Is Touring Still Relevant In the Digital Age? Yes, Actually – More Than Ever.

[Editors Note: This blog was written by Patrick McGuire. Patrick is a writer, composer, and experienced touring musician based in Philadelphia.]

 

In 2017, there’s never been more ways to experience the world around us on our computers and smartphones through the omnipotent lens of the internet. The internet’s effect on how music is now being created, discovered and distributed is so profound that it’s hard to remember a time when listeners discovered new music from friends and record store clerks rather than music blogs and playlists.

For bands coming up in an era when seemingly everything can be done, seen and heard through the internet, it’s tempting to question the real value of something like touring. Is touring still relevant in the digital age? Yes, actually. More than ever before.

Where are you right now? Are you reading this article on your laptop at a coffeeshop? Or maybe you’re thumbing through it on your smartphone on the train home from work.

Look around you. Everyone’s eyes are constantly glued to some kind of a screen, and this is why the live music experience is more vital now than ever before. No amount of technology can replicate the experience of seeing a band performing their music right in front of your eyes in real time. Live music will always be a distinct and powerful experience because it’s something that can’t be translated to the world of screens.

Yes, at any given moment there’s thousands of bands live-streaming their performances from every corner of the globe that you could watch whenever you like, but that will never substitute the feeling of being there in the venue and experiencing it all for yourself in person. As our culture becomes increasingly reliant on the internet for everyday things, the need to experience nature, visual art and music right there in the moment will become more important than ever. And here’s where your band comes in.

If you make great music that you can pull off well in an engaging performance setting, people will go out of their way by rearranging their night and by paying to see you. Yes, touring is an experience filled with challenges, risk and even financial hardship for some bands, but if you’re viewing what you do as a sort of business, investing in the touring experience might be your best shot at actually earning money as a band.

Many of the fans who’ll jump at the chance to see you play live in their hometown won’t drop a dime on your new record. This is a difficult thing to accept, but it’s true whether we want to blame streaming services like Spotify, rampant music pirating or the shifting attitudes toward the value of media in the digital age. Yes, you’ll probably sell more music if you release your records on vinyl, but even with those increased sales, the days of small bands making a living purely from selling their music are pretty much over now. The live music experience will always be valuable because it can only be experienced in person, and if you’re able to present your music in a truly unique and thrilling way, there be a higher demand for your performances.

But the benefits of touring in 2017 are more than just financial. Hitting the road with your band not only builds tightness and more confidence musically, it can also give you priceless connections with other bands/artists, new fans and music industry folks that you simply couldn’t have established by releasing music and strictly playing shows in your hometown.

Yes, maintaining a social media presence can help with these things, but nothing can substitute the value of human interaction. Talking with a fan after you’ve just gotten off stage is an experience that can’t be matched with a tweet or Facebook comment. And maintaining a constant presence on the road tells press and industry people who might be interested your music know that you’re serious about what you’re doing.

Trends in music come and go every day it seems, but touring is here to stay. Unfortunately, this doesn’t change the fact that a band has to make huge sacrifices for their touring efforts to be worth it. Hitting the road for two weeks over the summer to play a few cities in your region might be fun, but it won’t make a significant difference in whether your band gains traction or not.

If you want to get the most out of hitting the road, you’ll have to book multiple tour routes a year through cities where you think you have the best shot at building a presence in. You and your bandmates will have to walk the thin line between obligations, like careers and relationships at home, and taking the time and energy to build a national presence by frequent touring.

It’s not easy, predictable or simple, but if you’ve been at this game for awhile, you probably already know that nothing in this industry is.

How To Build a Great Set List

[Editors Note: This is a guest blog post written by Mason Hoberg. Mason is a freelance writer who covers music-related topics and is a regular contributor to Equipboard.]

 

One of the hardest parts about being a musician is that unless you come from a genre that’s acceptable in academia, (essentially just classical or opera), no one ever really teaches you the finer elements of stagecraft. Most musicians have to learn things like building a set list, using a microphone, or setting up a stage by trial and error.

Like any other craft there is a lot of variation in how you can approach the more technical apects, but there’s still a few things that you should know in order to put on as good of a show as you possibly can. This article is going to give you all the information that you need to perform one of the most important parts of being a good musician – building a great set list:

Using Tempo

Your first focus when building a set list is to make sure that you don’t perform in chunks or divide your set list too predictably when it comes to tempo. You shouldn’t have four slow songs followed by four fast songs. All that happens when you do that is that you cut the effect of every song in your set. Your fast songs don’t seem as intense, and your slow songs seem boring and drawn out.

This still holds true if you play a genre like metal or rap also, because “fast” and “slow” are relative terms. I’m not saying that if you’re in a super speed metal band you’ve got to break out the acoustic guitars every show. Just be aware of the dynamics of the songs in your set relative to one another, and play them in an order that avoids monotony.

There are a few different schools of thought on how to use tempo, but really there’s only one principle you need to follow; don’t focus on the song, focus on the show. Ideally, your fastest songs should directly precede or follow your slowest ones. Mid-tempo songs should go between one extreme or the other, but never in the same way repeatedly. For example, don’t build a set that’s fast song, mid-tempo song, slow song, repeated ad nauseam.

Know Your Keys

Just like tempo, you want to make sure that you don’t play every song in the same key. However, this isn’t quite as strict because playing in the same key for a few songs in a row isn’t quite as noticeable as playing at the same tempo. When it comes to keys, just use your best judgement.

A good rule of thumb is that if two songs in the same key could potentially be mistaken for one another there should probably be a few songs between them, if not several.

Know The Length Of All Your Songs

Knowing the length of your songs is super important because you’re never going to play a show without a set time slot. You’re generally going to have one to two hours at the most, and you’re going to want to make the most of them.

Two days before I do a show (I never sing or play the day before a show, I prefer to spend that day getting lots of rest and drinking a ton of water) I run through my whole set and time out every song. Then I open up Polaris Office and type out my set list, putting the keys and time right next to the song.

It’s important that you do this before every show, because as you practice your songs they’re gradually going to change a bit from performance to performance. It might only be a difference of 10 or 15 seconds, but if you’re playing a two hour show those tiny differences in song length will start to add up.

Also, make sure that you give yourself 10 minutes of space in your alloted time slot whenever you do a show. This covers the time that you’ll spend retuning (which you should do every four or five songs) and the time that your frontman will spend interacting with the audience. If you’re worried you won’t use up the whole ten minutes throughout the course of your show, put an extra song on your setlist that you can use to fill up that gap

90% Of The Audience’s Impression Comes From The First And Last Song

The harsh reality of being a musician is that the impression you make on your audience is made up of a million small moments. The most important of which is how they feel after hearing your first song, and how they feel when they feel at the end of your show.

The reason for this is that it’s the only time you can really guarantee their attention. Everyone’s mind starts to wander throughout the course of a show. Maybe the guy in the first row gets distracted by the cute bartender. Or the hipster girl’s attention starts to wander five songs in and she decides she’d rather be flicking through Instagram. While that’s not ideal, it’s not all that big of a deal. So long as they can hear you, (which they probably will), you’re still good.

However, when you play your first song they’ll watch you because they’re curious. And when you play your last song they’ll watch you because they expect some sort of finale. So make sure that you bring out your best stuff towards the beginning and end of your show.

Leave the stuff you’re not quite as confident about to the middle, because your audience is only really going to remember the parts of your show where they were most engaged.

In Conclusion

Like many parts of being a musician, building a great set list isn’t really complicated so much as it’s just something that requires some forethought. Remember to capitalize on the periods of your set that will have the most engagement, be aware of the length of each of your songs, and remember to avoid monotony by recognizing the tempos of every song on your set list. Most importantly, have fun. Not every musician is going to hit it big, but every musician can have a great time performing.

Feel like I missed something? Feel free to tell me all about it in the comments section below!

Artist Breakdown: TuneCore Live at Bardot 8/21

While we were thrilled to announce the inaugural TuneCore Live Brooklyn, you didn’t think we were abandoning our 2015 post at the lovely Bardot in Hollywood, did you?! We’re back and at it this Friday, August 21st with the help of our buddies Swisher Sweets and CeleBuzz.

Per usual, the event is 21+, free and doors are at 8pm. And per usual, this thing is gonna fill up, so get there early! We’ll be serving up drinks, dancing and, of course, awesome independent music from the TuneCore artist community. Tune in and learn more about this month’s line-up below, and once you’re done having your mind blown, head over to our Facebook Event to RSVP!

Phoebe Bridgers

Phoebe Bridgers copy
Getting your EP recorded and being compared to Bob Dylan by Ryan Adams aren’t things that every indie artist gets the chance to brag about. TuneCore Artist Phoebe Bridgers can claim both! The indie-folk singer has been impressing many with her latest beautiful collection of songs, Killer, which was released on Adams’ Pax-Am imprint. Be sure to hear the title track from that EP below.

TuneCore has helped build a community of musicians that otherwise wouldn’t be able to distribute their music in a way that suits them creatively. I’m stoked to be a part of it.

Matt Costa

matt3_NolanHall-300x300
Southern California-native Matt Costa was an injury away from going pro as a skateboarder before even turning 20. Having taught himself as a teen, he began releasing EPs and albums, soon finding himself supporting huge artists like Modest Mouse and Oasis, hitting major festivals like Coachella, and even landing a track on the smash film ‘I Love You, Man’! Matt writes and records thoughtful folk tunes, and you can hear a track from his latest EP, Cat Mosta, (via TuneCore), below.

Casey Hurt

CaseyHurt copy
Having originally followed in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, Casey Hurt is an ex-baptist preacher who began playing guitar in the very church he grew up in. Since leaving the church behind him, he’s gone on to win the ISC International Songwriting Competition for the blues and has had sync placements in shows such as ‘Criminal Minds’, ‘Parenthood’, and ‘Pretty Little Liars’. Hurt has an exciting new voice and you can hear it on his song “Mary Mary” below.

TuneCore has played a huge part in my musical career. They’ve given me a chance to send my music all across the world. To reach fans I never thought I could. I’ve always felt like TuneCore had my back and could keep up with whatever the next step was in my musical career.


If you’re a Spotify user and you wanna keep up with our event series, follow our awesome TuneCore Live Spotify Playlist! It’ll be updated with artists playing our events, trending tracks, and new TuneCore releases.

Double Your Income… No Really

By Ari Herstand

(Editor’s note: The post below is from TuneCore Artist Ari Herstand, and it was posted originally on  Ari’s Take.  Herstand’s music has been featured on One Tree Hill and various MTV shows, he’s opened for artists including Ben Folds, Cake, and Ron Pope, and his music has charted on iTunes singer/songwriter charts.)

When you’re on tour, merch is your #1 income generator. This can’t be stressed enough. Believe it. Bands stress over their guarantees and door splits and turnouts. If you want to survive financially with your music you must understand the importance of merch sales and approach it as such. I’ve played shows where 10 people showed up, but they had such an amazing time and I stressed the merch to them that all 10 people bought something averaging about $15. That’s $150 in merch sales. That’s good for any night.

The Display
Have an impressive merch display. This means it needs to be big, attractive, professional and well lit. For all intents and purposes you are traveling sales people. So make your displays as such. If your display consists of CDs tossed in the corner of the room with no light then you aren’t going to sell anything. Bands bitch that their fans don’t buy merch. That’s bull. Every fan buys merch. If you sell it right they’ll buy.

The Pitch
Musicians are traditionally horrible business people and that’s why managers exist. Most musicians hate the business and hate having to “sell” to their fans. The most charismatic front person who can capture every single person in the room while performing can be the most introverted, bland, unimpressive and embarrassing salesman when having to talk about the merch.

You have to get over this. Getting your merch pitch down and comfortable is almost as important as getting your live performance down.

Make combo options, ie “Each CD is $10 but if you want to buy both you can for $15” and then not only announce this but emphasize it. I spend about 45 seconds every show to explain what I have for sale. You may say this is a vibe killer and kills the flow, but on the contrary you can make it a part of your show. My stage banter is a big part of my show so I incorporate it into my banter and turn it into a joke. I title the combo that is $25 for all 3 of my albums, my “Midwest Combo” because I say “I’m born and raised in the Midwest and we love bargains there so I like to pass along the Midwest bargain wherever I go.” People come up to me after the show excited and with a smile on their face and ask for the “Midwest Bargain.”

I have a credit card swiper and I talk about that too – and stress it – because ever since I got a swiper (for my iPhone) my merch sales have about doubled. They hold out their credit card and say while smiling “show me this cool credit card thing… you know what throw in a poster too.” It’s so easy to just keep adding on items with your credit card.

If you haven’t picked up on the subtle hints: GET A CREDIT CARD SWIPER. Right now Square is the best option. It works on an iPhone, Droid or iPad and the device is free and the only fees are to the credit card companies at around 2.7% (these numbers and your best option may be slightly different by the time you’re reading this, but it doesn’t change the fact that you need to accept credit).

Putting up a sign with the credit card logos is also good just in case they don’t hear you say it on stage.

Depending on how attentive your audience is you may need to stress the merch a few times during a show.

The Merch Seller
You see tweets and Facebook posts from touring bands all the time asking for merch sellers for tonight’s show in exchange for free admission. Bringing a merch person on the road with you is best, but expensive, and you probably won’t be able to afford that for awhile. Not having someone sell your merch, though, is not an option unless you play very short sets and are certain people will stay the entire show and you can run over and man the table yourself after you finish playing. But most likely, not everyone will stay the entire time – especially if there are multiple bands on the bill or you’re playing a late night, 4 hour bar gig.

Bands think that if they didn’t sell any merch it was because people didn’t want to buy it. But what if they REALLY wanted to buy something but they had to leave at 11 because they have to wake up at 6 and you didn’t take the stage until 10:30 (when you advertised 9) and you are playing a 90 minute set. They glance at the table on the way out, but no one is there to sell them something so they leave.
+Musicians Are Lazy (The Day Of)
+Time To Advertise Your Show (coming soon)

You will double your sales by having someone at your merch table during your set.

If you push your merch from the stage, take credit (and push it from the stage) and have a merch seller at your table during your set, you will absolutely increase your yearly income. Doubling your sales by taking credit and doubling them again by having a seller at the table during your set can take your yearly income from $10,000 to $40,000. And now you’re a full time musician.

Your pitch for them to buy your stuff starts with a kickass performance and ends with you standing by their side after the show with a sharpie out ready to sign your CD (or Tshirt, poster, etc).

Organize Your Merch
I once toured with a band who put a lot of money into creating a lot of merch. The merch guy they appointed in the band was incredibly lazy and irresponsible (don’t appoint someone irresponsible to manage your merch). They played after me, so after I finished my set I hung out by the merch table during their set. People came over to me wanting to buy the other band’s T-shirt, however all of their shirts were tossed with no rhyme or reason into about 3 bins. I put in good effort sifting through hundreds of shirts attempting to find the correct design in the right size, but eventually with a line piling up I had to give up and apologize that they either didn’t have the size or I just couldn’t find it. I told them to come back when the band finished and they could spend more time searching. Sometimes they’d ask if I had their size in one of my designs. 8 seconds later I pulled out their size swiped their card and just made $20 for being organized.
+Allocating the Duties
+The Opener

How I keep my shirts organized is I roll them up and use painters tape or masking tape (painters is better so it comes off easier) and write on the tape the size. I place them in a long clear bin from Target with the sizes ranging from S-2XL left to right. No sifting or guessing. I put Women’s shirts in one bin and Unisex shirts in another. I label the Women’s shirts WS for Women’s Small and the unisex just S.

Sell Quality
Merch is an incredible money maker and should be looked to as such, but it’s also a promotional tool. You want to sell fans shirts that they’ll actually wear with your band name displayed on them to promote you to their friends. It’s a conversation starter. I’ve gotten tweets from people saying they met new friends from wearing an Ari Herstand T – and actually someone got a 1st date out of it once! True story.
+How I Made $13,544 In a Month (on Kickstarter)

Order brands that are comfortable and hip. You’re not just selling a design you’re selling a feel and the vibe. If people get your shirt and after one wash it gets deformed and becomes uncomfortable to wear they’ll associate your band that way: uncomfortable and low quality. I always order shirts that cost a couple bucks more because it’s an investment. Big fans know that I offer quality and when I come out with a new design they’ll pony up another $20 to get it even though they already have one of my old shirts. If a fan buys your shirt and they don’t have a good experience with it they won’t buy another.
+Image Isn’t Just About Your Look (managing your brand) (coming soon)

Follow Ari’s Take on Twitter
Like Ari’s Take on Facebook
Sign Up for Ari’s Take Email List
Ari Herstand’s Music