So you’ve decided it’s time to hit the road. That’s an exciting step in your musical journey, but it can be a daunting task.
The only way to do it without becoming overwhelmed is to adopt a methodical, step by step approach, with a clear vision and realistic goals.
Today, I will be focusing on the kind of touring that builds a career, and includes show types that will specifically target large centres (primary markets) and places with an industry presence.
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How To Book The Right Shows On Tour
I have wasted a great deal of time playing “good shows” that are not the “right shows”. For example, I have played in tiny little towns, to full bars, for good money, on a weekend.
You may be thinking that that sounds like a pretty good time, and you’re right, it’s lots of fun, but ultimately that gig did nothing for my career. What I eventually realized is that there are primary, secondary, and tertiary markets, and I should be building my tours around the primary markets.
Primary markets are large centres, and centres that have a high concentration of music industry professionals. In Canada, this means Toronto, Vancouver, and then the capitals of each province. In America this means mostly the East and West coast, and primarily Los Angeles, New York, Austin, Nashville, Portland, and a few other large centres and capitals.
Your best shows are always going to be on weekends. The fact is, many people flat out do not want to go to a show on a Monday, so only book primary markets on weekends. This ensures that you have the optimal scenario for a great show.
Furthermore, some venues are better than others, no matter where you go. And sometimes the best venues don’t pay well. But the best venues are ones with people in them. So talk to people in the local scene. Which bar is the “hip” bar, which one is lame? You may not get into the hip bar right away, so try to invite the talent buyer out to your show, and demonstrate that you are good enough for his/her bar. Or… jump on a bill!
Why You Should Be Opening More Tour Shows
If you’re reading this, you are probably a DIY artist (for the time being). This means that your crowd in primary markets is likely limited to a few friends and family that you know personally.
So why are you headlining a show? You should be looking into opening up for a great local artist, or larger touring artist. The people at these shows are the local music lovers. These are the fans you want.
Besides that, there are many, many advantages to opening a show. Making a great impression on a city's local musicians will be a huge help to you in the future. These are the people you can call on for a place to crash, for advice on the best venues, the best sound techs, even the best places to eat! They’re also the kind of people that may help your band promote a show in their city, or give you a contact and a good word with some of the local industry.
And lastly, there’s no reason why only have to play one show in a day. Opening a show is a way better way to make fans, but it’s not a good way to make money. Book that less popular venue, maybe a coffee shop or a dive bar, earlier in the day, or later that night, and make some cash and probably a few fans as well. Then, go and play the career-building show you need to be playing.
It may seem a lot like work at this point, but remember, it’s your job!
Anchor Gigs – How To Properly Route A Tour
You may have heard of an anchor gig for a tour, and for many musicians this means a high-paying gig that the tour is built around.
However, I have taken a different approach to anchor gigs: I build tours around career-building gigs, such as excellent opening act shows in primary markets, or gigs booked at the hip venue in a primary market on a weekend.
So now, I book tours like this:
Thursday: Secondary/Primary Market, opening act show?
Friday: Primary Market, opening act show?
Saturday: Primary market, opening act show?
Sunday: Secondary/Primary Market possibly matinee show?
Monday: Day off, drive to get closer to my next set of Primary Markets
Tuesday: Tertiary market, hopefully for decent money, or open mic in primary market
Wednesday: Tertiary/Secondary Market for decent money, or open mic in primary market
And here's an explanation of the different market types, just in case:
Tertiary Markets: small towns, house concerts, often good money
Secondary Markets: medium-large centres without much industry but still worth playing.
Primary markets: large centres with good industry presence
I try to keep my drives under 5 hours, which can be challenging in North America, but it’s worth driving a little further for a show that is doing something for your career.
I also attend open mics, blues jams, etc. in primary markets if I’m passing through or have a day off. These events are great networking opportunities, and sometimes result in other gigs, and new fans. People attending open mic nights and jams are guaranteed to be music lovers.
Quality Over Quantity
I can tour all of Western Canada, hit every primary market on a weekend, and most secondary markets on a weekday, never drive more than 7 hours, and be back home in 16 days.
These tours leave me energized and excited about the future, because by condensing tours and only playing the right shows, on the right days, I avoid playing bad gigs and feeling purposeless.
Always, always book for quality over quantity. Whether it’s money vs. career-building, or length of tour vs. effectiveness of tour, quality over quantity is key.
Touring is tremendously exciting, but there’s more to it than simply booking gigs wherever you can get them. If you take a thought-out, careful approach to touring, I guarantee you will see the results.