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First Tour Survival Guide


So, your band's first tour is coming up. Woo! First tours are so exciting, but I'm afraid there's one home truth that needs to be thrown into the mix: touring is harder work than you can even fathom. It's one of those things you won't ever quite understand until you've done it, but there are things you can do to help make life a little easier on yourself as you adjust to being stuck in a smelly van for weeks on end. The steps in this first tour survival guide will help you ease into life on the road.

1. Make a Tour Itinerary

There is nothing that will help you more when you're on tour than a tour itinerary. Sometimes an agent will make one for you, sometimes a manager or road manager will, and sometime, well, you gotta do the deed yourself. It's absolutely worth taking the time, especially if you're touring with a band (but even if you're flying solo, this itinerary will help you out big style).

A tour itinerary is NOT a print-up of the schedule you threw up on your Reverb page for your fans, oh no. A tour itinerary includes everything you need to know about every day you're on the road. Some things to include in your itinerary include:

  • Venue name, venue contact person, venue address, and phone number
  • Any scheduled media and relevant details (for instance: "call so and so from X city paper at 1 PM for 15 minute phone interview. Their number is..." or "arrive at college radio station for session at 2 PM. Acoustic guitar only. 2 songs plus interview.)
  • Show schedule - load-in, soundcheck, doors, stage time, set length, and other bands on bill
  • Financial info about show - is it a door split, or is there a guarantee?
  • Accommodation and rider
  • Departure time from the venue if leaving after the show ("be back at the van by 1 AM")
  • Any special details - "need to bring extra mic," "there is a merch fee at the venue," "you're sharing backline with X band," and so on and so forth.

Your itinerary should also have a sheet of important phone numbers and email addresses for everyone involved in the tour: band members, management, driver, agent, PR company, and anyone else who has had any hand in planning any part of the tour.

2. Map Your Routes

Do not wake up each day and try to Mapquest your journeys on the fly. You need to know how long the trip is from each show to the next show so you can make solid plans. Do your mapping before you hit the road, and print up directions for each leg of your tour. Sure, there may be times where something goes awry and you're coming at a show from a different direction, but by and large, you should know exactly how to get to each destination on your tour. It will save you considerable stress, not to mention considerable face. Being the new band that gets lost on the way to the venue, holds everyone up, and doesn't get a soundcheck is not something you want to do.

3. Know Your Budget

Your first tour is not about getting rich, which is a very good thing considering it's probably going to cost you a chunk of change. Before you hit the road, run the numbers. Factor in your guarantees so you know what you're earning, then estimate gas costs, set a food budget for each day, and have a little set aside for emergencies, like flat tires.

Your budget won't be perfect. After all, you may not even have any guarantees, so you may not have any clue what kind of income you'll have on your road. That's OK. Giving yourself a ballpark idea of how much this will all costs will help you plan effectively and stop yourself from pushing your credit card to the limit with a nice hotel and top shelf drinking on your first touring stop.

Here's something important: don't count on door split money to get you from town to town. If you're new to most of these cities and playing very small shows, your door split might not be enough to get the whole band a meal at McDonald's. If you don't have guarantees, be sure you can support yourself on the road, and the extra cash coming in will be gravy.

4. Set Some Ground Rules

You should definitely have fun while you're on tour, but life on the road can get out of control in a hurry. Remember, you're doing this because you want music to be your job, and well, you'd better treat it like one if you want to make this work. Too much partying will lead to late arrivals, sloppy performances, conflicts with venues and local promoters, in-fighting in the band, and pretty much every other thing you can imagine that could shoot your music career in the foot. Make sure everyone in the group is committed to making the shows the most important part of the tour, and you should do just fine.

5. Look After Yourself

It may sound like something your mom would say, but it's true - you'll be at your best on the road if you look after yourself while you're out there. Tour budgets lend themselves to the fast food life, and being stuck in a van for hours on end isn't really an ideal part of any fitness regime. However, do the best you can to eat well, sleep well, and move around when you can. Touring is absolutely draining, and you'll make it through a little better is you say "no" to the occasional supersize. Eat an apple. You'll be better for it.

And, ahem, do remember that showers and toothbrushes are your friends. Your band mates will appreciate your adherence to personal hygiene norms on the road. And yes, alas, that DOES need to said.

6. Book in Advance

Remember that all important tour itinerary? Well, to make it, you'll need to figure out a whole lot of details in advance. When it comes to accommodation and travel, when you can book in advance, DO book in advance. You'll get better deals and save yourself a lot of stress and hassle. Hotel rooms get filled, transportation tickets get sold out, and all sorts of things can go wrong with last minute bookings. Plus, you'll avoid any in-fighting within the group (a major touring hazard) about how to travel or where to stay if you figure that all out before you hit the road. When you have a plan, everyone is on the same page. This will make life way easier on your tour manager, too.

7. Know How The Money Will Be Split

It's common for touring musicians and road crew to get a p.d. - that's a per diem, or a daily allowance for their expenses. When you're new to touring, you may not have enough money to give everyone a p.d. - but if you do, decide what it will be up front. If everyone is going to be expected to essentially support themselves on the road, decide up front what you will do with any cash you make from shows. If that money is going to be used to cover group expenses like gas and places to stay, fine - just make sure everyone knows. If you're going to be allowed to dip into that money when Sally wants a soda and Billy wants a new pair of socks, you're going to need a fair system for splitting it up to avoid any resentments.

You could decide to split up income evenly among band members after you pay for group expenses, so everyone has a little cash in their pockets to do their own thing, or you could split up a portion of it between everyone and save the rest for future band expenses. However you want to do it is fine, as long as you have a plan. And remember that it's nice for everyone to have the freedom to buy something they want some time when they're on the road, especially on very long tours, so aim for some kind of p.d. when you can.

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