This is the first of many helpful blog posts aimed at helping touring bands and artists at all levels get just a little bit more out of their expeditions around the globe.
In this month’s post I will give some tips on saving some of that hard earned money in five key areas involved in touring. As anyone who is actively touring in the industry knows maximising REVENUE IN (from tickets, fees and merch sales), Vs minimising EXPENDITURE OUT (fuel, accommodation, food, wages etc) is the key to running not only a successful tour, but also safeguarding the future of the artist and ensuring the band / artist can make a living, and god forbid actually see some growth for all that hard work!
One of the first things to consider is, why are you touring in the first place? It could be for a support tour, enabling you to hit a potential new fan base and gain more fans via the established headliner. Often the fee you get for playing is not great in this instance, but you are doing it to increase your fan base as a priority, not make cash.
Another reason could be just to test the water, and get started on the touring circuit. This post is mainly aimed at newer bands rather than established, but the tips here could help any touring professional.
So here are 5 key areas I think are worth some consideration in your pre-tour planning
Accommodation is probably one of the most expensive aspects of touring. Especially when you are taking out crew as well. This is something to consider from the outset. Do you really need crew on this tour? Can you carry your own gear this time? The more people on tour, the more beds you have to book.
Booking well in advance when looking at hotels is always key, especially when you are looking at the budget hotels such as Travelodge, Premier Inn etc. Yes! You can get nicer hotels for the same price, if not cheaper than the two chains mentioned, if booked well in advance. We do have artists that say NO to Travelodge, it all depends on the band and budget. If you are hitting Europe there are some VERY budget hotel chains to choose from, such as F1 hotels in France. F1 sleep 3 per room, but you do have shared plastic toilets and showers. Not to everyone’s comfort level perhaps, but you can get a room for €19, which is really quite good. There are other cheap options such as B&B’s, hostels or Ibis Budgets throughout Europe. But be careful! Many EU hotels and B&B’s do not have 24 hour receptions, which can be an issue if you are planning to arrive late.
Back in the UK you need to see how many adults you can get in a room when booking. Is there a way you can sneak a couple of extra people in? I have known of 7 people in a Travelodge room before. Don’t get caught and remember to bring your own sleeping bag!
Hostels are a great cheap option if you don’t mind sharing a room with others. Depending on how many there are in your group, you might get everyone in one room without having to share with any of the general public. To be honest, hostels are often quite good fun; nothing like what I expected the first time I stayed in one. It ended up being a really great night and I made a few new friends in the bar. Hostels can be full of very interesting people – and what the hell! They might even come to the show where you can flog them a ticket and some merch! $$$
You can often get accommodation for free if you are clever about networking well whilst on tour. Stay with friends (new / old), family (or friends of) and fans houses if need be! You’d be surprised what a social media post can get you if you ask (vet the person first, to make sure they aren’t psychos! ha!). Take some sleeping bags and pillows and crash on floors. I known many bands that have toured like this for years. Staying at a fans house or even another band that lives in that town or nearby is a great option for the budget conscious. Try sweetening the deal by offering “guest list” in exchange for their hospitality. As with hostels it can be fun! and what a story for whoever puts you up when you make it to the big time. It might even be an opportunity to get some content for your social media, as we all know you can never have enough of that to feed your fans!
Could you sleep in a van? If you are going DIY, then an option can be to put a couple of beds, or make the cases in the back flat and put a matress across them, put some curtains up, wrap up warm and find a suitable place to crash. (Do not travel like this) Services in Europe can be good for this, as some have showers and are easy for grabbing something to eat. Unfortunately the UK won’t let you do that as you can generally only have 2 hours parking for free but then you will have to pay, but it can still end up cheaper to pay the extended parking than booking hotel rooms…. Come on England, sort it out!!
Would it be cheaper to go home? It’s often worth weighing up the costs against time and fuel. In all instances don’t be lazy: do the maths! If crunching numbers is not your strength try someone else in the band, a friend, a relative etc. A little planning like this will often present the right way to go when making a decision.
I’m guessing that bands requiring a bus for their tour won’t be reading this, but some food for thought at this level also. Tour Managers in this scenario should already have an understanding of pricing regarding the hire of a splitter or 2 plus hotels Vs the price of a bus; which is travel and accommodation sorted in one. Something to bear in mind here is your tour route. If you are driving long distances between shows then hotels and splitter combination may not be feasible i.e. you’ll likely be leaving after the gig to get to the next venue with inadequate time for a sleep-over in a hotel. In this case a sleeper van or bus is going to be the only way to remain on schedule. 8/10 of our clients will choose the option to hire a splitter from us, and let us book the accommodation to their budget and tour routing. This seems to be the mainstay, but interest in sleeper vehicle enquiries is definitely on the increase and is a viable cost saving option for some.
