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Hitting the road: How to make the most of touring

Joe Frankland

Artist Development Manager

[Editor's note: While this year's Musician Masterclass may have flown by, there is no reason to stop sharing pearls of wisdom around the issues that matter most to unsigned artists. We invited Joe from Newcastle-based music development agency Generator to share his tips for maximising exposure and interest by touring. Take it away Joe.]

With venues closing down and promoters in small towns struggling to break even as the recession affects audience numbers, it’s hard for emerging artists to tour the UK. Assuming you’re not yet working with a booking agent, securing gigs and managing a successful tour can be daunting. But hitting the road is one sure-fire way to build a fan-base and industry interest.

If you’re thinking of touring the country for the first time, there are a few basics you’ll need to get right.

Timing 

Many artists start to book tours before they are truly ready. Ideally you’ll have a good buzz and national media coverage before you tour. You’ll know the timing is right when promoters start to approach you or when a number of fans are asking you to play their towns.

It’s a great idea to plan a tour around a release so all efforts are aligned and related merch sales can help to cover your tour costs.

Securing gigs

The most important thing a DIY artist can do is thorough research. Search online and ask other artists to identify suitable venues and promoters to approach. And if you’re being offered a gig, make sure the promoter is reliable and right for you.

When contacting promoters for the first time, take a personable approach and supply them with key information and links to truly sell yourself. This should include information on key gigs you have under your belt already.

Promoters are understandably reluctant to book touring artists who can’t guarantee a crowd. They are more likely to take a risk on artists who have secured national radio play, press and blog coverage. So plan your tour around releases and send your music to national and regional media to build a buzz at the right time in each town.

Gig swaps can be really useful so build a network of similar artists across the UK and offer slots at your hometown gigs in return a support slot at their busy gigs.

Planning

You’re better off playing a small number of suitable gigs than booking a 40 date tour of any town you can think of. Try to secure consecutive dates to limit the number of expensive ‘off-days’ and make sure your tour works logistically. Playing Exeter then Glasgow then Bristol is wasteful so plan your tour carefully.

During the early stages of touring, you’ll want to travel as light as possible. You may be able to get by with one or two cars or public transport. Eventually you should consider investing in or hiring a tour van.

For your first tour, you’ll want to save money wherever possible. Look for great value accommodation or ask to stay with friends, fans or the promoter. Ask ahead about catering options and promoters will usually help you out as best they can. Don’t forget to budget for ‘per diems’, equipment and spares and instrument insurance.

Make sure all parties are aware of the terms of the booking. Always agree a suitable fee in writing well in advance of the gig and find out if the promoter is paying you in advance or by cash on the night.

Who do you want on the road with you?

A Tour Manager is responsible for liaising with promoters, agreeing sound requirements, looking after an artist's interests on tour and arranging transport and accommodation. The Tour Manager is usually responsible for making sure you get paid. Tour Managers are available at reasonable rates and experts really can make a massive difference. But for early touring, an organised and reliable band member or contact may fill this vital role.

An ideal scenario for early touring is to book a Tour Manager who also drives and perhaps is able to do your sound. If you can’t afford additional personal, make sure your tech specs and riders help in-house sound techs to capture your sound and make the most of your soundcheck time – meaning you’ll want to arrive at the gig in good time!

Making the most of touring

Once you’ve booked your tour dates, start to spread the word. Work closely with the promoter to ensure that you are getting as much coverage as possible. Target regional media with an updated press release and make sure your tour dates are listed or mentioned in coverage elsewhere, and on your own web pages. Start engaging with fans and key tastemakers in each town and keep an eye on ticket sales to ensure momentum translates to ticket sales. You can also build a buzz by posting tour updates from each town.

Hopefully once your tour is over you’ll have picked up whole load of new fans and customers. Use the buzz you’ve created on the road to secure more coverage and industry interest (including interest from booking agents), and don’t rest on your laurels – start booking your next tour!

Joe Frankland works as an Artist Development Manager for Generator.

For more information on making the most of touring, head to our extensive advice section containing videos and text guides.

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