How to tour as an indie: on the road

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Being on the road doesn’t mean you know how to tour. Learn how to get gigs, manage your time, and make the most of your indie tour.

Touring as an Indie

Excerpted from our new guide, Touring as an Indie: Strategies for booking, promoting, and thriving on the road.

Touring as an indie band doesn’t mean getting on a luxury bus and having a tour manager handling gigs, logistics, accommodations, and meals. Here’s some good advice on how to tour culled from loads of blog posts and articles we’ve published on touring. These highlights should get you thinking about the ins and outs of how to get gigs, what an indie tour can be, and touring tips to take with you on the road.

House Concerts
House concerts are just what the name implies: concerts in someone’s home. Typically, house concerts are invitation-only gigs presented by a host, with all the proceeds going to the artist. As a general rule, house concerts are:
• intimate shows with 15-50 people sitting close to the performer
• $10-20 per guest
• performed by solo artists or small groups with little to no amplification
• likely to house and feed the artist for the night

Sprinkling house concerts in between club dates can be a great way to fill out your itinerary. It does take coordination to connect with a host and organize the event, and you are relying on your host’s ability to get enough people in the door to make it a success. But house concerts can be an excellent way to personally connect with fans, sell merch, and make decent money.

Your gig takes up 25% of your day…
… don’t waste the rest of it. Have a set of acoustic versions of your songs rehearsed and ready. For each town where you’ve booked an evening gig, contact local coffee houses and record shops and ask if you can do a daytime performance free of charge (with a tip jar). Also see if there are local radio stations where you can play, do an interview, and spin some tracks. Even if the listenership or turnout is minimal, in-studios and in-stores are excellent video and photo opportunities that make great content for the web!

Use social media
Your social media exploits will be more effective if they’re targeted.

• If you’ve played in the area before, reconnect with the folks you met the last go-round.

• Create a Facebook event for each show and invite attendees based on their location.

• Check out the venue websites where you’re going to play. Do they have Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter pages you can follow? Who are their most active fans? Reach out to them.

• Do you have an email list you can segment by state and city? If not, now is the time to start. Send a personalized email to the groups of people who live within driving distance of your show.

• Keep a tour diary. This can be as simple as a few sentences and pictures from your adventures you can post on your blog.

• Who are the other artists you’re playing shows with? Find them online. Begin a dialogue. See if you can interact with some of their online fans, because some of them will be at your show.

Document Everything
Take pictures, video, and audio – not just of your concert, but of the people you meet, the places you go, the landmarks you see, and your band cruising the city. Interview audience members and upload to YouTube. Post the videos on your blog, on Facebook, and Tweet like a bird.

Getting sleep and staying hydrated are essential to enjoying a tour. You won’t last if you’re partying all the time. You’re out there to perform: everything else comes second to keeping yourself in performing shape, especially if you’re a vocalist.

If you’re traveling on a budget and not always staying in hotels, finding a comfortable place to lay your head can be a challenge. Pack inflatable AeroBeds, at least one pair of earplugs, and a sleep mask to help when you’re trying to catch sleep in odd places at odd hours.

Get resourceful with accommodations
Veteran touring bands often stay in houses of people they’ve met at gigs, and these often become a regular stop if the band tours the same route again. A key to success: be a good houseguest. Buy your hosts toilet paper, or offer to cook breakfast. You’re cultivating relationships that could be very useful for future trips.

Guide to Gigging

Read More
Help the soundman get you a great live music mix
9 things you should never do on stage
The power of a trash can ending
What to do when the song is over
Owning the crowd: music performance tips from the “One Man Sideshow”

9 thoughts on “How to tour as an indie: on the road

  1. one of the things that ive learned having bands at my place is that they never know how to properly keep a shower curtain in the shower, and the water in the tub and not on the floor. One other thing thats easily overlooked is bands dont do their dishes after use when at a hosts house. 

  2. We really need this as Chris Caswell, American Celtic Bard and harp builder, is headlining at the Somerset Harp Festival in NJ, and is driving across country from San Francisco on a three-four week trip in July. Fans have suggested venues along the way, but we really need him to play in places where he can be financially supported as the costs of getting to the festival are high. Thanks for this help. I’ll let you know how it goes for him – hopefully it will be a testimonial to the helpfulness of the guide. Thanks again. Bev Riverwood, Gargoyle Events, Sebastopol, CA

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