Hotels can be a huge expense and take a big bite out of the money you make on tour, but they don’t have to. These ideas can provide free places to crash and friendships that can last a lifetime.
Making profit in any business can be boiled down to a simple formula: the money you make minus the money you spend equals the money you keep. When it comes to touring, one way to boost your take is to keep your hotel costs as low as possible. Although accommodation costs are a business write-off, there are ways you can go on a tour without paying for a single hotel.
Staying in people’s homes (including fans)
Thanks to the Internet and the sharing economy, there are accommodation-sharing resources that will help you find places to stay for free. Each of these services work by matching travelers with hosts in a particular area because some hosts are just looking for interesting people to meet. As a touring musician, you’re already interesting and have stories and music to share.
Try exploring the following sharing services:
- Couchsurfing. Couchsurfing matches travelers with locals, many of whom are verified by the site and community. Each year they support 400,000 hosts and four million visits.
- BeWelcome. BeWelcome was started by a group of volunteers from Hospitality Club. It’s free to sign up and there are no obligations to host.
Of course, when you stay at any stranger’s home, safety comes to mind. So to assist both sides in the matching service, build trust, and promote safety, these sharing sites have age limits (you must be over 18 for many of the services) as well require you to fill out a detailed profile. Travelers and hosts then review each others’ profiles so they can get an idea about who they are, what they’re like, and what they do. These services allow references or ratings (much like ride-sharing services do) and have a way to report abuse to keep anyone abusing the system out of the pool.
Matching is as simple as researching the hosts in a particular area and messaging them through the service as to their availability. If you plan out the trip ahead of time, you can invite your hosts to your shows and put them on your guest list to give them something in return.
Having fans pay you to stay with them
If you’re willing to play smaller shows on the way to each stop on your tour, consider performing house concerts. House concerts are private shows performed at a person’s residence, usually to a small audience and for a small cover.
These types of shows grew out of the folk-music community, where intimate settings are especially appropriate. However, many musicians and bands have added these small shows to supplement their standard tours (since they can make them money) and have a place to crash for the night (and sometimes a breakfast!).
Although performing a house concert doesn’t automatically include a place to stay for the night, you can certainly ask and the host may even offer. If you plan your tour right, you could be doing private shows on every stop on your tour, getting free lodging the whole time.
To explore this option, try the following:
1. Announce you’re looking to book house concerts
As you’re just starting to plan your tour, let your fans know via social networking or your mailing list that you’re willing to play house concerts. This alone may open a ton of opportunities.
2. Contact fans asking you to play their city or town
Whenever a fan tweets, messages, or sends you an email asking you to play in their city, contact them to see if their place is available for a house concert or if they know someone in the areas who would host. It’s also worth reaching out to these requests because sometimes these fans will help you book gigs in their hometown by connecting and dealing with local venues.
3. Agree on payment and ask your host if you can stay at their place
Normally you’ll negotiate a flat fee or a guaranteed minimum payment of the door for performing (since what you get paid shouldn’t have to depend on your host’s ability to bring in people). It’s in negotiating the fee that you can also suggest making lodging a part of the arrangement (or discounting your fee if they host you).
4. Make sure you have the right equipment to put on your own show
You’ll need to travel with all the necessary equipment to produce your house concerts or come up with a solution to rent it locally.
Naturally, as with the first option, there are safety considerations when playing a house concert and staying at a stranger’s house. There are also legal considerations, like zoning and noise ordinances, so keep in mind that sometimes house concerts can get shut down. You can learn more about avoiding these legal hurdles as well as booking and performing tips from sites like Concerts In Your Home and Russ and Julie’s House Concerts.
Staying in your vehicle
There’s one more alternative for avoiding hotels: sleeping in your car or van. While it’s not for everyone, it turns out there are entire communities dedicated to telling you how to set up your vehicle for sleep, including the Vandwellers subreddit, which has an FAQ on the topic.
Some of these communities and concepts are about long-term living, but there are other strategies that are perfectly useful for a touring musician who just needs to sleep in their vehicle for a night or two which they call “Part-Time Vandwellers.”
If you need to crash for the night in your vehicle, consider these tips:
1. Find free campsites
There are places that allow you to park and camp for free. Use websites like Free Campsites to plan your tour around places they recommend you can park. If you have a small tent and the weather is agreeable, you can sleep outside and enjoy the outdoors rather than being cooped up in the backseat of your car or the floor of your van.
2. Try stealth camping
For those nights where you find yourself in the city and there’s no free campsite available, you may have to stealth camp: park and stay in your vehicle on the street or somewhere that’s not an approved campground. The biggest challenge for staying the night in your car in the city is to find a place to park where no one, including local authorities, will bother you. For this, the vandwelling community advises the parking lots of 24-hour stores, mall lots, and other places like hotel parking lots where cars are expected to be parked all night. Parking the night at a 24-hour store has the added advantage of having a bathroom nearby as well.
3. Join a national fitness club chain for showers and facilities
When you’re on the road and living out of your vehicle, getting a good bathroom or shower becomes a challenge. For this, the vandwelling community suggests chains like 24hr Fitness or Planet Fitness as inexpensive options. They have parking lots, showers, and other amenities. And, of course, you can also use them to get in a workout along your tour.
4. Outfit your vehicle for comfort
If you plan on sleeping in your vehicle while touring, it’s a good idea to stop at the camping or convenience store to load up on items that will make vehicle-living easier. This includes things like sleeping bags, ear plugs, hand-wipes, bottled water, pillows, etc.
And, since the sun rises early, but you likely don’t, preparing your vehicle with reflective sun shields and shades become an important part of your planning, especially if you’re sleeping in your vehicle. For a van, long-term options include outfitting the back with insulation like Reflectix, which can make it much more comfortable for sleeping.
While some of the vandwelling communities make it sound like an idyllic life, sleeping in your car or van isn’t necessarily the best sleeping option out there, especially for your posture, back, and general health. Then again, touring can be temporary and sometimes it’s your best option. Plus, it’s easy on your pocketbook and will help you keep more of the money you make on a tour.
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Of course, there are other techniques you can use to get free lodging as you tour that you shouldn’t forget as you plan to get on the road. Naturally, you can always play in places where you know friends and family. You can also team up with local artists in each city you visit and open for them or plan an evening. They may give you a place to crash or know where you can go.
While it’s not for everyone, know that interacting with the people that give you a place to stay for the night can be some of the most rewarding and lasting experiences of being on the road. For inspiration and great stories about touring this way, check out Amanda Palmer’s book, The Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help.
Authors of the critically-acclaimed modern classic, The Indie Band Survival Guide, Billboard Magazine called Randy Chertkow and Jason Feehan “the ideal mentors for aspiring indie musicians who want to navigate an ever-changing music industry.” Their latest book, Making Money With Music (Macmillan) and free Making Money With Music Newsletter, help all musicians — from startups to pros — build a sustainable music business so you can make money in today’s tech-driven music environment.
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