How to take your band on tour

So you’re a garage band who wants to take it to the next level? You’ve played a year’s worth of shows in your home town and the other two home towns nearby; you’ve used the actual GarageBand software on the lead guitarist’s MacBook Pro to record an album. You have a Bandcamp account, a Songkick account, a SoundCloud account, and a MySpace account. You’ve read the Nirvana biography and learned how they toured their way out of rural Washington state. You’ve read the story of the Lumineers, who played ‘Ho Hey’ 2,000 times in five years before they made it big. You know the odds, but you’re ready.

What do you do? Well, here’s how you start…

Wanna be the new Band of Skulls (as featured in FAULT Issue 10)?

First, you practice. Your drummer needs to learn how to play drums. ‘Self-taught’ isn’t going to cut it. You’re going to walk into a club and there’ll be a drum set you’ve never seen before, and your drummer has to sit down and nail it. Your bass player should learn how to run a PA. Chances are, the PAs are going to be terrible no matter where you go, so you need someone who can work magic. Give the frontman the job of PR — of course, that’s you, isn’t it? Frontmen are always the people who read articles about how take the band on tour.

Then, you tell your families. It’s easier if you’re over 18. It’s harder if you’re over 23. There’s a limited window where “touring with a band” sounds like a good idea, and it’s the summer between your freshman and sophomore year in college. Even then they’re probably going to want to get you an internship. You have to make your case.

Next, you figure out how you’re going to fund the tour. Assume that every penny you make selling CDs and t-shirts is going to go back into producing the CDs and t-shirts. Don’t forget you have to pay both sales tax and income tax on everything you sell.

Of course you’re going to couchsurf, of course you’re going to find the oldest van you can, because that’s part of the fun. Having the van break down on the side of the road is fun. Sleeping in the van is fun. It’s all fun for now, because you’re over 18 but not yet 23, and your money isn’t meant to last forever.

Save up your cash for festivals and clubs. Bars are great, but the people aren’t there to listen to you. It gets depressing, after too many shows where you stare at the audience’s backs. You’ll probably have to pay to play. Try not to have to pay to play.

jonas-brothers-fault-magazine men's section cover
FAULT issue 16 stars The Jonas Brothers had a short lived reunion

Figure out what to do about your significant others. Some of them will love the idea. Some of them will hate it. Some of them will want to tour with you. There’s going to be a point where one of your band members leaves to save a relationship. There’s going to be another point where a band member leaves to go to grad school. One of you is Pete Best; you just don’t know which one yet.

Keep your first tour short, so you have time to learn from your mistakes. The first tour isn’t the make-or-break tour, anyway. That’s the second tour. You’ve experienced the highs and lows, the sleepless nights and the lack of cash and the lack of fans, and you decide to go on tour again. The second tour is the serious one. The second tour is when you become a band.

How do you take your band on tour? Same way everyone else does: you book your shows, get in your van, and go.