At some point in your touring career, you’re going to need to cross the border. Whether you’re an American looking to build a new market up in Canada, or you’re a Canadian trying to crack the American scene, or even if you're looking to tour to Europe, Australia, or Asia, you're going to have to take your music outside the borders of your own country.
If you’re looking to tour new locations, you’ve probably reached a point where you’re literally running out of viable places to tour in your home territory. For example, a Canadian can really only do two Canadian tours per year, for fear of fatiguing fans. If they are planned right, those tours only take two and a half weeks.
Likewise, an American band will eventually reach a point in their career where they can only do one American tour per year. Even a longer American tour shouldn’t take more than two months. So what do you do with the time you have left over?
Touring another country is a great idea. You get to see completely new landscapes, expose yourself to new bands, new industry connections, and sell more merch. What could go wrong? Well, a lot of things.
There are a ton of potential problems that could rear their ugly heads when you start touring other countries. We’re going to look at some key things you need to do to prepare.
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Music Industry Support In A New Territory
The first thing you should consider when you’re looking at touring a new territory is industry support. If there’s none, I would urge you to figure that out.
Booking a tour, any tour, without an agent or manager is going to take a lot of work. While it is entirely doable in your own country, if you're looking to go overseas, that's an entirely different matter.
If the country you’re traveling to speaks a different language, that’s going to be a challenge. Lining up local support is going to be a challenge. Negotiating rates is going to be a challenge.
Getting connected with someone who knows the local scene is incredibly useful. Other bands that have toured the territory can be great resources. All you’re looking for is somebody to tell you where the good venues are, which bands you should play with, and ideally do most of that legwork for you.
But if they don’t do the work for you, at least you'll have what you need to do it yourself.
such as SXSW can be great opportunities to target international industry people that you would normally be unable to reach.
Visas & Paperwork To Cross The Border Touring
We musicians love paperwork. That’s why we go through all of this trouble, right? Okay, maybe not. But for better or for worse, there is a lot of paperwork associated with touring a new territory.
For example, if you’re not from the United States and you’re trying to plan a tour there, expect about $1,000 in fees per band member, a bunch of paperwork, a membership to your local musicians union, and a decent sized headache.
Touring other places like Canada, most of Europe and Australia are easier, but your should still be prepared to eat some money in visa fees and paperwork.
You’ll also need to register for a tax number in the territory you’re touring. You’ll need to file foreign income tax if you’re getting paid foreign dollars in a foreign country.
Make sure to also register your songs with the local Performing Rights Organization, (ASCAP, BMI, SOCAN, etc.). You should have done that anyway, but now is the time to do it if you haven't yet.
Make sure you get what you need in order – this is where some industry support helps – because you really don’t want to be stuck at the border crossing/airport having not filled out your paperwork correctly.
Be Careful At The Border
When you get to the border, wherever that may be, you need to have all of your ducks in order.
Your story needs to be very clear: where are you coming from? Where are you going? When are you leaving the country? Which venues will you be playing? Where will you be staying? How much money will you be making? Can we have your exact itinerary? You need answers to all of these questions.
You need to have a valid passport to do any international travel. If you're going to cross the border in a car, you should be reasonably well-dressed, take off your sunglasses, and turn the radio off.
You should always maintain a polite and patient demeanor. This can be hard, because crossing the border as a band is a hassle. Trust me. It’s always best to cross the border the day before you play, just in case something goes wrong.
Finally, you need to make sure that if you are searched, they will find nothing. Do not bring alcohol, drugs, obscene materials, or food. Just don’t! It's just going to make things more difficult than they need to be. Get your vehicle cleaned before you leave and keep it that way.
Make sure to keep your souvenirs small and relatively cheap. Obviously your boyfriend or girlfriend would kill you if you didn’t bring something back, but for heaven's sake get something inconspicuous. You don’t want it confiscated and you don’t want to pay an arm and a leg in duty fees.
Too many bands have been caught with something they never should have had as they're crossing the border. It’s best to play it safe.
Play Your Heart Out And Come Back
Touring another country may be difficult to organize, challenging to navigate, but is still a ton of fun. Make sure you play your heart out and capture as manyas you possibly can.
If you're going to spend all this time and money touring another country, make sure to return for another tour. If you don't return, the time you spent will have been in vain. If you don't go back, you won’t see the fruits of your labor – bigger crowds, increased merch sales, better venues, and so on.
Touring is all about hammering out a spot for yourself in a market. That’s true of anywhere you go.
So remember – line up support, line up your paperwork, make sure you’re going to be able to cross the border easily, and then do it all over again in a year. Easy!