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How to book a tour as an independent artist

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How To Plan Your First Tour iMusician

Music touring is oftentimes a dream come true for recording artists. They get to perform their music in front of their fans, connect with them, hear them sing their songs and travel from one place to another to do it over again days or weeks in a row.

Although it all sounds very idealistic, however, the process of getting a tour together as an independent musician may be rather complex, especially if it is your first time. In this guide, we will walk you through the individual steps in organizing a tour, from budgeting, to scheduling, to logistics, and much more.

1. Get yourself a reliable team

This is not to underestimate your skills but organizing a tour on your own may be rather challenging, if not burdensome. Therefore, start by considering who should join your bands and crew behind the scenes. Do you need a band to accompany you? Who will be the one contacting venue owners and promoters? Do you need someone to take care of the budget?

The roles of your team members as well as the size of the entire tour crew depend on a number of factors, namely the size and the type of the act (will some dancing be included?), the duration of the tour, as well as the amount of money you’re able to spend on it. If you’re touring with your band, things may be easier (or at least more affordable) as individual members of your band may take over multiple roles. Delegation in such a case is crucial!

Building your network ahead of the tour will require lots of time but it will eventually be more affordable for you as you won’t have to pay for an external agency. However, if you find all the planning around the tour too overwhelming, hiring an external tour manager or, potentially, a booking agent may pay off as their roles are particularly important.

A tour manager

A tour manager, as their role name already suggests, is responsible for all things administrative, mostly in terms of finances, logistics and advancing (ensuring that the artist’s hospitality and technical needs have). They are provided with the tour itinerary and based on that, they traditionally estimate the total budget needed for the tour, calculating the costs for crew wages, accommodation, transportation, equipment, and more.

A tour manager also typically joins the artist on the road, where they usually oversee departures as well as venue arrivals and other travel arrangements. They are also responsible for troubleshooting any unforeseen issues and unexpected emergencies that occur, whether they are related to the venues, individual performance, transportation or the budget.

The total cost spent on a tour manager can vary greatly depending not only on the total length of the tour but also on the variety of their tasks. Some tour managers also take over the role of artist’s personal manager which means they will charge more money for their work. Average tour manager fees can make up around $2,000 a week or $100-$200 a day.

A booking agent

A booking agent may come in handy, too. However, getting one may be more complicated than it is with tour managers. The ultimate role of a booking agent is to make sure that the tour plan becomes a reality, from securing the outlined venue, through booking the correct dates to communicating with respective promoters and putting the tickets on sale.

Although they are professionals working in the entertainment industry, whether it’s in music, film, or any other performing arts field, their occupation is strongly business-related and often associated with activities such as scheduling, coordinating and networking (and negotiating, too). Besides that, a good booking agent is often said to ensure the most convenient deals for artists, making the tour both time- and, more importantly, cost-efficient for them.

How to get a booking agent/agency?

The thing with booking agents is that they are easy to find but hard to get – especially if you’re a small band or artist. Realistically, you need to be on a particular level in your career, with successful shows done before, to have an agent show interest in you.

On average, booking agents will charge around 10-15% commission on your revenue from any booked show. This means that for them to get paid, they must first be sure you get paid. Therefore, working with a small and relatively new artist may be way too risky for them.

However, this shall not prevent you from approaching them. Generally, forming and nurturing a relationship with them is of great importance to booking agents. Such a connection doesn’t naturally get built over night.

You can start by introducing yourself to different agents (yes, it is important you've looked up a number of them) and inviting them to your shows. This way they can learn more about you and your artistry, and may well come on board when your career progresses.

A tip from us: take care of your contracts

A lot of people may be involved in a tour and signing contracts with all of them will take forever, you may think. However, it’s better to spend hours drawing contracts than dealing with legal issues. On top of that, touring contracts don’t have to be complex – all they ought to do is show the subject of the contract, who the contract is made with and what the terms and conditions are.

2. Plan and keep a tour budget

Calculating a budget before you hit the road is likely one of the most essential steps you will have to implement in the planning process. The key to this step is not only to consider and know what the total costs for the tour will be, but also to understand how much it is that you can actually spend on it and adjust your plans accordingly.

This is because a tour typically takes place over a certain period of time and just like your earnings will increase throughout this time frame, so will your expenses. In other words, your total tour costs will not be paid at the beginning of your tour or when planning it, you will have to cover them gradually during the time of touring.

It’s therefore recommended that you have money spared in advance in order to cover all occurring expenses, generate an actual profit and also carry out a tour that will eventually feel fulfilling and satisfactory.

