Questions from a Reader #2… Is this tour a good idea?

 So some further questions / comments from readers. I will, of course, be lazy and turn them into blog entries.  Here is the first one from Eric of the band Chasing Aurora:

Q-hey so it seems you arent getting as many questions as you want. well thats just silly not to ask you questions since you are offering expert answers. so the band im in now has been around solidly for about 6 months we have had many shows around our state and are about to step it up to the next level. this is where my question comes in. we paid $550 to a dude that books tours for a living and promises garrantees from the venues. I have heard nothing but good news about his work. we will be traveling from Washington all the way over to michigan, then south and back around through california to our home town in 31 days no gaps. We are just not sure if this is a good way of getting tours done and im asking for advice on touring (i know you havent come close to discussing yet) but thank you for your time.

And then he writes:

Dude. Your stuff is legit. You really know what your talking about and i cant thank you enough for what youve taken the time to do. I play in a band (probably figured that since im reading this) and we learned the first 5 lessons on our own. I never got why when we would headline a show a couple hours away and the opening band would leave with half the crowd after they play. It pisses me off but its a very clever thing to do to make you look bigger ha!

Thanks for the compliment Eric, if you had used the word Rad I would have known for sure that Chasing Aurora was a surfer punk band. First I’d like to make one comment about Eric’s comments about the opening band leaving and all the fans leaving with them. Taking your fans with you when you walk offstage is good in a couple of ways. Yes, it shows that the draw was for your band but the more important point is that THEY ARE YOUR FANS.  Any band whose fans walk out after their set is doing something right. The key is to develop a fan base. This is at the heart of getting ahead.  A band needs rabid, devoted fans.  Think about Deadheads and Phish heads. I worked extensively with Phish and I will be writing quite a bit about how they rose to the top as I go along.

Now on to this tour you are about to embark on. I know nothing about this guy you signed a deal with. You claim he will provide a tour with paying dates and no gaps. Gee I’d like to see a tour with no gaps. By the way every big tour has gaps. They are there for a reason. Please take a photo of yourself wearing one particular outfit the day you leave and then take a photo of yourself on the day your return dressed the same. I would like to post them side by side on the site. Thirty days with no breaks is gonna suck. About three weeks out the madness sets in….I’ll write about the darker side of touring some other night.

A real booking agent does not charge you. He charges the promoter by taking some of your pay.  When he books shows he takes a 15% deposit. This deposti he keeps even if the promoter tries to back out.  Promoters back out often since they book what they think will draw and when the advance tickets don’t sell they try to back out. When the band plays the promoter pays the balance. If he shorts the band in any way the booking agent blacklists him and he’s out of the business.

I heard a story about Bill Curblishey, The Who’s manager, from his account who happened to me my accountant years later. The Who’s first American tours broke down all kinds of barriers in gigging. In the early days of rock the venues didn’t want it, the cities and towns didn’t want it and the touring concepts and systems for working out the shows hadn’t been invented yet.  The Who were on their second big American Tour. Their first tour had been an unparalleled success and during that tour Curblishey had become convinced that the promoters were ripping him off. The promoters seemed to think that this was standard practice and all good fun.  Cublishey wasn’t the kind of guy you fucked with. He hired 10 of the biggest meanest Scotsmen he could find. Scotland was and is famous for its main night time entertainment, bar fighting.  Along with the roadies he brought along two young pimple faced NY accountants.

During the show the roadies would just hang around him and look threatening. The accountants he would plant in the audience with tickets and passes that allowed them to wander around.  Their job was to count the house. That means they would literally count how many people were in the stadium. They would also watch the vendors, flash their passes at kids and demand to see tickets. They were looking for scams like cut tickets which are promos that should have been given away but were sold instead. The kids would meet up with Curblishey with a summary of what they had figured out before he would enter the promoter’s office with the Scottish Road Gang in tow. The Who’s road take went up by 40% on that tour and the threat followed them around for the balance of their career. They uncovered ticket scams, all kinds of merchandise scams and for the first time Curblishey got reports of how the fans were treated and he didn’t like it.  Lesson to be learned, always make an effort to count the house and pay attention to what is happening to the fans.  If everyone is tripping on LSD at your shows you make arrangements for the proper inspirational lighting. If there is a mosh pit then you damn well handle front of stage security with your own people so the kids get to stage dive and don’t get their asses kicked by the angry jocks that the club hires as bouncers.  

