This is a guest post from Artist Growth
So you’re planning to head out on a string of dates — maybe your first tour. If you’re like most of us, you’re working with a pretty tight budget.
To help you keep more of what you earn and worry less about the business side of your art, here are the 10 best ways to save money on music tours.
1. Set and maintain your budget
While it may seem like an odd choice for a list of the best ways to save money on tour, you’d be surprised how many bands hit the road without a formal budget.
Before you can even think about saving money, you need to know how much you can afford to spend, as well as forecast possible expenses and anticipated revenue. But there’s more to it.
In order to stick to your budget — much less save money — your entire group needs to be bought in. That could mean agreeing to daily spending allowances, setting aside cash for emergencies or recurring needs, and hopefully reinvesting a portion of your earnings to promote upcoming shows.
It’s also critical that you update your budget to reflect all expenses and revenues as they occur. This way you can make adjustments as needed and hopefully avoid any surprises.
Google Sheets is one way to track your finances, as are popular budgeting tools like QuickBooks. Artist Growth Workspace combines scheduling and financial management in a single app that your entire band or team can access, even when you’re offline. Imagine all of your rehearsals, shows, marketing events, contracts and deal info, and yes, finances, in one place. You can even upload receipts, making it easy to track your spending.
Artist Growth Workspace lets you track and manage all of the money coming in and going out. Filter by expense/revenue type, link activity to specific events, upload receipts, and export your finances to a CSV for easy uploading to popular tax software.
Regardless of what tool you choose, setting a budget everyone can agree on and committing to update it daily are musts.
2. Research your route
Unless you have the means for a nationwide tour, you’re going to want to focus on a certain area. This could be any city within a certain mile radius, a region of the country where you have a strong following, etc.
Overlaying geographic data from your past live performances, fan data from your website, promotional efforts, and music streams can tell you where your efforts are paying off — and where you should consider revisiting versus skipping.
Within this area, you should organize tour dates efficiently to minimize backtracking and extra travel expenses.
Preferably, your route will form a loop with each venue en route to the next and the show farthest from your starting location situated at the middle of your tour.
While it’s common for large-scale tours to zig zag across the map, when booking a DIY music tour, try to avoid backtracking to minimize fuel costs and travel time.
3. Negotiate with venues
Not every show is going to pay when you’re starting out. Especially if you’re the awesome new band from out of town that no one’s heard of yet. (We’ve all played shows for the “exposure.”)
However, that doesn’t mean you can’t negotiate certain things. So turn on the charm! Whether it’s a modest fee, a cut of the door or bar sales, comped meals, free parking, or a place to stay the night, every little bit helps.
4. Explore alternative accommodations
One of the biggest expenses for any DIY music tour is lodging. But it doesn’t have to be.
Before booking accommodations, try leveraging your personal networks. You never know who might have a spare bed or couch. So text your old college roommate, reconnect with that cousin you haven’t seen in years, even hit up local bands. Just be safe.
Plenty of successful artists have spent post-show nights on strangers’ floors before they made it. And with sleeping bags and air mattresses costing less than $100, you could save a lot with a very small investment.
That said, you’re probably not going to find free places to stay every night. Fortunately, there are other ways to save.
Love nature? Bring a tent and go camping. Or find an Airbnb or VRBO slightly outside the city.
You can also take advantage of membership-based discount programs, like Artist Growth Xtra, which is tailored exclusively for artists, creators, and industry professionals. With discounts of up to 60% off more than 1 million hotels, resorts, and rental properties worldwide, something like Xtra could pay for itself after just a night or two in a hotel.
5. Travel light
While a big backline is undeniably cool, it’s not always practical — especially if it means multiple vehicles or hauling a trailer around with you. (The latter of which can make parking a hassle.)
If you’re the gearhead type, give some serious thought to what equipment you actually need and what can stay at home. Chances are, you’ll be just fine with fewer guitars. Just be sure to pack extra strings.