Understand your revenue structure

On top of that, be sure that you’re familiar with the structure of your revenue. Some tours are based on artists selling their shows to individual venues and promoters. As a result, such parties take up to 100% of the tickets’ sales while the artists are paid a single fixed fee (also known as flat fee) for every show.

This, of course, provides touring artists with a certain financial security (they will be paid even if the gig turns out a fiasco with only few people showing up) but may not generate as much profit as they’d hope for.

The other option for musicians is to make the tickets the main source of their revenue while the promoters will charge them a given fee. Such a revenue structure is definitely more hazardous and unpredictable but may show more profit in the end.

One should also be aware that what some venues tend to do is take a cut of artist’s merchandise sales. While this issue has been publicly discussed and faced up to with hundreds of venues signing up against such unfair practices (at least in the UK), there are still loads of other venues that stick to their ‘habits’.

As you’ll get to read later in the guide, merch tends to be one of the key revenue sources for touring musicians. It’s therefore important that you’re protective of your revenues and, if possible, choose venues that will show support to this.

Calculate your budget

Moving forward, when calculating your budget, be sure to consider all possible expenses (and preferably some impossible ones, too) that will come your way before, during and after the tour. Such expenses may include:

  • The transportation costs (including renting a van/truck and gas expenses, if applicable)

  • Shipping and lodging fees (if applicable)

  • Food expenses

  • Total price for accommodation

  • Costs related to marketing and tour promotion

  • Cost of the tour crew

  • Tour manager’s/booking agent’s cut

  • Costs of rented equipment

  • Profit splits between individual band members

As suggested, you also have to bear in mind that unexpected and unforeseen expenses may occur, too, and so these should be covered in your budget, as well. This is where the tour manager is usually of great value as they are more capable of estimating such costs and proposing a budget that’s both realistic and feasible.

3. Select the target region/area

The geographical area that you end up choosing for your project may have a profound impact on how successful and profitable the tour turns out. You sure don’t want to travel to places where you have no particularly strong audience that would come to your gigs. Relevant demographics-related data drawn from your streaming platforms, download stores, and social media channels can help you distinguish both your key local and foreign markets.

With our Music Analytics tool, you get unlimited access to your music data in one place. This marks the end of downloading spreadsheets and reports from individual shops. You can simply keep track of your sales and streaming revenues from all your shops at a glance while learning about who and where your listeners are and how they interact with your music.

On top of that, all data is easy to read with automatically built charts and tables. We collect the data for you so that you spend your time planning your tour and other promotional activities accordingly. Analyze trends and streaming revenue data with our Music Analytics!

Blue and Black Graphs

Moving forward, the specific area that you eventually select as well as its size will ultimately depend on your budget and individual preferences, too. For your first live music tour, it may be recommended that you choose a region that’s not so far away from where you’re based, especially if your budget is rather low. Going on a European tour as an American artist might be too much to take in if it’s your first time touring. However, this is purely an individual decision. If you have enough money spared and you feel like exploring places further away, go for it!

Nevertheless, even choosing more or less familiar destinations is not bad at all. In fact, you’re more likely to have valuable contacts in the cities of the given territory you hope to play in – whether it’s a venue manager, a promoter, or another artist.

Wherever you end up going, make sure that you’re aware of such contacts or that you spend considerable time searching for some. You never know what kind of opportunities may arise from those. You may get a better deal with a respective promoter that knows you or someone close to you, or you might end up being another band’s opening act.

Establish the routing

The routing that you will plan at this point will most likely change when you set up a date range of your tour and start booking your venues. It’s practically impossible to have your own timeline aligned with every venue’s schedule. This will ultimately force you to amend the routing and change up the order of the cities you want to perform in.

However, even at this point, it is still important that you have an idea of your best possible route and know how individual cities are interconnected on the map. Afterward, it’s easier to make necessary adjustments and come up with routing option(s) that will be both cost- and time-efficient. Simple Google Maps can help you plot out the cities you wish to visit and show how far they are from each other in multiple variations.

Be sure to have enough free days planned between individual gigs to ensure you have sufficient time to travel longer distances in case it’s needed. Make sure you consider necessary breaks when establishing the final routing. It’s also important that you have enough time to rest between individual shows. We will go deeper into this when talking about the importance of a timeline!

Tour route iMusician

Tip from us: Plan well in advance

How much you’ll have to change your final routing will ultimately come down to how much in advance you’re planning your tour. Remember that some venues can be booked as much as six months or even more in advance. Be therefore sure to start organizing your tour well ahead of time.

