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DIY Touring: Tips of the trade

Tip Published Thursday 7 June 2018
Dan White of Blue Child Collective (photo: Cahill Films @cahillfilms) and Natasha Shanks of The Little Lord Band (photo: Alex McLernon)

Budget! Make sure you work out your overheads and all related costs, and be aware of avoidable costs due to mistake ie. Running late and tolls

Get your show out there – in regional areas drum up excitement through posters in local hotspots and community radio. In metro areas focus on the internet and street press.

Start touring in any way you can! The long-term investment of connecting with your fans and making new ones is well worth it

The DIY ethos is alive and well in music. Whether you are self-releasing your music or organising your own tours, it requires serious tenacity. At a member event in Perth, two of WA's most prolific live acts, Dan White of Blue Child Collective and Natasha Shanks of The Little Lord Band, shared a treasure trove of knowledge and tools on DIY Touring.

We tossed a Q & A their way as well, to find out a bit more about what it all takes to get out there on the road, play shows, and support your music in an artistically and fiscally meaningful way.

1. What were some bumps in the road early on that you learned important lessons from?

DAN: Don’t do it for the money. This can be hard when you’re thousands of Ks from home and you’re looking to cover costs, but take a moment and remember the whole point of touring: connecting with your fans and making new ones. That is a far better long term investment than writing off a gig night by playing in the wrong venue to no one just to cover your short term expenses. Think long term; like setting up any business or project, small financial losses in the initial building phase are no biggie - embrace them if you think they’re worth it and back yourself. Then play the best gig ever.

2. Why does The Little Lord Band work to a two-year plan?

NATASHA: We use a 2-year plan to show the roll out of a release. The cycle / run can take anywhere between 6-12 months depending on the singles, videos and tours. We use the 2-year plan as it allows us to better understand why and how the goals will be set and what will happen when, where to better execute these goals and have room to move if there are any clashes or conflicts. Plus being an organised band and forecasting what you want is key to success and achieving. Who ever got anywhere by not planning?

3. Budgeting is so important. Does budgeting start with ticket price x capacity and then you work backwards?

DAN: Work out your overheads first. What’s it going to cost? After you have a rough schedule sketched out, figure out how many Ks you’ll have to travel by car and calculate fuel costs depending on vehicle. If you’re hiring a car then add those costs. If you’re flying too, count on fares going up. (Fly with Virgin for free 64kg baggage allowance - benefits info here for APRA AMCOS members).

Factor in how many nights accom you’ll need and rough prices in each location. A good way to cut costs is to have a swag/tent handy or deck out a van/station wagon. Alternatively, many of us can laugh about the successes (and adventures!) we’ve had as a result of asking for a bed over the mic mid set!

Factor in all the costs you can think of (including paying yourself and all band members - try a best case scenario, average case and break even number), and you’ll get an overall figure that the tour will cost you/the band.

Divide by number of shows = avg fee per show to arrive at each scenario. If touring through a region for the first time I like to balance costs by booking roughly 50/50 ticketed and flat fee gigs as a general rule.

Careful you don’t compromise your audience/venue; often you’ll find suitable venue options in each location offering both arrangements, and this can make ongoing budgeting easier if you can’t guarantee sell out shows first time around.

In terms of ticketed shows, there are so many factors other than capacity x required takings which affect ticket price. For venues or locations you’ve never played before it’s always good to research what the other bands are charging, as this will give an indication of what the locals are prepared to pay.

Again, the idea is to pack out a venue, so if this means charging less than usual then it’s a long term sacrifice. If the shortfall is too big then maybe look for another venue; don’t be scared to say no and move on - every band has a bunch of venues, locations and scenes which are perfectly suited to them, all you must do is find them!

4. What is something that can blow out a tour budget?

DAN: It’s often the easily avoidable mistakes which can be the costly ones. Things like missing flights, losing/leaving music gear, car keys etc due to drug taking (yes alcohol is a drug) can result in extra costs and lost revenue, plus it’s unprofessional and an indication that you’d rather self-indulge than genuinely connect with new people and make the most of the many opportunities touring throws at you.

Unfortunately drug taking is a major element of networking in many social and music scenes, however there is a real shift towards unintoxicated connection and conversation occurring, and not only in the music industry. You’d be surprised how a dialogue can level up when it’s not held down by substances and repetitive mental patterns.

NATASHA: The most surprising touring cost was fines and infringements from running late, tolls, parking fines and coffee – you need to budget like 3 x coffees a day.

5. Regional touring – what makes a town or venue viable? Is it population? Having a scene?

DAN: Population doesn’t mean much if the local culture is all about nightclubbing or watching TV; vibe and scene is everything.

The number and calibre of acts visiting a regional town is usually a pretty good indication that there is a healthy live music scene, though not always - don’t be scared to dig a little deeper (ring the visitor’s centre or post on the community notice board - why not?) to see if there’s a potential banger waiting for you. Sometimes these are the most appreciative audiences too. The power is with the people and they vote with their presence.

