So you’ve made your album……Tips for Touring
So, you ignored the advice of everyone around you and you decided to be a touring musician! Congratulations! Over the past year my younger friends, clients, interns have hit me up asking about tips about going on their first tour (or first big one). I decided to collect all the lists from emails, and remember phone conversations I’ve had, and then ask some of the other people that work here and try to glean some practical advice. I hope Its helpful! Some of it might be obvious to you, some of it maybe not? If you have any tips that we missed, please feel free to email us on our contact form with your tip! This list is definitely geared towards the band that is just starting out either on a DIY tour or an opening slot on a package. I live in philly so some of these tips and resources might be a little Philly centric, but a lot of them can be applied broadly!
Here are some do’s, don’t do’s, and maybe do’s of the road!! It’s the collective wisdom of Headroom/members of Hop Along, Thin Lips, Mo Lowda and the Humble, Algernon Cadwallader and Liz Delise from over the years of DIY touring. Also after the list I included some helpful DIY resources in case you’re stuck!
1) Put a sign out at your merch table or ask the local bands or promoters for a place to stay. that’s how you make new friends on the road and save money on a motel! Some of my best road friends are people we just stayed with.
2) If you have to book a motel, use trivago, hotwire, or other apps, you can find places for 50 or 60, try to find a place with breakfast included! My personal favorite cheap motel is Red Roof Inn. or just walk into a hotel you know has free breakfast and eat it. Don’t go too fancy tho, they’ll know! Breakfast is often over by 10 am.
3) Doing grocery stores is sometimes a better option for food. My go to is a few pieces of chicken, fruit and an energy bar for breakfast. way better than fucking mcdonalds. or if the house you’re staying at is chill, making breakfast in the morning is a great way to say thank you to your hosts and eat a great meal for cheap. Eggs and potatoes will feed 10 people and cost you $20 or less.
4) Make sure you advance your shows/double check with the promoter. ESPECIALLY!!! if its a house show. I usually say something to the effect of “hey i know its a diy show but if we could get $200 that would be dope. what do you usually take at the door? is this realistic?” obviously,pick a number that feels comfortable for you, but the main thing is not to shake some kid down for all he has, but to create the expectation that SOMEONE NEEDS TO WORK THE DOOR!!! you would not believe how many times someone “forgets”. trust me, i know it sounds crazy but you’re depending on drunk ding dongs for gas money. if you don’t say we need $X then someone’s is gonna hand you $30 bucks and be like “dude thanks for playing you guys rock, wanna come back? “
5) if you’re playing a bar, try to ask ahead of time about drink tickets or meal tickets. again, they can always say no, but it’s pretty standard to get something especially if you’re out of town. If you are organized, ask ahead, or create the expectation, you might get something instead of nothing! The rule of thumb is to advance a show 1 week ahead of time.
6) Search along route is an amazing feature for google maps! Waze is good for rush hour traffic
7) reusable containers like a metal water bottle mean “free” drinks at gas stations! Free selzer from the soda machines are the holy grail! Pilot also has cold brew at the drink station that isn’t that bad.
8) buy a handle of whiskey (or spirit of choice), and put it in your backpack and sneak it in during load in. works every time!!! Now your 2 drink tickets just became 20. Stop at a gas station, fill up a cup of ice, now you have whiskey on the rocks in your hot ass back seat! Amazing luxury!
9) If you’re the singer/front-person – it’s your job to be the face of the band, every night the singer should go straight to the merch table after the set, and again at the end of the show while everyone loads out. It’s a good way to maximize your merch sales!!! Anyone who wants to say “good job” will probably approach the singer anyway, and it’s better they do it next to your t-shirts. Everyone has a job! The singer’s job is to charm people; your bass-player who avoids eye contact should push the guitar amps out to the van
10) Try REALLY hard to be on time or early for load in. that way you can get everything sorted, make friends with the local bands. Your show will be less chaotic, more fun, the promoter will like you, and you’ll ultimately sell more merch.
11) If you’re doing DIY – your shows will suck AT LEAST 50 percent of the time, if not more, its par for the course. you’ll probably mostly play for other bands, but you’re laying the groundwork for future tours! If you’ve never played for only the sound guy hundreds of miles from home, well you’re not a real musician! Make friends with anyone who is there, if you can afford it, buy the one person who showed up a beer and make a new friend! Work on meeting people who will make your next show in Kalamazoo suck less.
12) wake up early and go swimming or hiking!!!!!
13) If you’re opening for a bigger band, having stickers/cheap merch for donations is a good way to still have the people who want the headliner’s stuff to walk away with something of yours to remember you by.
14) Release your record, play a few shows locally, some weekends, wait a few weeks, THEN announce your big tour, or if you’re a newer band, its a good time to start booking your big tour then. Let the Jams marinate on the internet.
