So the time has come to level up. You've done your time playing years of open mics at your local coffeehouse, working your way up to weekly features there, then doing regular gigs in and around your hometown. Your buddy with the minor college radio hit is doing a run of gigs through the Midwest for a couple weeks next month, and his management has gotten you added as the main support for the whole thing. You've got your first out of town tour! Congratulations!
So here you are asking yourself, what the hell do I do now?!
There are a few basic things that will help you get your head around this undertaking. I'll be going through these in more detail in future posts in this series, but for now I will list them here:
1. Don't Panic.
This is the basic rule of galactic hitchhikers everywhere.
2. Get Organized.
It's almost 2014, so presumably you have access to some sort of online calendar, either via Google or iCal or whatnot. Use it! Enter all your gigs into it, starting with the towns the venues are located in so that information is what shows first when you look at your calendar in Monthly view. Make this calendar shareable, and share it with your bandmates so they have access to it too.
I also highly recommend getting an organizer app like Evernote, which allows you to make notes and keep task lists updated on any of your devices, from your laptop at home to your phone or tablet on the road. You can also share your notes/task lists with your bandmates (even with just the free version) so everybody can be on the same page at all times.
3. Make Lists.
You don't have to be a Virgo (ahem) to live by lists. Are you a solo artist? If so, what do you need to bring with you to make your shows happen? If you are a band, list who is coming, then list what gear each band member needs to bring with them, including personal luggage. Don't forget the merch (do you have CDs? Download cards? T-Shirts?)!
4. Get The Details.
This is called "advancing". As far as scheduling goes, you might not be able to get the specifics of what time you need to be at each venue along your tour until a week or so before the gigs - but you can get a basic idea, since you should at least know what time the show starts each night. How much are you getting paid per gig? This is key to working out your tour budget.
5. Make A Budget.
This is hard for most bands to stomach at first, but it's a sad-but-unfortunate truth: chances are you're not going to be pulling in much, if any, guaranteed cash on your first tour. Planning out a budget in advance is essential in making sure you lose as little money as possible. Make a spreadsheet (if you don't have Excel or OpenOffice at your disposal, create one on Google Drive) and list every expense you can think of, from gas to food to lodging to mid-tour laundry. Then put it away for a day. When you look at it again tomorrow, what jumps out at you? Maybe you can live without certain budget items. Or maybe you'll suddenly remember that your bass player has a cousin in Topeka, and you can crash at their place after the gig there that night.
6. Make A Plan.
Look at your calendar. Where is your first gig, and how far is it from your hometown? How far apart are all the other gigs from one another? (Google Maps is about to become your best friend.) Do you have any days off between gigs? What does your budget allow for, as far as travel plans go? If you suddenly realize you have gigs on consecutive days in cities that are a 12-hour drive apart (not a problem for the headliner on their tour bus, but an issue for you as the opener), how are you going to make that happen?
7. Don't Panic!
Another reminder never hurts.
Future installments in this series-of-undetermined-length will go into each of these points in detail. Stay tuned!