Having a car definitely has it’s advantages. But so does taking the expense of having and maintaining a vehicle and investing it elsewhere. For those of us working musicians who don’t have a car for whatever reason but still have gigs to get to – we have to figure out more creative means of transportation. Especially when we're traveling longer distances to out gigs.
I’m an independent music artist and I’ve been regularly playing shows locally and regionally since 2011. I’ve also toured a few handful of times and have played at least a couple hundred of shows across 15 different states in the United States. I also haven’t had a driver’s license or owned a car since 2005.
So how do you get around and travel when you don’t have a car?
There’s of course the obvious answers: flights, taxis, local transit, subways, Greyhound’s, vehicle rentals, carpooling, etc. Depending on the context of your situation any of these might be a good answer.
More specifically though, here’s a few tips I’ve conjured up from my own experience:
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Keep A Driver On The Team
It’s no secret that successful artists usually have a team of dedicated, passionate, and talented people working behind the scenes that contribute greatly to their success. Finding this group of people, getting them to share your vision, and empowering them to become a part of your movement is usually a good sign that you’re actually onto something with this whole music career dream.
Whoever your team is, I recommend having someone on it with a car, driver’s license, and a willingness to transport you places. They could also be your DJ, band mate, manager, hype man, best friend, girlfriend, whatever. Ideally, they will have some other important relation to you besides just being your driver.
You might have to kick them gas money now and then, but you want this person to be someone in it for the sole fact that they believe in you and they want to contribute to you getting where you’re inevitably going. You also want them to be someone in your inner circle, someone you see and interact with regularly. You know, someone who is at all (or at least most of) your shows. If this person doesn’t exist for you yet I’d be on the active lookout for them if I was you.
Bootstrap Your Travels
Unless you’re at a point in your career where gigging is bring in a lot more revenue than it’s costing you, it might not yet be time for expensive rentals and hotel parties. If you want to get there, this is the time to keep your expenses low and lifestyle lean. Invest your money in things that move you forward or make you more money, preferably both. Instead of a full sized guitar for example, why not buy a travel guitar?
Always look for a way to cut your expenses down. Are you needing to get around town and to gigs often? It might be a good idea to get a monthly or an annual bus pass. Do you have a friend that could give you a ride to your gig for some gas money? That’s probably a better option than calling a cab or taking a bus.
Taxi cabs can get really expensive. Look into alternative options like Uber or Lyft. Planning a tour? Check out rental options targeted at touring independent musicians like Bandago and Greenvans. Are you needing to book hotels for out of town gigs or tours? Airbnb can often times be cheaper (and nicer) than hotels, especially if you’re on a budget.
Rent A Vehicle, But Weigh Out Your Options
If you’re renting a vehicle make sure and weigh out all of your different options. Don’t just look at the different vehicles and offers within one service provider. Do your research and compare those options against multiple services.
Figure out what offers the best value for the best price within your budget.
Look at all of your different travel options. Do you have a gig somewhere hundreds of miles away or more? What if you can’t find a ride? What if you can’t afford a flight? Maybe there’s some bus or train options available and a fan you can crash with for the night.
Never commit to a gig if you’re not 100% sure you can make it there, though. As someone who is also a promoter, I can tell you that an easy way to burn a bridge with me is to cancel on a gig last minute. Always honor your commitments and if you have to cancel make sure to give plenty of advance notice.
Seek Out Advice
If you’re playing gigs or touring regularly, you are probably also networked within a community of musicians doing the same thing. Even if you’re just starting to perform at gigs locally you probably also know some other local musicians. Or if you are attempting to embark on your first tour, then you probably have networked with some musicians who have toured already.
Tap into that community as a resource.
Ask your musician friends how they traveled on tour and how they funded it; you can learn a lot from the experiences of others. Maybe they found someone with a van on craigslist that was willing to drive for just $25 a day and they cut out the expense of a rental from their tour. Craigslist gets a bad reputation but sometimes real opportunities can be found on there that don’t involve a weirdo or a scam.
Maybe they got a sponsor to cover the travel expenses of their tour, and they can tell you how they landed the sponsor. Maybe they stayed the night at promoter’s houses instead of paying for hotels to stay at on tour. Little tips like these can be very useful.
Not having easy access to transportation as a music artist can be frustrating, but it also can have some hidden rewards. Maybe not having a car or a license isn’t optional or intentional, or maybe it’s just a temporary situation. Success is largely about turning restrictions into opportunities.
Are you currently having to deal with trying to find a way to gigs without a car, or is it something you’ve had to deal with in the past? Do you have any other tips for musicians besides the tips that I offered? Share your experiences, struggles, and suggestions in the comments!