Planning A Tour For Your Band Or Music Artist

Organising a UK tour can feel like a daunting task. There’s a long list of things to consider, with locations, travel and accommodation being the skeletal factors.

Being an artist is more than making music.

From writing, performing, giggins, promoting etc how can you manage yourself or do you need support of an agent, manager etc and how will you manage your cash flow whilst making sure that youcan reach as many people as possible? Do you go it alone and plan and execute the whole thing solo? Or gather a team to help plug the gaps, or simply offer a bit of peace of mind?

The main thing to remember is that no two acts will do everything the same way: you have to work out what’s right for you and your crew.

To help navigate some of the trickier avenues of tour planning, we called on artists, managers, and promoters for their advice.

Depending on the scale of the artist (or artists), music tours are either planned and managed by a road manager, or by a tour manager for larger tours.

Glasgow-based DJ Rebecca Vasmant has plenty of tips for those lugging a heavy record bag behind them. Trumpeter Yazz Ahmed and her manager Lou Paley (who’s also one of the people behind Women In Jazz) explain how they work together to make sure everything falls into place.

For intel from the promoter’s POV, meanwhile, we chat to Charles Vaughan, Ed Cain, and Henrik Blomfelt about the lessons they’ve learned over the years running experimental electronic music programmes with London-based events company Resolution.

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

Choosing the right places to play can make or break a tour. London – or your nation’s capital – make for an obvious choice to pivot around, as well as your hometown. You can use analytics from your social media and streaming accounts to get a sense of where your fans are — or try a more innovative approach: Moses Boyd uses his ‘Exodus Hotline’ WhatsApp broadcast to help him to figure out where his fans are.

“I usually start with one city, organise a gig or two there, and then work around those dates,” says DJ Rebecca Vasmant. “It’s just a case of contacting the promoters you work with and letting them know the dates you have free as far in advance as you can, to give a better chance of something coming off.”

Once you’ve got a rough idea of your key locations, there’s a few ways to consider securing your tour dates.

  • Rent venues yourself

This will involve a considerable cost, but if you’re confident about ticket sales and have the cash to cover the hire, then it can be lucrative.

If you’ve got a particular creative vision for your show then having control over the spaces you’re using can be a plus (and sometimes worth the cost) too.

“Most of our shows feature custom projection installations, intricate live performances and cutting edge technology, which means that we have to be highly pragmatic about what each venue can offer us,” explains Charles Vaughan of Resolution. “But we also have to balance this with what the venue provides as a destination for our audience; what are the transport links, how does it feel, what’s the community surrounding it, etcetera.”

We’re always compelled to work with artists who are as interested in our artistic vision as they are in demonstrating their own — so that’s always a good starting point.

Henrik Blomfelt, Resolution

“Ultimately,” explains Henrik Blomfelt of Resolution, “what often determines our final decision is the financial restrictions and risks. Venues struggle against soaring rent prices, fierce competition and tight margins so their hire fees and expectations are understandably high. This can be daunting when approaching your first venue booking, especially when it’s your own money on the line. However, we are yet to work with a venue of any size that hasn’t exceeded our expectations and helped expand on Resolution’s creative development.”

Henrik also expands on advice for artists approaching promoters to partner on shows — which is still the most common way that tours are executed.

“We’re always compelled to work with artists who are as interested in our artistic vision as they are in demonstrating their own — so that’s always a good starting point,” he says.

“It’s also great when an artist presents their work in a way that is easy for us to access and engage with. The main worry when booking an act is often expenses and the practicality of hosting them.”

Which leads us on to the next, more common option for artists planning tours…

  • Reach out to in-house programmers or link up with a promoter

Jelly Cleaver says it’s worth doing your research on venues and promoters. “There’s a lot of amazing people out there that are really great to work with,” she says. “Ask people in the local area which venues they like or see where acts similar to yours are touring — then it’s a case of reaching out and asking them what their deal is.”

Lou Paley, Yazz Ahmed’s manager agrees: “Working with a promoter — if done correctly — can be hugely beneficial. They can market your band, you may have the opportunity to play to new audiences, and, most importantly, you’ll be able to build new relationships with a venue, other musicians and the promoters themselves.”

It’s important to work with a promoter that you trust, who is excited about your music, and has a track record of marketing and programming successful shows.

As for tips on who to work with? Lou says “it’s important to work with a promoter that you trust, who is excited about your music, and has a track record of marketing and programming successful shows.”

