The Truth About Touring: Tips for Navigating Life on the Road
Published on Nov 11, 2014 by Stephanie Rizzo
Whether you’re a musician with dreams of reaching a broader audience, or a manager looking to take clients to the next level, one of the best ways to expose a band to a wider market is by touring. It’s easy to buy into the myth that being on tour is one giant party road trip, but the truth is, successful bands spend a lot of time navigating more than highways and back roads. Alex Knight, a Course Director in Full Sail’s Music Business bachelor’s program, knows the struggles that can come with being on tour all to well. He spent years playing in bands and tour managing before settling into a teaching career.
“The first thing people don’t realize about touring is that it can be really boring,” says Alex. “Most of your time is spent in the back of a van, looking at long stretches of road or the back of the guy’s head in front of you.”
While spending up to eight hours a day in a van has the potential to get old fast, one way to combat boredom is to use that time as office hours devoted to management and upkeep of band business. If you’re stuck on a marketing problem, for instance, you can use a long drive to brainstorm ideas. Alex also suggests keeping an acoustic guitar out during drives and using the time to work on new material. Once you’ve fleshed out a new song, you can even use a laptop to record a rough demo in the way back of the van. Long drives are also a good opportunity for catching up on sleep, which can be hard to come by on the road.
“You can sleep for eight hours in a van and wake up just as tired as when you laid down. Still, you have to get it when you can. You’ll daydream about your bed a lot,” says Alex.
Taking care of yourself is essential to a positive touring experience. Although it may be tempting to hit up the drive through for every meal, Alex suggests packing a cooler with fruits and vegetables in between gigs. Bringing along a jump rope or a football to toss around at rest stops will also help you stretch your legs and get some exercise in between long periods of sitting in the van.
Another thing to consider before you go on tour is cost. Touring is an investment in more ways than one. There are monetary expenses to think of like food, gas, lodging, transportation, and insurance. It’s a good idea to have an emergency fund and roadside assistance as well, especially if you plan on putting a lot of miles on your touring vehicle. Although most promoters will try to at least throw you some money for gas, payment is rarely guaranteed. Factoring merchandise into your initial investment will help supplement your income on the road. You can save money on lodging by crashing with friends or even fans, just don’t expect five star accommodations.
“I’ve never found myself in more disgusting situations than when I was on tour,” laughs Alex. “There were lots of times when I would find myself in some random stranger’s house, in their gross bedroom or bathroom, and just think, ugh, what am I doing here?”
Beyond practical costs, it’s important to remember that you’re also investing your time into touring. In order to make it happen, you might have to put the rest of your life—work, relationships, continuing education—on hold, sometimes for years.
“In my class, I talk about how it usually takes three to five years before you start to see any money from touring, and that’s if you’re doing it consistently and well,” says Alex. “That can be a hard pill for people to swallow.”
Which isn’t to say that touring can’t be fun and rewarding. True, you probably won’t make a ton of money on your first time out, but the potential experience you’ll get from touring can be just as valuable as say, working an unpaid internship or volunteering for industry related events. The key, says Alex, is to leverage the social aspects of touring so that they also serve as networking opportunities.
“The people that it works for have a mindset that they’re going to do something no matter what,” he says. “You can take advantage of having fun, too, and meeting people. That’s a big part of it. Make it a point to meet the sound guy, the promoter, the venue owner. Talk to everyone and try to make a good impression. Let them know you’re for real about this, and they’ll take you seriously.”