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Touring For The Right Reasons

July 21, 2009


It’s been said over and over again that touring is the way to build your fanbase.  I’m not disagreeing with that because many a band built their base by touring. The thing is, many a band bust their ass on the road and achieve marginal success.

The reason?

They didn’t have songs that people knew and wanted to hear live.

There’s a quote from Fat Mike, an indie stalwart in the punk scene and frontman of NOFX where he said something to this effect,”Everyone told us that touring was the way to go. We’d be eating and making nothing. It wasn’t until we made a good record, that touring paid off.”

If people don’t know who you are, playing another town is sketchy at best. You’re playing dive after dive playing to random drunks and making a few fans along the way.  I know that sounds negative, but if you’re an indie band who’s booked a tour without much promotion or word of mouth behind your music, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

It’s a lot of work booking a tour and it can cost a lot of money (gas, food, fixing van breakdowns, having gear stolen, places to stay).  It can also be tough to get a guarantee on a Wednesday night in Delaware, so relying on door money and merch/music sales is all you got.

So why spend a ton of effort on booking a tour if the only people who know you are in your city?

Why not spend the effort on promoting yourselves online.  You don’t need a big budget to be noticed. You just need to think creatively and do the work needed to make it happen.

When people know and love your songs, they will come out to the show.

Just think of it as a fan.. Would you go see a band you didn’t know over a band you know and want to see, even if the first show was cheaper?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 22, 2009 10:44 am

    I’m not sure that “they didn’t have songs that people knew and wanted to hear live” is necessarily the culprit here. More likely, it has to do with the fact that bands tour sporadically and without much (or any) strategy. For example, bands often drive hundreds (even thousands of miles) to play shows more on the basis that they were able to get booked somewhere than on the basis of strategic sense. I’ve always like Martin Atkins five-pointed-star concept. You have your home base city, or a city where you have a strong fanbase. So you identity five new cities within a certain radius (far enough that you’ll have a new group to play to, but close enough that some fans from your home base will travel to support the show), and grow those cities. Repeat. If tours aren’t approached in the same way as any other business investment (i.e. w/ a plan, budget, etc.), then yes, you probably won’t get anything of material value from it.

  2. July 22, 2009 12:21 pm

    Andrew are you going to CMJ? I think we are. Let’s meet up and discuss these things further.

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