15) playing in Canada? DO NOT cross the border with weed, and when they ask if you have any merch and its value say “$0, we’re giving out free promotional materials” also add an extra 5 canadian dollars to whatever your american price is. A $20 shirt should be $25 canadian. Also currency exchange will not exhange your coins. WTF – make sure you use all that shit up before you cross the border – ask ahead of time to see if you can get paid in American if you’re playing a club.
16) There are checkpoints going in and out of Arizona on the southernmost interstates. There is also a checkpoint at El Paso. They’re looking for immigration law violations BUT they do have dogs. HIDE YOUR SHIT! Or get rid of it until you’re across the border ACAB
17) and for that matter, try not to travel w/ a lot of drugs. Everything you have should be small, easy to hide and in small amounts, enough that you could eat it/do it all if all else fails. I’ve heard of multiple horror stories of people getting caught with a lot of drugs especially in Arizona, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi. Keep in mind that penalties for psychadelics are surprisingly harsh. ACAB
18) Try to develop a routine or checklist for loading your gear in and out — even a single power supply can cause big problems at the next gig. Alternatively, if every member of the band can be responsible for a specific part of set-up and loud-out, you’ll save time and frustration. I’ve also seen people pick an order for the gear and then number it so there’s a system that’s idiot proof. Chances are you’ll need it because if your band is like mine, you’re a bunch of idiots.
19) almost goes without saying but …. DO A DUMMY CHECK before you leave — especially if you’ve been drinking.
20) Make sure to take some time to yourself on the road — what’s your happy place? Podcasts? Video games? Books? Driving? Bring something that lets you zone out for a little bit when the travel (or your bandmates) become too much. Everyone will thank you (including yourself!). Also consider keeping a journal – it will help you stay in the moment of doing something that is very cool! Plus you can mine it for lyrics later – just try not to be one of those bands that only sings about touring haha!
21) Might go without saying, but part of being on tour is also listening to the other acts, and supporting them too. Make some connections by not skipping sets. Or at least try to see a few songs of every band.
22) Hard cases for gear when possible – makes stuff easier to stack and gives you more peace of mind!
23) if you’re on a tour package, and you have a day off, trying getting an Airbnb somewhere, it’s a great way to relax, have some space to yourself or have an epic party! Some of my best tour memories are big get-togethers with all the bands at a random house in Idaho, or Michigan or Missouri. There are deals to be had!
24) Buy tires for your van from a place like firestone and get the damn warranty! When you blow out your tire in Albequerque you’ll thank yourself.
25) FUCK!!! CHECK ENGINE LIGHT! Go to an autozone and they’ll plug a computer and read the code, you can google the code and see if its just an emissions sensor or a major malfuntion
26) If you’re wheels make a rhythmic or oscillating rubbing or squeeking sound, it could be a ball bearing, get it checked or your wheel might fall off.
27) Have everyone in the band make a list of all the friends and relatives along the tour route, and hit them up ahead of time so you don’t have to crash at the house venue called the Vomitplex.
28) You have to help out touring bands in your own city if you want them to help you, especially when you’re starting out.
29) Which brings me to the general rule of thumb: Do not stay at the house you’re playing unless you are ready to party and not sleep. I have multiple stories of all night jam sessions/ragers/drum circles at the house venue that prevented sleep after a long day of driving. But if you’re trying to hang, go for it! It’s a great way to make friends on the road!
30) DIY touring is hard, but the great part is you’re your own boss, you can show up to the house at 8 pm, and you have so much for time to explore and connect with communites and people in a real authentic way across this giant-ass country. Once you’re playing clubs as part of a package, you have to wake up at 8 am for an 8 hour drive and a 5 pm soundcheck. Sure, that’s where you want to be eventually, but try to appreciate your DIY tours while you can!
31) Jumper cables. Air compressor
32) make a drop box with your bio, tour route, promo material, stage plot, tech assets, w9 so its easy to send people links on the fly
33) Have your music available online, even if it’s before you make a record, a demo is better than no music at all.
34) Keep you emails to promoters short and sweet and respond to emails ASAP.
35) Make friends with everybody! Bartenders, door people, the people booking the show, other bands. It goes a long way and you’ll usually get good suggestions on where to eat, sleep, and they’ll probably go to the next show as well.
36) Tell people you are playing a show and are from out of town. If you go out to eat somewhere local, chat with the people there and make them aware of your situation. They may be able to steer you into some inside tips in town/ maybe come out after their shift.
37) In between tour jobs- find one where you meet bands- bartender at or near a venue is a great example. You can make some really great random connections! Or maybe volunteer at a DIY space? Or you could prioritize finding a job that is flexible with touring – I’ve seen people do it all kinds of ways. You can work at the same place for a long time to the point where they just love you and will let you take off. I’ve had a friend who worked as a bar-back at a fancy cocktail place and would get all of her shifts covered for a month. I know people who work remotely doing customer service or medical transcriptions or find a way to work for themselves. I would work on an as needed basis for Hotel AV companies, and just let them know, “i’m unavailable for these two weeks”. I also worked as a valet, and just didn’t show up for a week no one noticed! Ultimately, in the long run if you’re serious about touring you want to find a job that pays well, and is flexible. Everyone eventually finds their own path but to do it in the long run, you’ll have to figure this out.
