Zach, the guitarist of progressive metal band, Wings Denied gave us some great insight on how to book a tour as an unsigned band.
And he should know. He’s done it EIGHT times! He was happy to share his experiences and some tips with fellow unsigned artists. Here they are!
Touring as an unsigned band is tough, there’s no question about it. We are entirely responsible for everything, from transportation, to finding and booking the shows, ensuring payment, finding places to sleep, etc. However, it is totally do-able, for just about any band willing to take the plunge.
The first step to booking a tour is essentially sitting down as a group, and figuring out your budget. The main expenses on a tour are gas, and the initial purchase or rental of your transportation. We’re lucky enough in Wings to have the awesome van we bought last summer. I highly recommend buying a van as opposed to renting, if you know your band will be touring regularly. After you know what your transportation is, try to estimate how much money you’d be able to spend on gas, assuming you make zero dollars from the tour. This way, any money you do make can either be used to pay yourselves out, or saved for the incidental expenses, such as van repairs, instrument repairs, etc.
Once you’ve got a budget, the next step is to figure out a route for your tour, and start talking to friends in bands that have toured the area. Who do they know, where can they direct you? The most important aspect of booking a tour is networking. Everyone can be a potential contact. Generally, I recommend not booking shows by talking to venues directly, but instead, finding local promoters and bands in whatever town you’re trying to hit, and seeing if they can put something together for you. Generally, these people are more amicable towards unsigned out-of-town bands, and they’re more willing to ensure that people show up, and that everyone gets paid.
Eventually, the more people you talk to, things start to fall into place. It’s very helpful to keep a spreadsheet, with notes on whom you’ve spoken with, where you have guarantees, where you’re sleeping each night, etc. The whole process takes about 3 months to do correctly.
A few important things to note:
* When initially talking to a contact, make sure everything they need to know is sent in the initial message. This should include the date you want, the name of whoever recommended the contact, any necessary equipment (does your band need a PA?), and you should ALWAYS ask for a guarantee. Start high, and let them negotiate low. Not all places will offer or accept them, but if you’re not asking, you’re missing out.
*Your tour only matters if people know it exists. Accordingly, you ought to pair with as many media outlets which cover your style of music as possible, and try to get them to at least spread the word about the tour, if not completely sponsor it.
*Hotels are expensive, and if you’re staying in them frequently, your wallet will hurt. Any contact can also potentially be a place to stay, and again, it’s always better to ask. We’ve even had nights where we literally asked the crowd during our set if anyone had any space, and gotten offers.
Hope this helps!