We recommend you take at least 6-8 months to plan your project to ensure that things go smoothly and that your tour is exactly what you’ve dreamed of. The more you rush the planning process, the more it may impact the quality as well as the total costs of the tour.

4. Set up a date range

Deciding on the date range of your tour may sound like an easy job to do. However, there might be quite a lot of elements you may need to consider. Do you have enough music to plan your tour around in the upcoming 8-12 months? Or are you actually planning on releasing new music in the upcoming months? If so, it may be better to wait until your new material is out to start planning the tour.

This way you can make use of your promotional efforts both for the brand new release and the tour. Your new music may also attract an audience that you haven’t been aware of yet. As a result, you can be presented with new opportunities as well as potential target regions for your tour.

It’s further important that you choose concert dates that are convenient for you, personally, as well as for your band, should you have one. Make sure that everyone important taking part in the tour is involved in the planning process, including setting up the date range. This way you can avoid unnecessary complications and possible crew disputes.

Lastly, ask yourself whether a potential date range would serve your fans, too. Is there an important event taking place in one of the cities on the same date you’ve wished to perform? Is one of the given places a student city but you’ve planned on performing there during a semester break? Such information may give you a pretty clear picture of whether a respective date range would work out for your fans and subsequently for you, too.

A tip from us: Keep a feasible timeline

Keeping a particular timeline may also help you select the right date range. On top of that, it may well guide you in making your tour as sustainable and feasible as possible. Do you have enough time to produce your merch before the tour starts? Do you have enough time to recover between shows? Are your given departures and arrivals realistic and aligned with the concert schedule? Do you have enough time to get set for the gigs?

Make sure to consider things like that when planning the timeframe of your tour. Once again, don’t rush! It doesn’t mean that you should spread 15 shows over a period of 6 months, of course. However, the more relaxed things are, the better you can maintain your health, the quality of your performances and the relationships with your tour crew.

5. Book your venues or contact promoters who will deal with the show

After you’ve selected your target region, decided on potential routing and set a date range, it’s time to pick and book your venues. Start by doing research first to choose a venue that will meet your needs and requirements, mostly in terms of its vibe and size.

With a place that’s way too small you may risk losing on a potential profit while too big of a venue may not guarantee that you will fill it all up. It’s also important that the place corresponds with the genre and style of your music. If you’re, for instance, a pop or a jazz musician, playing in a rock club may not really make sense both for you and the venue, too.

When it comes to booking the venues, you can either contact them directly or go through concert promoters who will deal with the show and negotiate the live performance contract.

Besides obtaining the venue and pricing the event, some promoters may also help you out with accommodation (as, for instance, promoters often do in Germany) as well as getting food and drinks (usual in Germany and France; not so common in the UK). Additionally, they may help you with promoting your gigs, as they are more familiar with local promotional and advertising channels.

To contact both the venues and promoters, emailing them may be a good way. Your email pitch should be rather short and include all key information – who you are; the potential concert date (make sure the date is free, first); and how many people you’re expecting to attract with your show. Be sure to include links to your music, EPK or your artist page, too.

Additionally, you can briefly mention why you’re planning a gig in that particular area and also what your promotional efforts will look like. Finally, pay attention to the subject line of your email – keep it short and sweet. Include your date, once again, together with the name of your band and your email should be good to go.

6. Deal with logistics

If you’ve already made it this far in your tour-planning process, then congratulations for everything you’ve done so far! Now comes the logistics! Firstly, have a look at your pre-planned route and make the necessary adjustments so that the final routing is as convenient for you as possible.

The next step is to decide how you will travel the given route. Do you need to rent a van or does someone from your band have one? Will you travel by public transport and need the van for your equipment?

There are multiple ways you can organize logistics, it just depends on what suits you and makes financial sense for you. If you already know that the best way for you and your bandmates to travel on your tour is by public transport, you can proceed to purchasing your tickets.

Find yourself some accommodation

It’s important to know not only how you, your crew and your equipment will get from one city to another, but also where you will be staying when doing so. Here you have several options, too. Accommodation tends to be one of the more expensive components when traveling, especially for bands.

The way some artists try to go about it is finding friends in each city to crash on their couch or floor. Now, this is obviously the cheapest option and especially suitable if you really can’t spend additional money.

On the other hand, if you can spend at least some money on accommodation, we recommend you do so. Getting a good sleep on your tour may be key for the quality of your performances and valuable for your health, as well.