Now, back to your tour. This guy may be legit. He may land the tour dates although I’m not sure how he can make it work for everybody involved, the promoters, your band and him. I expect he’ll opt for a solution that works out best for him.  There is a more important question at the heart of it all. Why is your band touring in markets where you can’t draw, on random bills that may or may not help you? As you’ll see when I continue on with this blog the idea is to add markets when you can draw in them. Going to a market cold is ok but it is just scouting party. You’ll end up with a list of women to sleep with (always a good thing), friends to crash with and a few devoted fans that see your show by mistake.  Your situation may actually be one where this tour makes sense but I don’t know without more info.

In general a good rule of rock is that you will find a booking agent when your band is popular enough to earn one. The size of the agent and their experience will be related directly to your level of popularity and experience. Booking agents are often the last part of the puzzle. Every struggling band will tell you this is bullshit. It’s interesting to note in passing that THEY ARE WRONG.

Phish went through three or four levels of booking agent before they hit Monterey Peninsula Artists which is the top of the game. Their manager booked them directly all the way up to theaters. In numerous ways they did everything themselves for as long as they could. I believe that they still own their stage, sound system, trucks, buses, stage sets and plane. This has saved them huge money over renting. I guess in some ways they are unusual but it never hurts for the band to stay involved in the various aspects of running their career…….

So back to Eric’s question. Eric make the most out of this tour. Make as many contacts as you can as you tour. In the future go to play a town when there will be a crowd there to see you. Look at it this way. You could drive around America, stop in every town and busk on the street corner. This might work. The chances are not good. A better strategy is to open for a sold out club tour of a band that fits your style or to play in a town where the local paper has been writing about you and the college station has you at #2 on their charts for that month.  Another angle is to play hippy festivals on a summer swing or to build up your following in three geographically close cities until you can jump from clubs to small theaters, then trade opening slots on those shows with another band in the same position elsewhere.

In the end you do what works but the absolute measure is how many eyeballs are pointed at you on each tour………..

Ok so you are going to play a new town what do you do? How about

1. Call the local college radio station ask for the name of the program director and music director. Ask if there are any DJ’s that play your style of music. Of course a week or two ago you sent them the new CD that you are touring to promote.  Then you call back and leave a message for the program director – does he know of a Dj that would interview you guys? Call back for the music director – Is the record in rotation (being played), has it charted? Do they give away tickets to the venue? Would they like to give away a couple of CDs? DOES HE KNOW ANY LOCAL WRITERS?

2. Call the local writers. Do they write about touring bands? Are they going to stay away from asking the band about the band’s problems with PETA and the flaming raccoon bit? Ask if there is actually a local music  shop. If there is no indy cd shop then find out about the local music shop. YOU MUST STOP IN THERE IF YOU CAN FIT IT IN YOUR SCHEDULE. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have a local in-store performance scheduled. Stop in anyway. This is where fans and musicians hang out. This is where you would hang out if you lived in this god forsaken town.

3. call the shop. Do they carry your disk? Would they? Would they put flyers on their counter that let people sign up for your mailing list and in return they get a free download of one of your songs. Do they allow bands to busk in the store? Can you sleep on their floor?

4. Put up flyers as you enter town.  Spray liquid manure all over the local police station and get arrested. Call the paper and then get bailed out. Play the show. Buy some more live raccoons from some hillbilly. Throw the PETA chick out of the drummer’s sleeping bag. Move on.

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