By Kayte Grace
“Kayte Grace is a singer/songwriter who loves people, singing to people and talking to strangers. She lives in New York City and writes about life as a feisty 20-something at http://www.longcitywalksblog.com and you can check out her music at http://www.kaytegracemusic.com.”
Video from the tour (a performance video with behind the scenes footage afterwards!):
Two August 15ths ago, I got in an Extended Length Expedition with 2 musician friends and we didn’t come home until 20 cities, 22 shows, 10,000 miles and 45 days later. We went on tour. We played in DC, New York City, Ann Arbor, Chicago, Willoughby (OH), Bethel Park (PA), Norfolk, Williamsburg, Chapel Hill, Nashville, Collierville (TN), Dallas, Austin, El Paso, Tucson, Phoenix, San Diego, Santa Barbara and San Francisco. When I started planning the tour, sitting on the couch with my laptop as my only weapon, I didn’t have the foggiest idea what I was doing. But I was hungry for it and excited to learn on the job. Here’s some of what I did and learned, especially in terms of planning and prep … I’ll delve more into promotion, making the most of the tour once you’re on the road and CD sales in Part 2!
1. Print out some maps. When you map out your tour you need to be part researcher, part travel agent. I printed out two maps of the US – on one, I researched the tour routes of other independent musicians in my “genre lane” and relative career level, and traced each of their tours in a different color. Once I had two or three, I started to notice certain cities that probably had an audience for my music, and I made a list of those. On another map, I circled cities where the highest concentration of my fans are. I used my YouTube insight, cities where I’d performed before and a poll on my website to determine which cities those were. I combined that information to form a list of 20 cities and began to play connect the dots.
2. Snoop around. Because I’d never played in half these cities before, I had no idea how to find the good venues. So I went on the websites of those same musicians whose tour routes I stalked, and I started making lists of the places they played in the cities I’d be going to. I also went on the website of a respected music venue in NYC where I’ve performed before, and started Googling musicians on their calendar and getting venue ideas from their tour schedules. Once I had ideas, I’d weed out the seedy or dead venues by using Google Maps’ “Street View” to check out the neighborhood the venue was in. Doing that helped keep me out of scary parts of town and steer towards places in neighborhoods with tons of foot traffic and energy.
3. Next, I picked dates. I chose a random start date and placed the cities either one or two days apart depending on the length of the drive. (I read somewhere that you shouldn’t drive more than 8 or 9 hours in a day … it’s true. You definitely get better at long drives the longer you’re on the road, but you also get tired and antsy at times, and you want to be fresh and energized for your shows.)
4. TravelMath.com is your best friend. I used this to calculate driving time and distance between cities, as well as how much gas would cost for each leg of the trip (for our specific car!)
5. Phone a friend. Since I had basically no money for this tour, it became an “it takes a village” kind of thing. We saved money by driving my electric guitarist’s family’s Extended Length Expedition instead of spending literally thousands on a rental. They also (very, very kindly) left their Smart Trip in the car and offered to pick up the tab for the tolls …which over the course of 10,000 miles, added up. We also only stayed in maybe 3 hotels in the course of 20 cities. For the rest, we stayed with college friends’ families, extended family, friends of friends and friends of friends of friends. And an unexpected thing happened: we were so thankful to stay with these people, and we were ready to totally rough it and sleep on floors, but instead we were put up in fluffy guest quarters, the neighbor’s empty summer home with an ocean view or the sweet attic loft in a trendy downtown neighborhood. We were taken out to dinner at the country club, taken (at midnight) to the secret donut place that’s only open in the middle of the night, given gifts and the families came to our shows! We experienced the most incredible hospitality … It was beautiful. But I digress …
6. Delegate. I put my electric guitarist in charge of securing our accommodations. We helped him out by giving him the numbers of contacts we knew in some of the cities and he ran with it. A week later he emailed this beauty of a spreadsheet with the names, phone numbers and addresses of the people we’d stay with in each city. Done. And I put my acoustic guitarist in charge of securing our equipment (I don’t own any.) He got everything we needed for $0 – a campus group all three of us were involved in in college let us borrow the sound gear they weren’t using over the summer!
7. Stay organized. One word. Spreadsheets. I was sending like 8 or 9 booking emails per city, had lists of things I wanted to remember to pack, set lists, lists of things we’d borrowed. Contact information for venue owners and the names of websites and newspapers I wanted to promote my shows on.
When we actually left for the tour, my (incredible) parents put together this massive binder that was our lifeline. It had a divider for each day we’d be on the road, labeled with the date and where we’d be. (i.e. August 15th – driving from DC to NYC or August 29th – rest day in Nashville) In each day’s section were printed out MapQuest directions (should Edith, our GPS fail us,) from the previous city to the venue, and from the venue to where we’d be staying that night. There was also a SHOW form in each day’s section that my dad created with the name of the venue where we were playing, the address, our contact person’s info, a box to check whether or not that venue had its own equipment, a space to write how much money we made selling CDs and merch, a space to write how much we spent on gas that day and any relevant notes … as in, Charlie, the cafe owner hates the song “Hallelujah” … don’t cover it tonight … Or such and such blogger will be there – make sure to give them a CD. The binder also had a huge envelope to put all of our receipts in (for food and car repairs and such) so that we’d have any easy time doing taxes later.
8. Be prepared. You WILL need the following things … don’t even question it, haha: Wet wipes, paper towels, batteries, a tip jar, a lot of snacks, a camera, extra strings, a Tide Stain pen, a credit card swiper (my merch sales more than doubled when I started accepting credit card), some sort of small sign with your band name (I spell Kayte in an unusual way, so I can’t assume people will be able to Google me if they only hear me say it,) portable GPS, water, an umbrella, a portable outlet that you can plug into your cigarette lighter (so you can charge your cell phone or work on your laptop on the road), Brush Ups, a big box of CDs, a tiny plant (for your cup holder) … it’ll make you happy (pick something resilient like a cactus – our basil plant got burnt to a crisp in Dallas.)
9. Roll with the punches. Things will go wrong – You’ll accidentally back the car into a parking meter in Chicago … call the family you’re staying with in that city and ask for suggestions for a good mechanic. You’ll get to the venue and no one will be there – despite all of your promotional efforts … have one of your band members head outside with the extra flyers you brought to get some of the foot traffic inside. You’ll start planning the tour thinking you’ll be able to fund the whole thing with sponsors (I contacted everyone from the local music store where I always buy strings to Chipotle) but those didn’t quite work out … and you’ll realize all the ways you can save money creatively, and that email to Chipotle will lead you to talks with their music supervisor about having your songs play in the restaurants all over the country.
I hope these ideas are helpful! Leave your touring tips as comments, and stay tuned for Part 2.