6. What is the biggest technical challenge when touring in terms of production and how have you handled it?

NATASHA: We had broken guitars, broken percussive equipment, we had to DIY to get by; not having the correct leads that were supplied by venues or when borrowing backline; makeshift equipment when having to run our own sound. Luckily, we have several tech savvy band members to help us save the day.

7. When you invest in marketing, what have you found has the most direct impact on ticket sales? Posters, radio ads, FB ads?

DAN: Grassroots is the winner for REGIONAL tours. If you can get posters in the local hotspots you’ll reach most of the population with good lead time (general store, noticeboards, visitor’s centre and tourist shops to name a few - ask the venues and they’ll tell you or even put them up for you).

Word of mouth is everything; pay off some local movers and shakers (and talkers!) with free tix, CDs, merch etc and get them to tell everyone about the epic band they’re going to see next week, and how everyone’s going to be there! Fear of missing out is a key factor still governing social behaviour; make your gig one not to be missed and get everyone so excited about it that the energy turns out to welcome you on the night.

Community radio and local papers are the icing on the cake regionally.

In a METRO sense, times have changed and the biggest marketing tool to build hype and presell tickets is the internet. If you want to sink some money into Facebook, you’re far better off boosting the event and picking your target audience well:

  • look at who else people are listening to on streaming services and pick some of your fave similar acts
  • if you have a known demographic, use targeting to serve your ads directly to them, rather than casting a wide net.

Songkick is still the favoured platform for updating gig details and serving them to your listeners across all platforms - it can involve plenty of account linking and copy/pasting URLS, but once set up across your platforms it will serve as one place to log your upcoming gigs and save you loads of time.

Radio is still vital in cities, and the more the better - be it a phoner or in-studio - as plenty of people are still listening out there.

Good old street press such as Xpress, Scenstr, TheMusic etc can still get your gig some solid exposure too.

Posters - make sure they’re seen - often the extra coin for poster distro can be worth it. Again, DIY options abound.

8. DIY publicity can be challenging if it’s not in your wheelhouse. What are one or two tips you can give to a band putting together their own tour publicity?

DAN: Be the delegator and maximise your time and reach; you can’t possibly match the network of multiple people - especially key local socialites - all by yourself. Other than investing in a publicist -- which is inevitable eventually, so if you have the product/content then why not start now? -- it IS entirely possible to orchestrate a solid PR campaign to accompany your release and tour for yourself or your band.

Start with the resources you already have:

AMRAP Airit monthly reports, which are served out to acts part of this awesome free initiative. These provide contact details for the community radio stations and programs already playing your music, no lie.

DIY poster runs or get mates to help - who do you already know who can help you put the word out?

Get inventive. Seeing as most of the world is on Facebook, why not post to local musicians groups and community noticeboards?

The options are endless and different for every kind of act. The good thing about DIY publicity is experimenting with different methods and testing markets can be less expensive financially, but be prepared to put in the time to do it well.

9. What about tips on building a fanbase?

NATASHA: Newsletter email subscription; anyone you meet -- remember their name, then record their name and find them on Facebook to add to the band page for a like or make it easy for the fan to find you when next in town.

10. How important are data and analytics to your release and touring plans? What data is most helpful and insightful?

DAN: Data can be a really good indicator for where to invest your time/resources. If you’re not racking up serious online traffic however, it can be neither here nor there for many acts.

In terms of analysing data in the lead up to touring, I take note of where our online traffic is coming from, who’s asking us to come and perform (and where they’re from), who’s tagging friends and other similar bands who are starting to take off (tee up a support or co-headline tour!).

In the tour wrap, I look at ticket sales by venue and the things indicating the ripple effect, e.g. how much of an impact you’ve had/how effective or successful the show was -- such as email addresses collected and social follows, CD/merch sales, how many people you met, if you made any solid contacts (don’t forget to fill in your contacts sheet) and more. This will help you gauge the best approach to your next run and refine your ideal venues, marketing methods and more.

11. Any final tips?

DAN: Start touring any way you can! If that means taking a reduced line up to keep costs down then fine (careful not to compromise your show too heavily). Get in the groove with a regional weekender - it will get you out of your home town and involve many of the same nuts and bolts as national or international touring, which will help you get more experienced and smooth out some of the kinks at lower cost and risk, whilst often being easier to organise (DIY!) and cheaper to embark on (take your own car!).

Tack on a home town launch plus a couple in neighbouring cities/towns and you’ve already got yourself a six-date tour where you only really need to be away from home for a weekend. Ride the momentum, work what you learn along the way into your ever evolving touring practises and watch it get easier.

Blue Child Collective
Wake Up To The Sound

Little Lord St Band
Heartache Moon