But whichever route you choose, Jelly says you need to plan ahead too: “Most venues book months in advance and you need to get yourself in their calendar as soon as possible. Ideally get in touch with several venues in each city at least six months before you’re planning on touring.

TRAVEL & ACCOMMODATION

Needless to say, travel and accommodation are incredibly important to get right when you’re planning a tour. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, all our contributors have plenty of learned advice on the subject.

“When planning your schedule – whether you’re driving or taking public transport – always leave yourself extra travel time,” says Jelly, speaking from experience. “For most gigs we’ve managed to arrive just in time for soundcheck because we had travel delays — but only because I’d planned for us to arrive an hour early.”

When you go super cheap it can kill your vibe: uncomfortable hotels can affect your sleep and filter through to your performance. Spend time looking for good deals in advance.

Carting gear around will be a concern for most artists too (other than DJs who can pack light and keep their tunes stored on a couple of USBs). This is often handled by professional backline providers; but as with any aspect of a tour it’s possible to take a DIY approach too.

“Yazz’s agents always use reliable airlines,” says Lou Paley. “We can’t risk instruments getting lost on route. I work closely with the band, agent, promoters and production teams to ensure that every gig is impeccably organised; from ground transportation to internal flights, meals, backline, accommodation. It’s a huge operation.”

And to avoid a worst nightmare situation your gear going walkabout (especially if you’ve had to arrange backline), Tawiah says to “make sure you have the right cases and mark them up with a phone number and email address.”

When it comes to where to lay your head, Tawiah notes cost as a big factor — but not the only thing to consider. “Hotels can add up, so you’ll be inclined to look for the cheapest deals,” she says. “However when you go super cheap it can kill your vibe: uncomfortable hotels can affect your sleep and filter through to your performance. Spend time looking for good deals in advance.”

Resolution’s Charles Vaughan, meanwhile, has a handy checklist. “Internal UK travel can be quite pricey and promoters often can’t afford to cover peak time train fares for non-headline acts. With that in mind, having a pragmatic approach is key,” he says.

“What expenses do you really need covered? Can you stay with friends or in much cheaper accommodation? How flexible can you be on your fee? By being fair and understanding about the finances that the promoter has to cover, often communication is much more fruitful and leads to a more positive negotiation. That being said, don’t underestimate your value!”

GATHER A TEAM — OR DON’T

Organising a tour on your own is entirely possible — especially if you’re a DJ or small outfit. However, it can be all consuming; having the help of a tour manager or booking agent can be invaluable in order to keep stress levels down.

Yazz is pretty clear on where she stands in this case. “I realised that I needed help because the majority of my time was spent writing emails, working on logistics and booking transport instead of doing the things that only I can do, like practising my instruments and creating music,” she says. “On the road, it’s been invaluable having my manager accompany us; I can focus on centring myself for the performance, knowing that somebody else is taking care of all the logistics.”

On the road, it’s been invaluable having my manager accompany us; I can focus on centring myself for the performance, knowing that somebody else is taking care of all the logistics.

Bringing on a tour manager or a booking agent will, of course, represents a cost — but they’re also people who should add value to your operation, in which case the investment can be considered worthwhile. Knowing what makes a good tour manager can be vital in this situation.

“I booked everything myself [to support Jamie Cullum],” Tawiah says. “I can’t lie and say it wasn’t extremely overwhelming, but I’m grateful for the insight and when I do have a tour manager I’ll know what’s really good and fully appreciate them!”

But Ed Cain, atResolution, says that ultimately it can come down to personal preference. “Some of our international headliners that we’ve booked haven’t had any representation, while some of our supporting artists have been represented by incredibly reputable agencies,” he says. “What matters more is how approachable the person is and how willing they are to have an open conversation about the booking process and the creative vision for our collaboration.”

AVOID BURNOUT

Touring is fun and can be a major milestone in your career, but remember that it can be physically and mentally draining — particular when you consider the draw of partying every night.

“I avoid burnout by not drinking too much, and getting as much sleep as I can,” says DJ Rebecca Vasmant, “and I use meditation apps when on long trains or flights to try to reset.”

Respect that people in the touring party will also need some down time on their own.

“Simple things like playing card games, going for walks and reading all contribute to a happy mind,” adds Yazz, “and I feel that helps with band morale and everyone’s mental health. Respect that people in the touring party will also need some down time on their own.”

Tawiah says that “life on the road can be lonely and strange so it’s important to build a community around you: go out and meet the folk. It’s nice to connect with people that appreciate your musical offerings — also merch sales go up when you’re there!”

