[Editors Note: This article was written by Rich Nardo. This is a continuation of last month’s installment about building your local fan base – be sure to give it a read!]
Congrats! You’re starting to really draw a crowd in your hometown and the local press outlets are taking notice. That’s a huge step for a band in building a sustainable career as musicians. You should be very proud of your accomplishments as you start preparing yourself for the next leap forward – going regional.
I’m sure your confidence is growing as an artist, and you’re starting to get social media followers from far away markets. Maybe some smaller blogs from all over the world are beginning to post your music. However, touring as a relatively unknown band can be one of the most stressful and defeating experiences you’ll go through as a musician. It can even bring the demise of your project as tempers begin to flare over constantly losing money and playing to rooms of ten people.
You probably became a musician in the first because you love it. So why be in a rush to add unnecessary stress and take the fun out of it? Rather than blindly booking a huge month long run of dates, your best bet is to start doing weekend warrior runs to neighboring cities. You still might play to some empty rooms at first or encounter some troubles on the road (i.e – van problems, band tension, getting stiffed on payment by promoters), but you’re never more than a day or two away from your own bed and the financial hit you might take is never too substantive.
I know the road is calling you but taking the proper steps early on will give you a better chance of having the amazing experiences on tour you’ve always dreamed of. Here are some ways to make that leap from local sensation to regional act getting their first taste of the touring life.
Set Up Some Show Trades
The best way to avoid having to play to rooms with less fans than band members present is to organize show trades with acts in nearby cities that already have a following. Are you a New York band looking to expand into Philly? Find a Philly-based group at roughly the same point in their career that would attract the sort of listener that would also be into your music. Chances are they’re looking to get their footing in New York as well.
Another advantage of this approach is that they already know the promoters at the appropriate clubs, other bands that would do well in the area and which local press to hit up so they will have an easier time getting a good show together and can point you in the right direction for your own PR efforts.
Chase the Hashtag and Follow the Venue
Use the internet to your advantage (as you did in your home market). Find hashtags for that city’s music scene and local bands. Be active in those online worlds as you prepare for your gig. Invite people out to the show and try to find local fans and press that would be into your music. It also helps to follow the venue and mine their following and commenters for potential new fans and concert-goers.
Get to Know the Local Press
Again, email and social media are your best friends here. Reach out to let press know you’re in town. Ask them to the show and try to arrange a time to meet up with them. Wherever possible try to set up interviews, as well as, show previews and reviews. As mentioned last month, not only is this a great way to raise awareness about your band in a new city, but these young, local writers are the next crop of staff members at the biggest outlets.
Get Some Merch
Chances are you’re not going to make a ton of money at the door or in a guarantee for these gigs. Bring t-shirts, physical copies of your music, stickers and whatever other fun merchandise you might be able to sell to people that enjoy your performance. It’s a great way to raise a little gas money to cover the trip and when your new fan’s friends see them wearing your band’s shirt or hear your music in their car it might pique their curiosity enough to look into your band.
Mind Your Budget
Even weekend warrior trips can be expensive. Try to find friends or other bands in the market you’re performing in that will let you crash on their couch or floor. Not having to shell out a hundred dollars for a hotel room will significantly lower the cost of the trip and allow you to budget for more out-of-town shows. Want to save a little more money? Try touring in your cars rather than renting a van. You might have to play Tetris to fit your equipment in your vehicle but it’ll save a ton of cash.
These simple steps, as well as, the ever-important task of maintaining and growing your network each time you visit a city, will lead to bigger and more profitable tours. It will also make each step of your journey as a musician that much more enjoyable. Have fun during your weekend warrior stage! It won’t be long until your touring more regularly and to more distant cities.