Any serious independent band who has ever hit the road, especially for the first time, knows that it hits your bank account in a way that makes your Uncle Joe (the one who gave you that money for college...yeah...that Uncle Joe) want to cringe and cry and ask you WHY?!
Here's the thing about that: Uncle Joe is RIGHT.
But so are you.
Yes. You must tour.
Yes. You need to have a little padding to start you out.
Yes, in the beginning, you're not going to come home with wad-loads of cash filling the van.
And yes, in fact, you may come home with less than you started with.
That's OKAY. (By the way, it's "OKAY" for your first few tours. If you're not making money after that, then you're doing something wrong...but that's for another blog. This one is for newbies!)
Are you planning to head out on the road for the very first time? If you are (and you don't have a large following already), we hope you're doing it as a support band with at least a little bit of experience behind them, as well as a solid fan base in the areas you're heading to. If not (or if you ARE headlining your own tour and just going in blindly), these tips will still be a big help. You just might have to work a little harder to get them done.
We could go over all of the normal things that you've been told before, like "sleeping in the van instead of a hotel", "eating from the dollar menu every day instead of Chipotle and Subway, etc. etc. etc. blah, blah, blah.
You should be doing those things ANYWAY if you think you're literally not going to make a DIME on your journey. But it's always nice to have a little bit of peace of mind instead of heading out broke and clueless. Try these suggestions, put your TIME into planning (and routing) your tour, and you'll see that it's really "not all that bad."
Sit down with your band, in a real live business-like meeting, Get your dates in order and start figuring out your budget.
Ask yourself the following questions:
How many days on the road total?
How much gas from point to point daily? (There are plenty of websites that will allow you to put in your van/car/truck model, year, etc. and help you configure mileage and gas usage. Google them. Use them).
How much for lodging? (Unless you're sleeping at rest stops in the van, of course).
How much money for food, per person, per day?
Add all that up and you've got your daily budget.
If you're supporting another band (or even if you're going it alone), and you've been assured a specific amount of money per show from each venue (called a "guarantee"), then you know you're making at least that much. Subtract it from your daily budget.
Keep a tab on how many tickets are sold at each venue before you leave for tour. This will give you a basic idea of what you'll be making each night just in door money, after the venue takes its pre-agreed cut. Subtract that from your daily budget.
If you already know that your band "normally" or "on average" sells a total of X percent or XX amount of merchandise at each show, subtract that from your daily budget.
The number you have left will be the amount of money you want to try to RAISE before you leave out on tour.
The best advice is obviously to actually raise the total amount of what it will COST you to take this tour. But sometimes this just isn't possible, so figuring the numbers above is the next best thing.
THIRD...Start Raising Funds
Set up a jar at band practice or somewhere that's in your vision every single time your band is together. If you'd rather put the cash in an account, at least have a poster hung up somewhere so you can add to it and see each time you get closer to your goal. This is a GREAT way to keep everyone motivated.
There are many other ideas for bulking up the cash.
Have ALL band members save change and drop it in that jar at practice. This might sound minimal, but we know of a band that did this for just 3 months, and between the 5 members they raised $300, which covered half the gas for their ENTIRE tour. Worth it.
Stick a DONATE button on your website, and LET YOUR FANS KNOW that you're raising funds. Offer a small token of appreciation to any fan who donates (a guitar pick, a thank you letter...anything that doesn't defeat the purpose!).
Crowdfunding, of course, is an option, but we've found that many times it's been "over used" and the alternate creative methods actually pull in the cash quicker than you'd think.
Busk. Yeah, we know everyone hates this. But if you live in an area where your corner stores are heavily populated, it works. Do it once a week for an hour. Put up a nicely decorated sign that says "Help Us Fund Our Tour!" or whatever little creative thing you can think of. If you offer a free download online, give a card to everyone who donates with the link and you might some new local fans out of it too!
Throw a tour party. This one can be VERY lucrative. Find a local venue (maybe one in your area that you've already played before) that will allow you to do it this way: The cover charge is either a donation (of any amount) OR gift cards to gas stations or chain restaurants. Plan it a month or two in advance. Promote it like crazy. Sell VIP tickets for it in advance also. VIPs can be given reserved seats (even if this is at a bar-type venue, it still works). Give them a signed tour poster and a CD. You'll have money before the day of the party, and guaranteed bodies in the room. Tell them to bring a friend (or more!).
Have a garage sale. We're not explaining this one, but it works. Many have done it, and swear by it. Try it. But don't sell your underwear. (Actually, if people want your underwear, you're probably already at a level where it doesn't make sense for you to even be reading this article. Take your famous butt back to the bus).
Contact local businesses. Tell them what you're doing. Ask them for donations. But set up your donation flyer in a professional manner. Give them options. For $20, they get a poster. $50 gets them a CD and a poster. $100 is a T-shirt, CD and poster. For $500, they get all of the above plus a free 2-hour acoustic gig when you return from your tour (and maybe for them to entertain their customers or for a customer appreciation or business anniversary event). For $1,500...the big one...(and only one available)...they get the "Homecoming Show": full band when you return from tour and lots of swag to give away.
Bulk up your table. Think "out of the box" for your merchandise table. Have the necessities...CDs, T-shirts, posters. But add EXTRA stuff. You can make a TON of stuff at home. Stickers, magnets, 8x10 photos, etc. Use those things as extras at your merch table to sell for a few bucks. Make sure the fan who only has $3-$5 to spend has something to spend it on. If you add a "freebie" on to a T-shirt sale, you'll sell quite a few extra T's. Throw in an 8x10 for every T-shirt sale. Figure out which merch costs you the least to make/buy, and use those as your freebies.
Just get CREATIVE. If you put some of these ideas to use, and treat your tour like a business trip with good advance planning, there's no reason you can't raise the money to cover your tour expenses BEFORE you even leave, and even break even or come out in the black on your first tour.
We'd love to hear more ideas any of you may have to add to this.
If you've ever done anything interesting to raise money for a tour, post it in the comments section below!
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