[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.