Don’t bring merch. Alison Shaw summed it up perfectly in August for youbloomTV: if a person (likely in a state of inebriation) who has never seen you before decides they like what they hear, they’re going to want to take something home with them that they can listen to again, or a T-shirt they can wear so they have a story to share with their friends (free advertising!). Offer nothing as a follow-up to your show and it doesn’t matter if you just played the most epic set of the tour: you immediately halve your exposure potential.
Patches and buttons can be made very cheaply. Just sayin’.
Don’t introduce yourself. You know that band that are just way too cool to say hello to the audience, and instead plow wordlessly through their set before unplugging and stalking offstage for dramatic effect? Yeah, don’t be that band.
Be rude to the sound guy. A crucial element to the success/enjoyment of every gig is whether or not you piss off – intentionally or inadvertently – the guy/girl in control of what people are going to hear. So a few basic rules to follow:
- Arrive to soundcheck on time. Remember that sound check is not band practice. If you think it is, you shouldn’t be on tour.
- Follow the engineer’s instructions. He has a lot of mics and levels to organize, and doesn’t want to be there tweaking for two hours. You’re also (probably) not the only band this person needs to cater to. If he asks you to turn down your amp (guitar players, looking at you), just do it already.
- Communicate politely and clearly. If you can’t hear something, have a request, or something isn’t working, let him or her know.
Don’t say thanks. To the crowd for coming out, to the support acts or the act you’re supporting, to the sound engineer (see above), the booker, the venue…gratitude gets you a long way in this game. It endears you to the strangers who’ve chosen to spend their evening and money on you, and can get you invited to play more gigs or to come back again in future.
Don’t promote. You know, you might get really lucky and have a booking agent or a venue that’s willing to promote the show on your behalf. Or you might score a sweet support slot for a band that you know are going to draw a crowd no hassle. But listen up: you still need to promote your show.
Why? Because that’s part of pulling your weight as a touring band. The deal is exposure – for everyone, not just for you. The least you can do is make an effort and throw up an event page on facebook. If just one person from your friend list comes along, you’ve done your job.
Try to adhere to a schedule/routine/backline setup. Life on the road is mayhem. Pure and simple. Vans break down, blizzards shut down roads, venues cancel shows for no reason.
Amps blow, pedals go all ghost function, leads and stands and 9 volt batteries mysteriously vanish.
Absolute arseholes steal bands’ gear. Shit. Happens.
It goes without saying that you should have some level of organization to your plan, and to be responsible at least for your own gear and your person, but if by some crappy twist of luck, something un-ideal happens, the worst thing you can do is freak out; throw a fit; start a fight; get all demanding.
The best touring bands stay positive, remain flexible, expect the unexpected, and roll with the punches. They pitch in to help other bands when something goes wrong, knowing the road to memorable gigs is two-way, and paved with selfless acts.
These are the bands that people travel to other towns to see, that get asked back, that other bands reach out to when they’re thinking of hitting the road again.
Then again, it is entirely possible that touring just does not suit your band. And the only way to find that out is to do it. Just do everyone a favor once you do and stop.
Give up. You already know something unforeseen is likely to happen. So what should you do when it does? Well, if you want to totally suck at touring, take it as a sign that this gig/leg of the tour/entire thing is a sham and shouldn’t be happening at all. Sigh deeply, pull a U-ey, and drive your miserable butts back to Minnesota, or wherever it is you came from. Everyone will thank you later.
Show up anyway (better late than never), shake a few hands, explain what happened, offer to play and improvise if need be (house parties make great backups for venue cancellations, and often provide a night’s sleep), make friends and rack up another bonkers story for the tour diary.
Do it right, and in a year or so, you’ll be itching to start a new one.