[Editor’s Note: Starting to sketch out your summer tour? Finding venues is obviously a pretty major part of the planning, but there are some other key factors to figure out before hitting the road. NYC-based Singer-Songwriter Stephen Babcock is familiar with life on the road, having toured the East Coast and the UK. He shared with us some useful tips for any artist thinking about packing up the van. Full disclosure: in addition to being a talented artist about to put out a new EP, Stephen works here at TuneCore. ]
1. Invest in Your Case
If you read no farther (though I don’t suggest stopping here), read this tip. The most important item to have for your tour is a solid instrument case. Guitar, bass, drums, keytar, whatever, you want to keep your instruments safe while you and your band cram into the car and hit the road. Try for hard cases for your equipment, but make sure everything is light enough to carry. Most musicians are also their own roadies, so you’ll want to make sure your gear is safe but also easy to take in and out of venues.
2. Don’t Leave Home Without a Reliable Ride (+ Map or GPS)
You can’t play the show if you don’t make it there in the first place! This is why transportation is up there in importance with your gear. Depending on the size of your band, transportation can range from a small car to a mini-van, to a full on 15-passenger van (i.e. Chevy Express 3500). Make sure you keep the car stocked with a portable air pump, tire iron, and a spare tire, in case trouble strikes, and get the most reliable ride you can afford. Also consider signing up for AAA travel services—they’ll meet you anywhere and can usually get you back on the road in minutes. Having that reliable ride will pay off big time when you’re hustling from Asheville, North Carolina to your show the next day in Hartford, Connecticut.
3. Pack Some Snacks
Fact: travelling makes you hungry. If you’re trying to get from point A to point B without time to spare between shows, it always helps to have some snacks in the car to tide you over. Also, not being hungry means less grumpiness and therefore a more pleasant ride for you and your band. Granola bars or PB&J sandwiches work best in my experience, but the choice is yours to make. As far as drinks, I always say go with bottled water or Gatorade to help you stay hydrated. Just make sure you don’t go overboard with the liquids or you’ll be stopping every five minutes for a bathroom break.
4. Dress for the Season
Some of the worst times I’ve had on tour were when I had to carry gear in the rain, without a raincoat. If it’s fall or winter, pack a coat, hat, gloves, and even a blanket for the car to help ease the chill. In the spring and summer, bring a raincoat, baseball cap, and maybe even a t-shirt to change into if you get sweaty and hot. The more prepared you are with extra clothes, the better you’ll feel.
5. Stay Entertained
You’re a musician and you’re on the road to play music, so naturally you should have a soundtrack for your tour. Bring CDs or an iPod to keep you entertained and inspired during long stretches on the road. It never hurts to listen to a band you love on the way to a gig—it helps get you pumped up to put on your best show.
6. Make Some Merch ( & Pack a Sharpie)
Merch is so important to have at your live show. If you put on a killer show, your fans are going to want to take something home. Memories are great, but wouldn’t it be better if your fans had a t-shirt they could wear and show their friends? Couple that with the story about how great your show was and you are now slowly growing your fan base. CDs, t-shirts, and stickers are great go-to options for merch, but you can also look into making special posters/prints, vinyl, or really anything! Just make sure you have something you can give to your fans after your show, either for free or for sale.
7. Don’t Forget Your Camera
We all know that social media drives marketing, so having a camera to document everything your band does on the road will help keep fans interested in your tour. Take pictures of everything. The band eats lunch? Take a picture. The band’s hanging in the car? Take a picture. People want to feel as if they’re part of your band, so keeping track of little things makes your band feel inclusive. Also, be sure to take pictures of you actually playing music to show what happened when you rocked the stage. That will help people who were at the show remember how great it was, and get other fans excited for upcoming concerts. Keep up with social media and your fans will keep up with you.
8. Find Places to Crash
Sleep. We all need it and we all love it. Make sure you find places to crash. Hotels, friends’ (or strangers’) couches, or even your van—take time to sleep and everyone will be happier. If you need to get somewhere quickly but still need sleep, take turns driving so everyone can get a little shut eye. If you’re a solo artist, make sure to plan out at least a few hours to grab a quick nap so you can keep on rocking!
9. Start Printing Flyers & Promo Posters
As I said above, you need to promote your tour and let people know what’s happening. Though social media is a big deal in promotion, nothing beats physical interaction with fans. Handing out flyers at an open mic allows people to meet you and see what you’re like when you aren’t playing music. Also, hanging posters in venue windows does wonders for promotion as people see them whether or not they enter the venue. The more effort you put into the flyer, the more people will be interested in seeing what it says. A small effort here can help bring in a few extra ‘on the fence’ or curious fans just looking for something to do on a weekend night.
10. Get Ready to Connect
Every band should be comfortable with networking, because the importance of this skill goes beyond touring. I’ve made countless friends and fans through networking at shows while touring. I’ve met musicians I still know and work with and I’ve had the time of my life getting to know fans over a beer after the show. Knowing your audience helps you make better music, and the only way to truly meet someone is to go and speak with them in person. This isn’t always the easiest thing to do, but giving fans something like a card or sticker after the show can help break the ice. And think about it this way, if people stayed to the end of your set, it’s a safe bet they liked your music and would like to meet you too. So spread those wings, and get out there and start networking!
What’s on your own list of touring needs? Let us know in the comments.
Born and raised in New Hartford, New York and now residing in New York City Stephen Babcock began playing guitar at the age of 15 after hearing John Mayer’s “Room For Squares.” Since then, he has continued to craft his skills as a singer-songwriter, recording and performing a catalog of original music, including two EPs and one full-length LPs. After releasing Dreams, Schemes, and Childhood Memories in May 2011 and Lost in July 2013, Stephen went on a touring frenzy. He stormed up and down the east coast of the US as well as the United Kingdom, hitting coffee shops, small theaters, and numerous singer-songwriter festivals. With dates ranging from Athens, GA to London UK, his sound grew and explored new heights while on the road.
Stephen’s new EP, Wishful Thinking, was written and recorded upon returning home from touring and will be released on May 9th 2014. The EP weaves southern charm with full band grooves to create Stephen’s most layered and complete sound to date. Drawing comparisons to artists like Brett Dennen and Matt Nathanson, Stephen’s robust performance and life experience come together to achieve a live show unparalleled in today’s pop music landscape.
Check out his music here: