Truer words have never been spoken.  That is why I’m using this quote from an interview, I recently watched, as the title of this article.  The quote is from my good friend Nate Compton, front man of ELISIUM, a national touring indie band.  In the interview, which you can watch below, Nate talks about his experience traveling the country playing music and tries to answer a question he is asked a great deal.  How do you know it’s the right time to quit your job and go on tour?  This very question is one that I have wrestled with many times and am wrestling now as I write this post.  

But, who am I?

My name is Greg Barrett.  I play drums for a regional touring act on the verge of going national.  For the past three years my band has been the proverbial weekend road warrior.  I also do session work for a local recording studio from time to time.  I’ve worked my entire life to get to the point where I’m currently at musically, and I honestly believe that I was put on this earth for the purpose of playing music.  It was obvious from the time I was three that I would be following this path and chasing the dream.

And, just like my buddy Nate was a few short years ago, I’m standing on the edge of the cliff trying to decide whether or not to jump?  Should I quit my job, to do what I love, or continue to work full time.  Should you?  Nate did, and believe me it’s a hard but fulfilling road.  But don’t take my word for it, after reading this article, watch his interview.

First off, let’s cut to the chase and determine if you/your band is ready to take to the roads.  Have you established yourself in your home market?  Are you getting good enough guarantees and positive feedback in your home market to warrant branching out into new radius based test markets?  Assuming you already have merchandise, are you moving it well at your live shows?  Is everyone in your crew on the same page?   Is your branding on point?

Branding?   What’s that?  We’re a band, not a business… WRONG!!!

The list could go on and on and on, but all of them are legitimate questions that need to be addressed.  All good topics to revisit in later articles, especially branding.  We’ll cover the first few for now.

Welcome my friends to indie touring!  

Is everyone in your team on the same page?  They had better be if you’re planning to spend days, weeks, or months at a time in a smelly, cramped, van.  You will all be running on minimal sleep and a diet of who knows where the next meal is coming from.  Hotel rooms will be a rarely afforded luxury, so you’ll be mostly sleeping in the van, and showering at truck stops and gyms.  The gym option is a great choice!   Let’s face it, who couldn’t use some exercise?  Just make sure to join a national chain.   Needless to say, the last thing you want is to be out midway through a tour, 900 miles from home and a member decide the road isn’t for him/her.  Everyone in that van should have the same drive, determination, and work ethic.  Everyone should have a designated job to do and be pulling their weight.  You are about to leave the happy-go-lucky and comfortable world of music as a hobby and enter the realm of full time, always on call, real deal music is my JOB.  Is everyone willing and able to completely uproot from normal life, sell off most everything not needed to be as debt free as possible and not get paid often?  You had best be finding out!  Unless of course you are loaded to the gills and able to just finance or bank roll a tour, a bus, or accommodate your crew every night with lodging, food, and pay.  Or, you already have major label backing and enough leverage in your deal that they provide for all of it.  Even most of the signed bands out there are lucky to be provided with a 15 passenger van and trailer.

Lets focus on your home and radius markets.  

Your home market is your first anchor.  Assuming that you’ve established a healthy following already in your hometown, you should be drawing sizable crowds, getting reasonably good venue guarantees, and be moving merch well.  These two latter points will be key to survival in new markets where you will be working to replicate that hometown market all over again.  This never stops.  Each time you win a large following, that market becomes an anchor.  You should be working to establish these anchors roughly 3 to 5 hours apart for weekend strings and as far out as 9 plus hours for tours.  Guarantees in new test markets will, in all likelihood, be minimal at best if any at all.  There will be a lot of times starting out when fuel and food between stops is a luxury only afforded by your merch sales.  That’s where those anchors come into play.  Routing more than a couple test market stops between your “meat and potato” anchor stops WILL break the budget.  So will running out of merch… DON’T DO THAT!

Survival on tour is all about budgeting and being prepared for whatever gets thrown at you.  You can never count 100% on getting paid your full guarantee or being paid at all for every date booked, even with signed contracts.  This is especially true when you’re working new rooms and contacts.  Any tour that ends up breaking even should be considered a success.  If you do turn a profit after all the expenses, then that’s a huge success!  The real objective is to get your name out there in new markets and build that following.

The whole landscape of the music business is shifting and constantly changing.  A recent topic of debate among many of my peers has been, is touring profitable anymore?  I have many friends on both sides of that fence.  Some who got in the game when venue pay and general attendance were high, which allowed them to generate large enough national followings to still warrant hefty guarantees, are now in the catch 22 of “always on tour”.  They simply can’t afford to not be on tour full time now.  On the other side, with guarantees way lower, it may be more profitable to tap into other revenue streams, than to try to stay out on the road all the time.  The bottom line is, touring is still the most effective means of developing a strong following.  People still love to see a killer live show and actually meet the artists.