38) oh did we mention everyone should get their own key to the damn van? Time to hit that Home Depot in suburban Virginia and spend the extra few bucks to get everyone their own key and save yourself the trouble of playing “who has the van key” or from getting locked out.
39) you may think a van cooler is a good idea, its not. It keeps food/drinks cold for half a day then is just a smelly mess. In general keep track of your food, one time we bought a bag of potatoes and didn’t eat them all (see tip #3) and forgot about them from north california all the way to florida. Towards the end we were all like “what the fuck is that smell….
41) how to make a beer cold fast- continually roll the beer on top of a bucket of ice for 1-2minutes, boom, cold beer. Works 20 times faster than just sticking it in the ice
42) always have Emergen-C or something of the sort ( multi vitamins) on hand, drink it daily. Not getting enough sleep, shaking hands, drinking, are all breeding grounds for sickness. Wash your hands every single opportunity you can without being completely nuts about it. Getting sick on tour sucks.
43) Be aware of your bandmates safety/experience! Look out for each other! Chances are in some places you’ll all be a bunch of weirdos compared to locals but remember that music is a very bro-y place and that America is not all-welcoming to all people – back your female identifying bandmate when they’re advocating for themselves to the jerk-off sound guy; keep your POC bandmate company in the creepy gas station in the middle of nowhere, walk with each other at night, and be aware of your impact to the space (the van particularly), the way you carry yourself and how it can effect your friends and tour mates. Be an ally! If you respect your bandmates with good behavior, chances are it will encourage the people you encounter to respect them as well.
44) String winder, wire snips, drum key, sharpie, wrench, pliers, screw driver, needle nose pliers, allen key, Duhk tape
45) CHIPOTLE MYTH – for as long as i’ve been touring i’ve heard about Chipotle (the burrito chain restaurant) having a program where they’ll give bands free burritos. As far as I can tell, this is not true. What I’ve pieced together is that managers are allowed a certain amount of comp’d meals per day. Maybe for an upset customer – maybe for someone who is homeless? I don’t know. All I know is that i’ve been on multiple tours where we call in to a Chipotle and essentially ask – “Hi, we’re a band, we’ve been helped by Chipotle before, can you give us free burritos”, and sometimes, IT WORKS! Its worked less and less over the years, as I think they’ve gotten wise to it. But you can give it a shot! I have friends who all went on tour SO BROKE that is was literally their only option to eat every day. Seems like it was funny at first and then it got dark…..
46) If you’re an opener, try to be as courteous to the headliner as possible. Ask before dipping into hospitality, try to be really really on time, coordinate stage plot. Time your set so you don’t go over, get off the stage as soon as possible, then wrap your cables. Some headliners are absolute sweet-hearts/salt of the earth. Others are rock and roll entitled fucks. You never know what you’re going to get so tread lightly and don’t make enemies. Assume they’re as tired as you are, but also stressed out because they’re responsible for all the decisions that go along with the show that aren’t aware of, so try to be easy to work with.
Last but certainly not least – the whole point of doing this is for people to hear your music! If your set isn’t tight, doesn’t flow, then what is the point! Refine your set list, come up with transitions, have songs go right into one another, perfect your jokes, whatever! And try to remember it’s supposed to be fun!
Here are some general resources if you are in a pinch and don’t have friends who can help you out. Sometimes it’s better to develop your own network and help out your buddies, and sometimes it’s just better to hire a professional who will deliver. You gotta make the call, but in case you need it….
Need Cheap T shirts? Check out Soft Hands printing if you’re local to philly. Its the cheapest option for shirts and hoodies, you can also pick it up in person so you can save on shipping. Fairly quick turnaround, but you don’t want to order last minute.
If you aren’t in philly and want it mailed to you check out Lehigh Valley Apparel Creations. They can do last minute orders, quick turnaround, shirts, buttons, hoodies, tote bags, etc. Prices are also very good! Also Chris Reject is an institution, and a very solid/honest dude! DIY roots but professional af
CD’s – my band thin lips still sells them. You can get them made over in Disc Makers in Pensauken, NJ and again, save on shipping.
VInyl/Tapes – firstname.lastname@example.org
DIY label that also does vinyl and tape duplication. Really competitive rates! Small runs welcome! Local to philly/virginia but will ship
Music Video – Adam and Katie do great work if you’re in need of a music video.
Need PR? Emily from Lame-O does all the PR for her label and others. If she can’t help you, she can pass it along to someone who can!
If you get in touch with anyone please let them know you were referred by Headroom!