SUPPORT ACTS ARE IMPORTANT

If you’re renting a venue space, then you’ll most likely be responsible for programming the line-up. However, if you’re working with a venue’s booking team or a promoter, you can expect that they’d curate the line-up themselves.

If you’re booking your own show, then consider a few things: can you book local talent for each of your shows? Or, budget permitting, would you like to bring an act on the road with you?

Booking local support acts helps support local music scenes — and there’s a chance they’ll bring their fans from the area along too. It also means fewer overheads for the tour by saving on additional transport and accommodation costs.

For support tours my first question is ‘you got space on the bus?’

When booking a support act look to invite someone who will appeal to your fans — and whose fans might appreciate your music too.

“For most of the gigs on this tour the support has been arranged for us by the promoter or venue,” says Jelly, “but generally, when I’m booking a support, I like to go with a band that has a similar vibe but a different sound so that there’s lots of contrast throughout the gig for the audience.”

Likewise, taking on a support slot with a touring band or artist can be a great way to clock up shows without committing to a full tour of your own.

“I’ve been touring with bands for years as a featured artist and have seen plenty give their support act a ride if their set up is minimal,” says Tawiah. “For support tours my first question is ‘you got space on the bus?’ – depending on how well I know the artist.”

SPREAD THE WORD

This is perhaps an obvious one, but social media, newsletters, interviews and online sessions will keep you visible while you’re selling tickets for a tour — both before and during the stint.

You might want to hire a PR or a manager to help generate opportunities, but it’s perfectly possible to do this yourself, too. It’s in the interest of the promoter or venue programmer to plug the show just as much as the artist, so make sure you ask your collaborators what their promotional resources are. Work with them to coordinate announcement dates and ticket reminders.

“It’s all about creating a story and developing personal relationships with your audience: both online and, where possible, in person,” says Lou Paley. This can be something done on the fly too. Lou mentions simple but effective things like filming short video clips at each show, which are used to the promote the next evening’s performance.

MANAGE YOUR MONEY

The tough reality is, if you’re starting out, it’s a real win if you stay in the black. Balance your travel and accommodation costs against your gig fees and think about ways you can be thrifty. Many venues will arrange a meal or a buyout for you, so negotiate this when you make a deal — and ask for a plastic free and locally sourced rider if your food is being provided (more on this in a moment).

It’s also worth thinking about insurance too, especially for lost or damaged instruments — the Musicians’ Union is a good place to start for this.

Tawiah breaks down the financial reality of touring for artists starting out: “I wouldn’t be able to do this tour without the support of PRS, First Word Records, and the love and support of my dear friend Alex Reeve who doubled up as driver and guitarist.

“The gig fees alone from each gig aren’t enough to cover travel, accommodation, musician fees, sound engineer fee and food. Merch is the only way of making some money back for support tours so it’s definitely worth having — although some venues charge up to a 25% commission on this, so keep that in mind.”

“Many of the acts we work with have quite ambitious and intricate setups. It can be hard to predict the potential expenses of an act and whether this might tip the budget further down the line, as every show often changes right up until doors,” says Ed Cain, of Resolution. “We have to carefully consider what level of financial incentive we can realistically offer these acts, given the already difficult economic system of promoting experimental music in London.”

CONSIDER SUSTAINABLE OPTIONS

There’s no getting away from the environmental impacts of touring — from fuel burned by artists’ planes and buses, to single-use plastics used for food and drink consumed on the go. And that’s before you consider all the people travelling to and enjoying the shows.

Musicians have a unique platform to make change happen. Simple things like requesting plastic-free riders and playing venues with environmental policies in place are a good place to start. London-based charity Julie’s Bicycle have some great resources on how the music industry can be kinder to the planet, and the Green Touring Network’s Green Touring Guide is full of useful advice and case studies too.

Green tours are front of mind for Charles and the team at Resolution: “Predominantly, we’ve worked to minimise international transport, or worked with agents and artists to choose more sustainable methods of travel; such as opting for train journeys over air travel where possible.”

Merch, while important for artists looking to make touring financially viable, can leave a considerable footprint on the planet too. But there are smart ways around that too.

“I bought lots of second hand white T-shirts from charity shops and hand-printed them as merch instead of buying new ones,” says Jelly. “When I created CDs I got a cardboard case instead of a plastic jewel case. We do almost all marketing online — maybe a few posters but no leaflets. And most of our travel has been public transport, or all four of us in a car.

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