Written by Ari Herstand, the author of How To Make It in the New Music Business
I’ve booked and played over 600 shows over the past 10 years or so. I’ve made a ton of mistakes and got screwed over by talent buyers, promoters and club owners more times than I’d like to admit. I learned everything the hard way and it took me years to figure out how to actually book a successful, money making tour.
The biggest thing you want to remember when thinking about setting up a tour is: do not book a tour just to go on tour. Every show you play must have intention. A reason for playing it.
Similarly, every tour you book must have intention. If you have no online buzz, no experience, no fans, no network, no plan and no promotion you will have no bodies in the venues for your shows. You will burn bridges with every talent buyer and promoter and you will most likely burnout from the sh*tty experience so far from home playing for solely bartenders and bouncers every night.
That being said, you can book a successful tour if you have no online buzz and have never played the markets before. I’ve done it. I actually booked a tour to 20 cities I had never played before and promised the talent buyers that I would get at least 50 people out at $10 a head. At every show I had 50-350 for my headlining shows. How did I do this? Well, I got quite creative. I found friends in most of these cities who allowed me to crash for the week and I went into the local high schools and talked to the music students about what it was like being a professional musician. I played a couple songs, sold TONS of merch and, of course, promoted Saturday’s show (at an all ages venue). It was a win-win for everyone. I didn’t charge the high schools, the music teachers got great programming (some days I did 7 back to back classes in classrooms, other days I did just 2 in the auditorium) and I got to promote my shows and sell my merch. Sure enough, I met or surpassed my 50 person promise at every city.
Now, of course, not everyone can tour this way and I’m not telling you to do it like this. This really can’t be replicated by many people. The takeaway from this experience is to get creative with your promo efforts and come up with a plan for how you are going to get people out to the venues.
If you don’t promote your shows, no one will show up. No matter if you are playing a local show or a show 3,000 miles away.
Even if you have 20 million Spotify streams or 100 million YouTube views, if you don’t promote your shows, no one will show up. It’s not enough to just get the show listed on the venue’s calendar.
I learned this the hard way too many times. It was not fun playing to 7 people in a 400 cap venue in Lincoln, Nebraska. That sting from 7 years ago is still with me every single time I book a show. Think I got invited back to that club? Or the city of Lincoln?
From writing How To Make It in the New Music Business (and for various music publications) I have learned how other musicians, big and small, successfully tour. Of course I discuss a lot of this in the book, but many musicians have approached me and asked how to get booking agents, how to book tours on their own, what they need to tour and if they are ready.
As much as I like to think I have the answers to everything, I am a student first and am always learning. And the best way to learn is to ask people actually doing it. Right. Now.
On Sunday, September 17th I’m sitting down with a booking agent, a tour manager, a venue talent buyer, a promoter and a DIY musician, one-on-one, to discuss How To Book and Execute a Successful Tour as part of the Expert Conversations on the New Music Business series. It’s a day long event which we are live streaming. I will interview each expert, one-on-one for a half hour and then we will spend a half hour taking questions from the live audience.
You can learn more about the event and grab a ticket to the live stream here.
See you on the road!
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