Generally speaking, touring may be physically challenging for your body, not only in terms of performing but also traveling, rehearsing, moving your equipment, etc. It’s therefore important to give your body the rest it needs and deserves. As we already mentioned, you definitely have to include some days off in-between your shows in your timeline. You need some place other than your van where you can stay on such days.

Luckily, you can come across some pretty low-budget accommodation available wherever you’re going for a tour. Motels and hostels will likely present the most affordable options. You can also rent an airbnb apartment that you’ll share with your tour crew or bandmates. This option, however, may be a bit more expensive.

7. Start promoting your tour

It’s time to let everyone know that your tour is coming so start centering your marketing around it! Use social media to announce and promote the tour and post regularly to keep reminding your fans of your upcoming live shows. Utilize your creativity to produce some unique and attention-grabbing content that will visually represent the theme of your tour (if there is one). You can also include some game or competition and reward the winner(s) with a pair of tickets.

Make sure that the overall content you create around your tour is aligned with your artist brand. Additionally, strive to target your posts (and social ads if you’re using them) toward the region where you’re performing. Furthermore, add your tour dates to SongKick, Bandcamp, and other download and streaming platforms, such as Spotify. This way, your fans will be aware of your tour, every time they get to stream and listen to your music.

On top of all of that, you can contact local newspapers or radio stations to do some press – pitch to them for an interview or send them your EPK for a press coverage. Having your EPK, a bio, and an artist page with relevant links leading to your music, website or merch all stored in one link may be especially useful when promoting your tour.

With iMusician, you can create your own pro-looking artist page using our Artist Pages promo tool. You get to design yourself a proper-looking artist page with all the release page links, bio, tour dates, or the EPK with high-res images.

With iMusician, you can also promote your current release and that is by opting for our Release Pages smartlink tool. Within the tool, you can select between a free smartlink and the more advanced options.

The single, automated link can work as a pre-save page allowing your fans to save your upcoming release before it’s even out. On the release day, the pre-save page will automatically turn into a fully customizable smartlink with EPK, tour dates and all the materials you need to promote your tour (and music) like a pro.

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8. Have a merch prepared

If you haven’t produced your own merchandise yet, this is your chance to do so! Even nowadays, merch is still highly anticipated by fans on tours and other gigs. That is because merch tends to make fans feel emotionally more connected to their favorite artists.

What's more, in the thrill of excitement over the concert, people often happen to purchase more items than they originally planned to do so. That is generally why merch is usually the n.1 source of income for artists on tour.

This is why it’s important that you’re fully prepared for your fans’ demands. Firstly, be sure to be offering your merch at every single gig of your tour. If you don’t have an individual from your team to take over, try to find someone in each city you’re performing in. You can also ask local promoters whether they could help you with that.

Secondly, If, as part of your merch, you offer t-shirts, hoodies or other clothing, be sure that you have them available in a variety of sizes. Additionally, make sure to bring your music, too. While clothes, cups or posters with your photo or the image of your latest release on it are lovely, it’s usually artist’s physical records such as CDs or vinyls that fans purchase the most.

Speaking of purchase, always strive to accept as many payment methods as possible. It is definitely not enough nowadays to just and only accept cash – this will most likely prevent your audience from buying your merchandise. As a result, you’ll end up with significantly less revenue generated and a bunch of disappointed fans, too.

Lastly, bear in mind that producing too much of merch is barely ever an issue (as long as you don’t make tons of it). Not having enough of it, however, can cause you some unnecessary struggles. While it’s naturally difficult to estimate how much in total you will need on your first ever tour, you can avoid some serious troubles by having a particular quantity of merch allocated to each gig. This way, fans in each city will have an equal chance to buy your merch.

The great thing about merch is that if you don’t sell it all while being on tour, your fans can always go back to it and purchase individual items in your online store. This works the other way around, too! If you ever see that there’s a particular demand on one of the products, you can always produce more of it even after your tour is over. The items will simply be available online, waiting for your fans’ orders to arrive.

Conclusion

Going on tour is thrilling, but time- and energy-consuming, too. From getting a team together, to establishing your route, to securing venues, to selling tickets and producing merch – this all and much more needs to be managed ahead of your tour.

This is why we have one last tip for you: create yourself a checklist when planning the tour! This will give you more control over individual tasks, reduce unnecessary stress and help you make sure nothing is forgotten! After every single task is ticked off from your list, the only thing left to do is to simply enjoy the tour.

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