In the past article of this series I gave a spotlight on the major touring markets around the world. I said that Europe has the biggest draw because of its geographic compactness, good touring conditions, receptive crowds, and fans who actually buy plenty of records.
So, what are some helpful suggestions to tour in Europe with your band?
Firstly, try to get familiar with some of the booking agencies that may make this happen. There are literally dozens, bigger and smaller, and located in several countries, so just do some googling according to your band’s genre. In terms of independent booking, one of the best has been MAD Tourbooking based out of Germany, possibly the most “alternatively receptive” European country. Another good agency is Teenage Head booking based out of Kortrijk, Belgium.
You need to make sure that the agency – or yourself, when booking alone – is familiar with your flying needs, if any: there is no point in landing into Spain and have to pick up your van in Hamburg, Germany. Make sure to consider these logistics as you browse for international flights, assuming you are an American band looking for your first taste of European stages. For example, some of the cheapest fares from the USA into Europe would land into Ireland or the UK. Nevertheless, these two countries offer less security in terms of shows’ guarantees, as most of the promoters have to pay high fees to rent halls or clubs and make the show happen. If you have time, you may budget a few days traveling overland from the UK, or catch a low cost flight into Mainland Europe, but this really has to be timed and checked according to your schedule and the location of your last show.
Circular routes, for this reason, are ideal: Europe is small enough to be crisscrossed in a matter of days, yes, but gas prices are prohibitive, and travelling in a van crammed with people and gear will make such prices fluctuate even further. Trying to travel by train is an option you may consider, but this poses a big question mark regarding your backline: if you are able to manage getting a full backline in any city you will play, train travel in Europe is a very feasible option: consider the pretty affordable Interrail travel tickets. They allow unlimited train journeys in different areas of Europe, for a limited number of days, and can be used to catch overnight trains as well.
So, let’s say you will start your tour in Northern Germany: you may decide to play a circular route going to the Netherlands and Belgium, then moving down to France and Spain. To come back eastwards, you can play Southern France and Northern Italy, then hit the ex-Yugoslavian republics and cut up through the Czech Republic and back into East Germany: from here, easily close the tour where you started. This would maximize your appearances all over Europe, also giving you proper time flexibility to squeeze in some sightseeing, and make sure you will not waste any petrol money as you will never backtrack. This is, however, easier said than done as most clubs are picky when it comes to book bands on Mondays and Tuesdays, and you may have to accept door deals or difficult geographic movements in exchange for a place to play and a place to crash for that unlucky weekday night.
Petrol is also so expensive that you may consider leaving home your backline, and rent a car with a GPL fuel system: this would cut transportation costs considerably, but poses the problem of having a much reduced trunk space because of the gas tank’s size. Another reason why packing light is a must!! But realistically, factor that as long as you may easily borrow an amplifier and a drum set, you will have to travel with your own guitars: hard cases cannot be bent to fit a small car’s trunk space… and most extremely, you will not be able to deepen that new acquaintance you made at the show on the backseat of a little car full of equipment…
Based on my own experience, vans are always better. More expensive to rent, but more comfortable, more professional for a band image, and at last, an eventual place to sleep when everything else on the road fails. I will talk more about vans in a future section, as this topic is a very important one and should not be overlooked. Until then, take out the Euro map, and start drawing circles!!! You will succeed!!