There are a few options regarding travel. Some bands buy their own van and use this for their tours. You can get something great, especially early on in the year as hire companies are often selling their older models to make way for new ones. *TIP OF THE DAY* If you do buy a vehicle, look after it! It will treat you well if you treat it well; service regularly! Your van is getting you to each gig and you don’t want it breaking down if you can help it. It is a fact that vehicles can and will breakdown during their lifetime but you can minimise this with a bit of regular TLC.
“8/10 of our clients will choose the option to hire a splitter from us”
Keep an eye on tyres and brakes as these will help save your life; and keep you legal of course! Splitters are designed to carry several people and backline. Obviously this could be just a van if there are up to 3 of you in the band. Splitters are versatile. You could convert part of the back into a sleeping area, thus saving on accommodation if you are on a really low budget. Can you do the tour in a car? Even if there are 5 of you, it could maybe be done in an estate. I know the US artist Moriah Woods toured Eastern Europe for all of 2015 in an old Audi estate, with herself, a drummer, bass player and gear, it’s doable!
Try talking to the other bands on the tour. Maybe you can pre-arrange a kit share beforehand? This will mean you only need to travel with your instruments and opens up some cheaper options. Most bands are nice enough to share cabs and drum shells / hardware at the least, meaning you could just bring guitar heads and breakables. If it’s a big tour with a truck or bus and trailer, try asking if they could carry your gear between shows? This would mean you would only need to get it to the first show and pick it up at the last. Boom! That can be done in a car! You could also come to some arrangement where you sell their merch in return at the shows to make it worth their while. The bottom line, if you don’t ask, you don’t get! I actually did this when touring as the main support for Muse. It just cost us a few shirts for the crew.
“It is a fact that vehicles can and will breakdown over their lifetime, but you can minimise this with a bit of regular TLC”.
There are now more and more sleeper vans becoming available to hire in the industry. This is where there are 4-6 bunks in a van and seating area, great solution! just remember if you are taking your backline you’ll need a trailer.
How about asking for a bus share? Maybe you could spend part or all your fee on sharing the bus? This way you could save fuel and accommodation meaning your overheads are much less. You will be relaxed when arriving at the show, help them unload, and make an extra effort to push your merch at all the shows, so you can use that as your income for the tour.
Fuel can be a killer on tour. So some very useful advice would be to do a little research before you leave, especially when travelling in Europe. Check out the fuel prices in each area. You may find it cheaper to fill up with fuel in Dover before hitting France (unlikely). We recommend finding an Auchan service station for lowest prices in France. There is one in both Calais and Dunkirk so just put enough fuel in to get through the UK and fill up in France and save a small fortune! Intermarche service stations are another option, slightly more expensive, but still better than a BP garage. (See a fuel comparison guide here for a rough gauge https://www.drive-alive.co.uk/fuel_prices_europe.html#Petrol and diesel prices in Europe).
Luxembourg is great for filling up if you are out that way or passing through. Plan your routes accordingly and save. The fuel cost here is probably the lowest in Europe (you could also top up with cheap cigarettes too). Other places such as Switzerland can be very expensive, so avoid these. Just doing 30 minutes research before you leave could possibly save you hundreds if not thousands in fuel costs over your tour.
- Selling Merchandise
One of the biggest incomes from touring can come from selling merch. I am not a big fan of merch companies who buy the rights to sell the merchandise. Bands make so much more money when they sort merchandise themselves. Yes it can be risky as you may end up with shirts at the end of the tour, but if you’re sensible that doesn’t have to be the case. Watch what you order! You could start a tour with a small amount like 50-100 shirts, the first few days of the tour will give you an idea if you are going to need to re-order and when. If you use a reputable screen printer then you shouldn’t have to pay your setup fee again with a re-order; at least that’s how we deal with merch orders for our clients. You can get shirts printed for as little as £3.00 per shirt. These can sell for £10-15. (More when the band gets bigger) Great profit!
“If you are in the band, whether you have a merch seller or not,
go stand by the merch and help sell yourself”.
If you are a business geek like me. You have probably heard of the saying “people buy from people”. This is never more right than with selling merch. If you are in the band, whether you have a merch seller or not, go stand by the merch and help sell yourself. You sell more merch FACT!! I have known support bands outsell the headliners by a long way by being there and actively trying to help sell their wares. People who come to gigs love to meet the band. If you are there holding your CD you are much more likely to sell it than if it was sat on a table in front of your seller. People love to meet the band and have things signed, even if it’s the first time they have seen you. They will have it signed just in case you “make it!”. It’s part of their experience! Don’t forget that. You could be the next Beatles, Foo Fighters, Metallica or anyone. People who bought a now massive band’s first CD or shirt when they were supporting in a small-ish venue, now have a great story to tell and possibly a valuable souvenir!
