for sending your pricing info. Breaking down what they are paying for puts things into perspective, and helps to make sure your costs are covered! Get it HERE
 
Can you send me some of your music? 

This is where you had better have some good quality items to add to the conversation. Plllleeeeeaaaaase do not send the last video you have on your phone of your last jam session you had in your basement. You may have to prep some good material to get you noticed.

    • Most definitely, you can find our music on all streaming platforms like Spotify, iTunes, Soundcloud under the name “Project A.” If you click this link www.youtube.com/projectAsingle it will take you to the music video of our latest single. I have also attached our most recent song list so you can get an idea of the material that we play.
      • If the material you are giving them is not easily accessible then they most likely won’t bother with it. If they watch it and think it’s a good fit for their establishment they will continue the conversation. If it isn’t, they will tell you so.
 
How much material do you have? Is it all original?

Unless you are planning on bringing an opening act with you, you’d better assume that you will be playing all night long. 

    • We have the ability to play full night of music. Our debut album has 6 songs so we will sprinkle those in throughout the night. I would say that we play 80% cover music and 20% original music. Here is a copy of our song list so you can kind of get an idea what type of covers we play.
      • You will want to have enough material to play three – sixty minute sets. Yes, that’s 3 hours worth of music. Some venues require you to be able to play this amount of music to step on their stage. As much as you think your original music is amazing, people still like to hear the classics for their tried-and-true artists and those covers keep people dancing and singing along. Once you rip off a few good covers and the dance floor is full, hit them with an original that fits those previous songs and keep people engaged.

You can also cold call venues. There’s a good chance that whomever picks up the phone WILL NOT be the person booking shows for the venue. This is where you have to think on your feet a little bit more. Here’s a sample conversion if you’re planning on cold calling some venues. 

 

TIP: If you’re calling a place that is open all day long, try to call during times that they will not be busy. Google does a great job of letting you know when venues are, and aren’t busy. If they serve food, obviously don’t call during lunch time, or dinner time. Try to catch them at a time that they will be willing to spare a few minutes for you.

Here’s an example conversation:

 

Employee: Hello, Joe’s Night Club and Bistro, this is Sara.

Me: Good afternoon Sara, how are you today?

Sara: I’m doing fairly well, how are you?

Me: I’m doing great! Thanks for asking. Are you guys super busy? Or do you have a moment to chat?

Sara: No, I can chat. What’s up? (If they say they are busy you likely won’t get the responses you want so just let them know you can call them back at a time more convenient to them).

Me: Hey, I’m just wondering if you have a lot of live music that goes through that place?

Sara: Yeah we typically have bands through here on Fridays and Saturdays and sometimes during our wing nights on Wednesday’s.

Me: That’s awesome, I’m actually booking a band that will be coming through town in a couple months and we think your place would be a great place to get a few new fans and showcase our music.

Sara: Cool, yeah Brian does our bookings and deals with all of that stuff. But he’s not here right now.

Me: No worries at all. Is there a good time to call back to speak with him or does he have a separate number or email that I can reach him at?

Sara: Yeah he usually comes in at 3 or you can reach him at brian@joes.com.

Me: That’s awesome, thanks so much for the information Sara. Have yourself a great day.

 

Once you have this information you can choose to call Brian or email him. Be sure to mention that you spoke with Sara. Every little bit of personal connection you can make gains a little more trust with who you are trying to do business with.

Where do you look for venues?

 

Depending on where you want to go, lots of different venues provide an atmosphere for live music to flourish. You will have your large event centers when the big names come through town. I wouldn’t pay too close of attention to those right now. There are the medium 500 person venues that do smaller shows. Again, maybe reserve this for the next time you book a tour when you have a bit of a following. 

 

What you are looking for is venues with what we call a “built-in audience.” – especially for the first time you book a tour. Look for venues that have consistent live music regularly throughout the year. People that enjoy live music frequent these places no matter who is playing. If you can get yourself on a few of these stages, and maybe get a bit of draw and momentum from your tour, you may actually have a half decent crowd. 

 

TIP: Go to google maps, zoom in on an area that you are looking to play at, type “live music” into the search bar and hit enter. You’d be surprised at what pops up. Restaurants, bistros, pubs, coffee shops, breweries, libraries. Don’t assume that only bars play live music. Once you have your weekends booked, it’s easier to fill in these gaps in your schedule with the smaller $300 shows that keep you in front of people and moving down the highway. Consider having a few different types of shows that you can provide to your audiences. Obviously you wouldn’t want to put on a full-high-energy-rock-extravaganza…in a library. Think about having a “full production” option ($$$), a “stripped down” option ($$), and an “acoustic” option ($). All of varying lengths. This will give the venues you are pitching yourself to options on what they are getting to either fit their audience or their budget. You might think that it’s a lot of work to put together all of those different shows. Don’t worry, you have 6 months before you hit the road!

Some Final Notes

 

Once you start down the road to book a tour, you’re going to need to stay organized. It helps to have your EPK, social links, music links, plans, dates, and everything else easily accessible for when you need them – and you will need them! You can learn how to do this here.

 

Well there you go! What are you waiting for? Get out there and get your group on the road and in front of some new faces! This article is only a small piece of a bigger conversation regarding touring. Do you stay in hotels? Or rent a bus? Do you hire out your sound in every different city? Or do you take your sound system with you? Do you make 1000 sandwiches and keep them in a cooler, or do you eat out wherever you are? These are questions that you’ll also have to consider when planning some time on the road. But I’m hoping that this can at least get you started! Happy touring!

 

Brett

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