Don’t let me discourage you, but be aware of what you are about to do.  Making the jump from hobby to career is no smooth path.  It’s a lot of work.  Touring can actually be fun, rewarding, and give you a whole new perspective on life.  It will broaden your horizons, make you laugh, cry, and open your eyes to that big world outside of your box.  Nothing beats the feeling of knowing you left every ounce of yourself that you had to give on that stage night after night.

Is there ever going to be a “right time”?  Probably not…

But, as my friend Wade Sutton from Rocket to the Stars says, “Sometimes you jump. Sometimes you get pushed.  Either way, you’re going to learn to fly.”

Alright, there’s my two cents, now watch Nate’s interview, and go start planning that maiden tour!

Greg Barrett is the drummer for the indie rock band Seasons of Me, session musician for The Sound Asylum Recording & Mastering Studio, and follower/student of trends and marketing strategies in the new music industry.  You can read his bio on his artist page at the Saluda Cymbals web site and check out his band at their official site using the links below.

Greg Barrett at Saluda Cymbals

In the entertainment business, think of yourself as a spider. Your web is your life. It shelters you. If you have a poorly constructed web, when the rain comes, you will be washed out. It feeds you.

A spider with no web, catches no flies and thus, will starve to death. Spiders weave their webs with purpose to attain certain goals for themselves. They do not build webs for other spiders.

Think of your web as the network you build.

A strong web has strong anchor points. The professional contacts that you make, and relationships you forge with them, are your anchor points. Strong anchor points are developed by conducting yourself and your business as professionally as you can at all times.

The intersecting strands of your web represent your fan base. These strands are equally as important as the anchor points. With a larger fan base comes bigger and better opportunities with greater frequency, which allows you to continue to grow your network.

Spiders never stop maintaining and building their webs. Don’t make the mistake of trying to cheat or shortcut in this area though. By purchasing likes, follows, views, etc. for your social media pages you are only tarnishing your credibility. It’s not difficult for those anchor points, that you are working so hard to gain, to figure out. It only takes a few clicks of the mouse.

A good example is a Facebook page with 10,000 likes and a corresponding YouTube channel with minimal views, or a Twitter account with 25,000 followers and a Spotify profile with minimal plays.

Your REAL credibility lies in your ability to put REAL bodies in REAL venues on a consistent basis. In short, it’s better to have 1000 real fans than 10,000 fakes. After all, you can’t market your music or your merchandise to fake fans.

And, while it may look good to a few venues when you are starting out, word will quickly spread among talent buyers and other industry professionals (Yes they do talk to each other, they call that networking) that you are the artist with the bogus fan base, who can’t draw a stick figure.

Guess who is not getting invited back?

What you need is a fan base comprised of legitimate and highly targeted real people. Furthermore, you can’t just try to sell to these people constantly. You must interact with them and get to know them first. Be easily accessible, open a line of communication, and treat them like friends.

You’ll catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

You should be using your social channels to attract and entertain people, and to direct them to your website. Why?…

Because your website should be geared at getting them to sign up for your email list, which you should also be pitching at your shows, on all of your social channels, and even on your videos. Yes, the age old email list is still one of the most effective marketing tools that you have at your disposal.

Think about it, your email list is your direct link, that only you control, to engage and market to your targeted audience on a personal level.

Also, consider this, if someone is interested enough in you (and or) your music to grant you access to their inbox, the potential for future sales to that person is considerably higher than say the average person scrolling through their news feed. They are essentially giving you permission to directly contact and market to them.

The key lies in building relationships and trust from your subscribers and your ability to consistently deliver the relative content they want to consume. Ask questions in your emails and when people respond, follow up. Make your correspondence as personal as possible. Make them feel like they are included in your journey and not just being sold to. It will go a long way in developing trust and interest in your BRAND, if the people on your list feel like they are a part of your life, your family; As opposed to cattle being funneled into the barn for milking.

All of the social media platforms are constantly changing the rules on who sees what you post, when, and how often. You spend countless hours, days, weeks, even years building an audience for your page. Then, in order to reach all of that audience, the platform wants you to pay to advertise to your own following. You may own the page or account, but THEY own the network and THEY make the rules.

This is why it is so important to build your own network. One where YOU make the rules. If you’re a spider, the people on your email list are your flies. Ultimately, the spiders who weave the tightest webs with the strongest anchors catch the most flies.

Nope, that’s not a typo… Branding is a topic I’ll cover in a later article.