Vagabonding as a rock musician: a step by step guide. Post #4: How to choose where to tour

This article is the fourth in a series of posts explaining how to bring your music on the road and get to travel with it. Read the series’ introduction , Post#1 , Post # 2 and Post #3 

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In the last article of this series  I mentioned that a band may decide to book their own tours, by themselves, using their own forces. This is totally right and possible, but is a long, dreary process presenting more than a few risks. Exactly like planning a Round the World trip, there are many things to consider. First of all: where to go?

This question – WHERE – seems quite biased; but try to think that, unlike travelling, touring is a process that verifies only when every piece of the puzzle is laid down perfectly on the table, showing a nice, neat picture. Of course, if a band has to hit the road, there will also definitely be room for improvisation and resourcefulness: independent, poor musicians are known to be able to sleep anywhere, from beaches to floors and van’s seats. But seriously, can we consider “touring” a wild holiday with friends around two mere shows booked on two different weekends? No way, as it will cost you a fortune for nothing. And therefore, you need to choose carefully where to go when you plan touring.

Europe is by far the favorite choice: great cities, good crowds, and especially short driving distances make touring the Old Continent a favorite experience for many bands. If you add that Europe has some of the highest paying clubs, an affectionate, record-buying crowd, and that a show deal generally includes catering and accommodation for the whole band, there is no doubt this is the place where bands want to go to sell their records and have a great time.

The United States and Canada remain the dream destination for many non-American musicians and bands because of their abundant rock and roll history and culture. Touring the USA is quite simple logistically: hiring cars or vans is relatively inexpensive, and you can easily travel to any state and city by driving for a few hours – or days. Unfortunately, such a big rock and roll culture has generated a situation where cheaper gear and transportation expenses do not match with the poor pay, scarce free food and drinks, and virtually nonexistent accommodation services for touring bands. However, it is fairly easy and direct to ask for a crash pad, and get one after every show.

Australia and New Zealand may be beautiful holiday destinations, but are not very well suited for independent rock touring. Australia is too big and has too few key cities which, if not taken over by flight, may result in endless day drives to hit cities where a rock crowd is very scarce. Melbourne and Perth are different, but still, they are thousands of kilometers far from each other. In terms of pay, it is decent, but it is not worth the effort when thinking of touring only in these two countries.

Southeast Asia is increasingly becoming an appealing destination among most independent music circles. A fistful of pioneering small agencies are bringing bands to play those countries where the music scene is alive and kicking: mostly Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and sometimes Bangkok, Thailand. As long as a Southeast Asian tour may sound great, consider it still is a financial suicide: there is generally no guarantee for any of the shows, and if it is true that you may sell t-shirts and tapes – for a fraction of their real retail price, note well – , you will most likely do it for the fans, without even breaking even. Still, the lure of touring in such an exotic part of the world keeps attracting more and more bands.

South and Central America has a long history of rock culture, and places like Brazil, Mexico or Peru have plenty of bands and fans. Similarly to Southeast Asia, touring this region is still attractive and interesting, but making a profit will be very hard. The long distances and the dangerous roads may be also better tackled by public transportation such as buses, making a tour of the region a real test of endurance. However, the wild crowds, la vida loca and the desire for rock and roll will most likely make up for all of the hassle you encounter.

Whatever you decide, you will need to prepare to put hard work on your booking effort, and include countless hours of email work and skype international phone calls. If this sounds like too much to do for your band, I guess you are still in the “local only phase”: do not worry, as after a few months/years of local gigging, the gut feeling to venture abroad will come as an unexpected stomach ache… do not tell me I did not warn you, then!!

One Response to “Vagabonding as a rock musician: a step by step guide. Post #4: How to choose where to tour”

  1. Vagabonding as a rock musician: a step by step guide. Post #5: Some useful suggestion to tour Europe | Vagablogging :: Rolf Potts Vagabonding Blog Says:

    […] This article is the fifth in a series of posts explaining how to bring your music on the road and get to travel with it. Read the series’ introduction , Post#1 , Post # 2 , Post #3  and Post #4 […]