Get as much merchandise variety as you can afford. Different shirt designs for example. Be clever with the designs, you don’t have to use lots of colours to be effective. This keeps the cost per unit down and maximises profit to you. Consider things like badges (people buy as they are cheap), stickers, lighters and mugs are also good choices. There are lots of merch options that can be branded with your designs. Do some research online or call us for a chat. Merch is a must – it’s a great income, just be clever! Don’t forget everyone who buys a shirt is a walking advert for your band. People buy to advertise your band, it’s a no brainer!!
I think I will do a separate blog on Merch some time. What do you think? Do you have any tips and tricks to selling more Merch? Let us know in the comments!
“Bands like Slipknot used to sell 14 times more t-shirts than they did albums”.
- Building Relationships Whilst on Tour
BE NICE – that’s all it takes! Be nice to everyone whilst on tour, and do it sincerely. Real fans will follow you, buy tickets to shows, buy new records and merch for life. The more “real fans” you have, the more profitable your band will be in the future. This goes for staff and promoters etc too. These guys generally know the scene, the venue, and the area. Make as many friends in that town / city as possible.
Earlier we spoke about staying with friends on tour to save costs. Think about the future. You might get asked to be support for one of your favourite bands that are playing to thousands of new potential fans, but the fee is terrible! This could be the time where you re-visit these forged relationships and ask to stay at their place. Obviously this makes the gig worthwhile for you. No expenditure on accommodation, no money from the performance but you got to steal some new fans from the other band, and sell merch to em! It’s a good outcome for this tour. If returning the following year on your own headline tour, you will get your fee and an audience waiting to see you. Think ahead!
If the promoter is the same one you have met before you could be asking them to recommend somewhere to crash. Sometimes promoters might put you up or I have known venues offer to do the same. Do you think they would offer that to the band that were dicks the last time they played there or did not attempt to build a relationship with them? Probably not.
You might want someone to help sell your merch for you. If you know people in each town to help do this then that would save the cost of an extra bed in a hotel, or needing a bigger vehicle to travel. Plan ahead!
My point is, if you are nice and are building great relationships it’s ok to ask for help or favours, just don’t take the mickey with it! Give something back like a shirt or a meal. Some kind of token of appreciation will usually cement the relationship. Don’t forget these people as and when you have made it either. They could be putting up some posters in the area for you ahead of shows, contacting local press, offering a place to stay or even hunting down gigs for you. This is especially helpful in Europe if you don’t speak the lingo. Having a devoted fan to liaise with people on your behalf can be a godsend.
When things are slow try and beg, borrow and steal as much as you can (actually don’t steal, it’s just the saying!). But get as much help as you can to make touring viable for you.
Your operating level will depend on the rider possibilities available to you. But do think about what you actually need. Much of this blog is relating to touring on a budget and how to save money – and another costly area of touring is food. Ideally you need to keep healthy on the road. A great tip for riders is “don’t just think snacks and booze”, think about the next day. Try adding to your rider items like porridge, snack bars, cereal and milk. Think about how much money you would save not going for a McDonalds breakfast every day. Try getting loaves of bread and sandwich filling to have for lunch and dinner. You can quite possibly get away with not spending very much at all. Try and carry as much for the following day as possible, leave nothing behind! Often you might find the headliner may start giving you what they don’t use from their riders. This again goes back to being nice. If they like you, then this is more likely to happen.
Do look at what you don’t use when you get a substantial rider. Are there things that you could do without? When you are getting the bigger fees against Vs deals, you could potentially make more money if you have less on the rider. I’ll explain fee’s Vs deals in more depth in another post, for those who are not familiar with the this.
Yes, you ideally want your full rider. But now more than ever, everyone is fighting for as much money as possible. You might find that as a support your rider is very minimal. This is only because the promoter and headline band are trying to make money. Don’t get annoyed if you are not getting it all. Think about how much it’s costing the headline to actually put on their show. You will be surprised how much more money support bands can make over the headliners. Think about this before you get annoyed at your little rider. On the flip side, as a headliner, do consider the support band. It’s not much to ask for bread, sandwich fillings, beer and water.
Well that about wraps it up for this post, if you have enjoyed some of the topics you have read, let me know in the comments. Equally if you have some advice to give that could add to any of the above, please feel free to comment those also.
Any suggestions for future posts are also welcomed.
As always for anything tour related you can get in touch with me or the Complete Tours team via our website at www.completetours.co.uk.
Until next time, put some of these tips into effect and see if you can increase your tour profits!
All the best