I don’t have a band, but if I did, I would use this book to guide me through the intricacies of touring. That’s the new economics of the music: a returning emphasis on live performance. This fat book is the best guidance I’ve seen for emerging musical artists. It is brutally honest, remarkably wise, and extremely helpful. Atkins is really good at extracting lessons. There are testimonies not just from many other musicians, but their roadies, agents, bus-drivers, managers, fans, and all the other folks you will need supporting you. This book is so good, in fact, anyone “touring,” including authors, dancers, filmmakers would find pats of it useful. In the new economy, your live presence is more valuable than copies of your past work. Here’s how to maximize your presence with the least hassles, and hopefully make a living do it.
Practicing what he preaches, author Martin Atkins offers live interactions, chats, lectures, performances, and email correspondence versions of his advice. Another kind of touring.
Sample excerpts: You should feel very confident that 40 to 50 people would come to see your band on a Monday night. If you don't feel that's the case, you should wait a bit before playing this particular club. You shouldn't be in a big hurry to play to nobody, and that's what happens if you play before you're ready. Until then, be patient. * Should I take any show that's offered to me? No. Be smart about the shows you take. In the beginning, it's not wise to be too choosy, but before long, you should start turning down shows that don't make sense. Realize that more is going on than just a show being played. You are being associated in the minds of the audience with the other bands on the bill and with the venue. * Look at the incremental build up of costs (financial and human) with an understanding of the total investment needed for a two year commitment for your band. Then, apply some of the budget you'll need to slog through year two onto the front of year one. If done intelligently, you will be in a much different place by year two. you can use this strategy on a smaller scale with a single show or tourŠmore money spent earlier will help more. * Tour Bus Nothing makes sleeping on a bus over a long overnight journey sweeter than having spent a few years driving in a crappy vehicle, eating dust and unidentifiable truck stop food. When you are in a bus, it becomes a traveling cocoon. People like to be safe and comfortable in all understandable things everything is there: cell phone, fridge, toilet, and band members begin to magnetize to it. When you are in a van, you need people to stay with. You'll find those people by staying in the club longer, interacting harder, being more alert, smelling better, and not drooling. Yes, free accommodations also come with obligations, but it's these social obligations that interlock and weave their way through the fragile endeavor of "Breaking America." There is an unwritten underground contract that strangers in a city honor when they trust and open their hearts, homes, showers, beds, washing machines, and high-speed DSL lines to a beat-down band on the road. To deny that contract, to deny that 5 a.m. conversation, to deny their ability to make a massive difference with a bed, a blanket, a bagel, and a bath is to deny the bond that will reverberate for years afterwards. Maybe part of touring in a band has nothing to do with the music. Maybe it has more to do with meeting people, seeing differences across the country, and discovering their changing attitudes. All you see inside the bus is the changing landscape, the mold growing inside the refrigerator, and the bass player's growing porn collection. * When Your Agent Suggests an Opening Band Be careful. This is an easy way for your agent to get 30 shows for another one of his bands, get them off his back, and get more commission. Check for yourself to find out some information about the band: -Do they have a label? -Is that label going to help in any way at all? -Have they sold any CDs? -Do they have a following? How many people are on their MySpace page (divide by two)? -Have they played in these markets before? -Do they have a street team? -Do they have posters? Or will they contribute to printing posters (saving you each half)? -Do they have mountains of equipment, throw vegetable oil all over the stage, or have a reputation for causing problems? Do your homework! You might be better off with a strong local opener in each city, at least you'll have a chance at a place to stay! * You might be sitting down wondering how you could possibly pull off seven shows per week. You want to know what I'm thinking? What would happen if you could do eight or nine shows? * Will the volume be at the a realistic level for the room or will the main band's sound guy pull the faders all the way down? You would be surprised and horrified at how often that happens. It is reasonable for an event to increase in tempo and volume as the night unfolds, but there are respectful limits to that curve. I did an open-air show with Killing Joke, opening for the Mission UK, at some huge park in London. We had a double-decker tour bus and Henry Rollins was opening. We did our show and then I went back to the bus to try and have a bit of a nap. All of the sudden, I heard this amazingly loud, thunderous sound. I asked one of the crew guys what is was. "Oh," he laughed, "they just turned the rest of the PA on!" * Let's look at this for a bulb in Cincinnati. For a show there, I'd want to play a show in Dayton, OH (49 miles away), a show in Richmond, IN (63 miles away) or any other closer, small market in a 60-mile radius. Try for six to ten shows within OK driving distance for your rabid fans. Make sure that you get every single name you can on your mailing list. These are gold dust or any kind of dust that turns you on. You're trying to build a support base so that when you go to Cincinnati for the make or break show with the 450-person built-in crowd, you can entice people on your mailing list from each of the surrounding, accessible cities, task your street team in each city to round up as many people as they can, and organize transportation if necessary (I'm not talking about renting a bus, although I have done that in the past. I'm talking about ride-share). Because you've planned this in advance, you've held back the three-song preview CD from your new album or the cool, new t-shirt so that you can give one of those away free to anybody traveling more than 30 miles. Give people gas money if necessary. Help them to join this crusade with you! So, when you hit the stage you have 200 extra people at the venue. The promoter will notice the increased attendance. The bar staff will notice the increased revenue. The 450 kids who usually go will notice the larger crowd and get pulled in. End result: you've done something other than talk and hype and the next time the promoter is looking for a solid band that works hard with a good following to help a national show that might be struggling, he's going to call you. That's it, simple. As Sun Tzu would say, "Never take your country to war unless you're sure of the outcome." * Tools - Don't Be One, Use One For fewer than ten dollars you can get a Rand McNally Dist-O-Map. It is not some new, gimmicky tech tool, it's way cooler, very much like the cover of Led Zeppelin's Album III. It has the advantage over map-questing in that you can sit on the phone, run a budget, and dial up distances at the same time. it will also show you options that you might not have thought of previously. If you are lucky enough to be traveling by bus, you will be able to easily see which cities lie within the magical 450-mile overdrive mark. I cannot think of one single agent I have ever met who doesn't need this tool (or frighteningly, one that already has one when I meet them!) Think about that for a minute (especially after you realize that this costs $7.95). It has been the catalyst for the rerouting of several tours, which not only reduced the overall mileage, but put us in the right venues on the right nights. The other reason you need one is to dial up the total distance covered on a tour, divide that by the gas mileage of your chosen vehicle, multiple that by the average cost of gas, and begin a budget.