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!