How To Kill Your Band #4 – Don’t Tour. Yet.

Hello and welcome to the fourth installment of Eric Morgan’s How To Kill Your Band series. We run this column every other week and encourage anyone who enjoys the material found below to visit previous editions of HTKYB they may have missed. If you have any questions regarding the content of this blog, or if you would like to learn more information about the services offered by Haulix, please email and share your thoughts. We can also be found on Twitter and Facebook.

An Introduction:

I’ve been in the music industry as an artist for nearly 10 years now. In that decade I’ve achieved nearly all of my childhood music dreams, but I’ve also made just as many mistakes that run over my mind before I fall asleep each night. A wonderment of how a few different decisions, rerunning in hindsight, would work out in some alternate universe. This ever creeping determinism is a fallacy I’m quite aware of but one that I will never completely shake, though it’s these experiences I’ve learned the most valuable lessons. These are the things I’d like to share in a series of mini-blogs I call How To Kill Your Band.

Part 4 – Don’t tour. Yet. 

Learning to book your own tours is perhaps the most important skill you can learn as you make your way in music. It’s not only useful because of it’s immediate impact on your ability to promote yourself on the road, but is also one of the few skills that can pay dividends after your own band calls it quits. Becoming adept at booking takes practice more than anything, but it heavily favors those who are a bit obsessive. Locking in a tour dates takes a certain neurotic tendency necessary to piece together a complex puzzle that never really has a exact solution. No tour is ever going to be 100% perfect from start to end, something that tortured me early on, though the key is learning how to adapt and work to the constantly changing variables – venue closings, promoter drops, competing tours in the area, etc. But before we get to the actual mechanics of tour routing, we’re going to spend this week answering just one question: 

Why would anyone book your band?

Every young band would want to be out there promoting their music nightly but it just isn’t something most should do. There has to be a reason for a promoter to book your band and you need to be able to communicate that clearly. As I touched on in HTKYB #2, being signed gives you immediate value to a talent buyer even if he’s never heard of you before. They can build a show around your band because local bands are smart and know every single label so it gives them a reason for sharing the stage with you – essentially something to put on their resume and the fleeting hope that you’ll be so amazed by their set you’ll personally recommend them to your label. 

If you’re not signed it’s still possible to tour diy, plenty of bands do it successfully, but you need to be able to offer another kind of value to the promoter. Here it helps to be different – why would a promoter in Toledo book an unknown metalcore act from out of state when there are plenty local bands who actually draw? Offering something not already saturating the market gives them an unique event to promote while also just supporting the basic economics of the situation. This doesn’t necessarily mean you need be genre defying but could also stem from having a distinct live show or an unconventional type of branding. If all else fails, you can even separate yourself by brute force through effort. Offer to set up your own publicity for the show with local radio stations, get posters hung at local joints, and even go out on foot to promote. On many of the early AHAF tours, we’d call ahead to Hot Topics and FYE stores at malls located near that days venue and set up our own in store meetups. We’d get to the store around noon to ready our merch table by the entrance where we’d handout show flyers and promo items to people as they walked in. During the holiday season it was even more valuable because parents would be rushing around looking for last minute stocking stuffers and it was it was easy to convince them they could end their search with an album or t-shirt. 

The long and short of it is that it all comes down to giving a talent buyer something they can promote. Whether that be through label support, originality, or meticulously growing your support region by region, you must understand the basic economics through a promoters eyes and give them something they can build a show on. There are bands that get insanely lucky by starting out with notable agent even before their first show (Woe, Is Me, Capture the Crown) but that’s rare and having the ability to book your own tours is a highly valuable skillset if you plan on working somewhere in the music industry post bandlife. Perhaps what I’ve learned most from my experiences on the road is that you shouldn’t rush into touring. I’ve witnessed many bands, who while sounding great, simply weren’t ready to be on the road and eventually succombed to the depleted morale and mounting struggles of unsuccessful tours. It’s much more financially and emotionally supporting to be patient before going on the road, as the consequences of premature touring could end even the most promising bands. 

Now if you’ve decided that you have a band ready to tour but unsure on how to get started, then check back next week when I’ll go through some tips and tricks from my experiences on creating your own promoter lists, negotiating prices, and communicating effectively in your offer sheets. 

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.