You might also look for ways to downsize. For example, do you really need that half stack or would a combo amp do the job as well? (We all know which the sound engineer prefers.) It also never hurts to ask other bands on the bill about sharing a backline (or even parts of the backline, like a drum kit).
6. Keep busy
Ever gone on a trip with no plans and ended up eating, drinking, or shopping all day to fill the time? The same can happen on a tour when you’re not actively traveling or performing, and it can quickly eat into your budget.
Instead, use your free time for things like reading, writing, practicing, meditating, exercising, and promoting your shows. It never hurts to pay last-minute visits to local radio stations and record stores to promote your show the day of.
You can even use that time to tap into your creative energy and make entertaining and engaging social media content that gets your name out there. They don’t have to be blatantly promotional, either. Take Petey, who’s racked up millions of likes on TikTok for his comedy videos, in the process securing a major label record deal.
7. Promote, promote, promote
We just mentioned promotion as a way to keep busy, but it’s obviously much more. If you truly want to make it big, you’ve got to be out there promoting your music — whether you released it last year or plan to release it next year.
In that sense, failing to promote yourself at every opportunity is costing you money, especially if you’re getting paid based on show attendance.
Once you have your tour booked, start reaching out to local radio stations, record stores, influencers, etc., to promote your show. Maybe you’ll land an interview at a nearby college radio
station, an in-store performance at a popular area record store, or a mention from a prominent social media account.
8. Shop around for discounts
Whether you’re stocking up on essentials, buying backup cables or guitar strings, or getting maintenance done on the band van, there are countless deals and discounts out there. It just might take some work to find them, which is why most people give up.
But not every deal requires hours of sifting through online discount codes looking for one that actually works or haggling. Artist Growth Xtra makes it easy to access thousands of dollars of savings on pretty much anything that costs artists money on the road and at home — from hotel rooms and rental cars to meals, music gear, and vehicle maintenance.
9. Limit luxuries
When traveling, it can be pretty tempting to visit local restaurants and attractions. After all, how many times are you going to find yourself in Des Moines, Iowa?
To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with splurging from time to time. However, costs can quickly add up if you’re not careful. The good news is you don’t have to make huge sacrifices to save money.
Take bottled water as an example. If you stop at a gas station every day and grab a few 20-ounce bottles, you're probably going to spend $10 in just one stop. At the grocery store, meanwhile, you could buy a gallon for a fraction of that. And the same goes for snacks, coffee, lunches, dinners — you name it.
Instead of dishing out for sandwiches that cost $10 or more, get a decent-sized cooler and pack breakfasts, lunches, and so on. This approach might not make for the most exciting meals you’ve ever tasted, but remember the real goal: To make it as an artist.
10. Don’t overdo it with merch
Finally, there’s merch. Before embarking on tour, you definitely want to have a few items to sell. And for the most part, you’ll get better deals for buying in bulk. However, cash flow should be an important consideration.
While you might pay a much lower price per T-shirt when you have 500 made versus 100, it does little good if that means the difference between paying with credit and paying outright.
That’s not to say that it can’t be advantageous to lean on credit at times. Sometimes it’s necessary. Other times, it’s a way to free up cash flow, particularly if you know that you’ll be earning enough from shows to pay your bill in full. But it can also be dangerous if you’re not careful, which again points to the importance of tracking your finances in real time.
For these reasons, even though you might prefer to offer a wide variety of T-shirts and other merchandise, we suggest starting with a few lower-cost, higher-profit items. And when possible, consider bundling merch to incentivize greater sales.
You can always offer a greater selection the next time around, or through an online print on demand shop. The latter approach allows you to offer a greater selection without the hassles of managing a large inventory or dealing with shipping expenses.
Saving money on your next tour
Hopefully these 10 tips for saving money on DIY music tours are helpful to you on your journey. But if there’s just one thing you take away from this, it’s that taking the time to build, maintain, and agree on a budget will serve you well.
There are also plenty of tools to help you and your band save money so you can focus on creating incredible music for your fans to enjoy and invest in.
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