Playing live shows is a great way to grow your fanbase, get media attention, and better your performance skills. More and more indie artists have been taking on the role of booking agent to get gigs on their own and play live. It is certainly a lot of work, but it is totally possible to book your own tour as an independent artist nowadays. If you want to get in touch with booking agents directly, you can contact them by using Groover!
Otherwise, here are some tips on how to book your own tour as an independent artist.
1. Book your own tour at the right time and plan ahead
Before you book your own tour, make sure you have a solid live set prepared and music to promote. Tours should ideally be scheduled around an album or EP release. This gives artists an opportunity to play their songs to new audiences, sell physical copies and merch, and boost the visibility of their project. Some venues will book shows up to a year in advance, but most venues book from 2 months to 6 months out. Decide how long you want to go on tour for, as this will also determine how far in advance you need to plan ahead. Booking a month long tour is a lot more work than just booking a one or two week tour.
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2. Figure out which cities or towns you want to play in
To figure out which cities or towns you want to play in, you can use a couple different techniques.
- Find out where your listeners are on streaming platforms
If you have already released music, check your statistics on different streaming platforms to see where your listeners are located. Spotify for Artists shows you how many people are listening to your music in each country, but also in each city. If you know you have a lot of people listening to you in Boston, for example, use this to your advantage to book a show there. If most of your listeners are in Italy, why not plan an Italian tour?
- Reach out to your community on social media
Don’t know where you want to go on tour? Reach out to your community on social media to ask them where they are from. What city would like to see you play in? Who knows, maybe one of your fans even hosts awesome house shows in their small town where you can organize a concert.
- Stay with friends: minimize your housing budget
Some venues will provide housing for touring bands, while others leave it up to the band or booker to find separate accommodation. This can often be a big part of the budget of going on tour. If housing is not provided by the venue, try to book shows in places where you can stay with friends for the night. Maybe your bassist has an aunt that lives in Philadelphia and can host the band after the show. Use these personal connections to your advantage. You can always reach out to your community on social media to see if there are fans willing to host you.
- Focus on a specific geographic zone when you book your own tour
Most of all, concentrate on a specific geographic zone when brainstorming cities and towns to plan your tour. Think logically so that you’re not spending each day driving 10 hours to get to the next venue. Touring is tiring and good practical planning can make all the difference.
3. Make a logical road map to minimize travel time and costs
Once you have a list of locations, make a logical road map to minimize travel time and costs. Most bands tour around in a van so that they can transport their instruments easily, but some solo or duo acts have toured by taking trains and buses. Decide which mode of transport is most suited for your band and the locations you need to get to. Determine how long it will take you to get from one location to the next, and factor in some days off if you need to. The dates of the shows you book will also be dependent on the venues. Give yourself the flexibility to propose a couple dates to the venues in question rather than just one.
| Read also: How should you approach a live music promoter
4. Research potential venues
Researching potential venues takes time but is the most important step in booking a successful tour. Be realistic about the kind of venues you could be playing. What size venues are appropriate for the popularity of your band? The best technique to research potential venues is to see where similar indie artists have played. Check their Instagram accounts to find their tour poster. Have they played in any of the cities on your list? Another great way to research potential venues is by looking up concerts directly by city by using Bandsintown or even Facebook events.
5. Beyond traditional concert venues: think outside the box
If you’re willing to get gigs outside of traditional concert venues, there are many options to choose from. Sofar Sounds hosts intimate shows in unexpected locations such as museums or private homes. Three artists are chosen to perform short 20-30 minutes sets per show. You can apply to play a show in over 400 cities around the world through their website. Another place you can look when researching places to play is on college campuses. Often universities will host concerts for their students and this can be a great opportunity to get some new fans! Other unconventional music venues include libraries, record stores, coffee shops, or breweries. Even playing a live set at a local radio station could be a good way to diversify a traditional tour!
Another great way to book your own shows in other cities is to reach out to local bands and propose to share the stage with them. If they are interested and think it could be a good match musically, you’ll have a way into the local music scene immediately. This can help with organizing the show but also with getting people to show up if the local band already has an established fanbase. You can also propose yourself as an opening act for bigger touring artists in your genre.
7. Pitch your live show
Pitching your live show and your music is an important step in getting the attention of music venues. Make sure that you contact the right person in charge of booking for each venue and prepare your pitch. Include a concise biography, links to your music and a live video if you have it. You should also include details about your set, most importantly the length and how many musicians will be on stage. Sell your project and why it would be ideal for that particular venue. If you have notable media coverage and brief details about past shows and the crowd you draw, let them know. Most importantly, let them know the dates you will be passing through their city and when could be available for a show.
8. Discuss finances and define your budget
If you get a positive response from the venues, be prepared to negotiate and discuss finances. Different venues pay their artists in different ways, so make sure you understand how payment will work. Don’t wait until you arrive at the venue to figure out how you are getting paid- you may not be getting paid at all. Once you have this information, you can create a budget spreadsheet to calculate profits after expenses and if you need to adjust your budget in any way.
9. Prepare your merch
Having merch on tour is a great way to make some extra cash and also have something to offer at the end of the show. Of course, the most common merch is selling physical copies of your music, either CDs, vinyls, or even cassette tapes. T-shirts, hats, socks, keychains- get creative with it. If you are limited on budget, you can go the DIY route and make homemade merch that doesn’t cost much. I burned about 50 copies my first EP on CDs one by one to bring on a solo tour in Italy and made handmade seed packets to go with the theme of my most recent EP “Fleuriste”. Use merch as a way to express yourself and add depth to your musical project! If you want some more ideas related to merchandising, check out our article on the topic.
10. Stay organized, promote your shows, and book your own tour!
Above all, you need to stay super organized when you book your own tour. This means organization at every step of the way. Keep a spreadsheet when researching concert venues by location to organize contact information for each one. Once you start booking shows, keep all the details in one place for the payment for each gig, hours for sound check and the show, and accommodation. A spreadsheet dedicated to expenses is also necessary, where you can keep track of what you spend and what you make- this includes selling your merch as well.
Once you have the organization down, make sure to promote your shows as much as you can and be active on social media! Create Facebook events for your gigs and boost posts on Instagram to target audiences in the cities you are playing in. Make a tour poster to list all the places you’ll be playing in. Sign up for a Bandsintown artists profile or Songkick so that your shows will show up on the platforms. Doing all this will boost your chances of potential fans coming out to see you play live!