How do I plan my first tour?
Going on tour for the first time is a formative experience for any band. You leave your home town, perform your songs to a new audience, and get your first dose of honest feedback. Only a few bands can rely on the help of an external booker or a booking agent at first. We have some valuable tips, which should help you to make your first tour as good as possible and prevent some classic mistakes.
Timing the tour
The best possible time for a tour is the period between the end of September and the middle of May. In the summer most people don’t want to go into clubs which are already hot and sticky. Furthermore, lots of music lovers are away during the summer festival season, or have already planned their concert budgets.
Strategically, the best time for touring is directly after the release of your latest record. You can promote it on tour, and sell more than you would from home. However, you should start planning your tour at least three months beforehand – six months in advance is ideal, as venues usually plan their schedules between four and six months ahead of the shows.
Choosing venues, and how to contact them
When choosing which venues to contact it is important to consider their capacity. At this point you need to think realistically about your band again, and one thing is for sure: a full club is better than an empty concert hall. It is also important to research what kind of music the venue shows. A jazz band wouldn’t usually perform in the local hard-core club. Websites like regioactive.de have some useful information when choosing your locations. Simply enter the name of the town you wish to perform in, and you will be given a list of venue suggestions.
- In order to make contact with venues you should start with an email, and follow the following guidelines:
- Introduce your band in two or three short sentences.
- State your ideal performance dates. Don’t limit yourself to one specific day, try to be as flexible as possible within your overall tour plan.
- Provide links to examples of your music, or better still to live videos.
- Include links to interesting reviews, press releases and other materials.
- Important tip: Never send an email with attachments, always send links to your material. Not many bookers will make the effort to download something.
If you haven’t heard back from a venue after a week, give them a call, and ask politely (but do ask) whether they received the email. If the answer is yes, also ask whether anyone is dealing with it.
How long and how far?
When considering the length of your tour, you have to be realistic about your band. In the early stages, a touring period of one to two weeks is recommended. Remember to plan some days off, in order to keep up everyone’s strength and look after the singer’s voice. Free days are often determined by the venues’ response to your enquiries. It is important that you do not think you have to play every day. Give yourself time to rest, and use the energy for your next shows!
The extent of your travelling also determines the nature and magnitude of your tour. A tour across the whole of Germany is not necessarily the best idea for every band. As a newcomer, it definitely makes sense to start by expanding your fanbase in the surrounding area, and then to continue constantly broadening your reach.
Whilst booking your gigs you should think carefully about a tour itinery. Make sure that you play concerts in neighbouring places on consecutive days. The whole point of an itiniery is simply to save time and fuel costs. Even if planning it sometimes seems difficult in practice, you should always bear it in mind. You should also consider your sleeping arrangements in advance. Whilst planning your tour you should consider whether you can stay overnight for free with friends or relatives.
It is a fundamental part of the live music business to clarify the conditions of your agreement – i.e., payment, rider, equipment and simple things like directions to the venue and parking availability. It is important that all these things are confirmed in advance, so that any disagreements can be solved in good time. You should also give the venue a detailed tech-rider, in order to ensure that all the necessary equipment is provided.
For newcomers, the payment often relies upon the door takings. This means that your fee depends upon the amount of people who come to the concert. A 70-30 doors deal is the industry norm, in which the artist receives 70%.
You should join GEMA and register your songs in good time before the tour starts. This is the only way to ensure your rights of use, and protect your material by copyright. The venue will pay a contribution to GEMA for your live performance and the songs that you play. This money will in turn end up in your pocket in the end. If you are not a member of GEMA, this part of your income will simply be lost. If you are a member of GEMA, make sure you inform the venue from the start. They should then organise the rest of the process.
Contracts are unusual for smaller gigs and you shouldn’t expect one, but you can always refer back to your email correspondance. For this reason, it is always good to have written confirmation of the conditions of your agreement, in order to avoid problems later on.