It can be tough being a professional musician, however, this blog is all about making it a little bit easier. So, let’s get started with three tips to help you get on the road and touring. The touring scene has evolved. I did it in the 80's, 90's, then after a small break, I did it again. The scene has changed and if I was to do it again I’d do it a little bit differently.
Take responsibility for putting the tour together. If you are waiting for an agent or promoter to see the light and book your act, you will be waiting for a long time. It’s your job to make the case and prove the concept. We are going to learn how to be the agent/promoter and do the job ourselves. The great thing is that whilst doing this you are going to pick up transferable skills.
If you can make this work in a competitive area whilst innovating and doing things uniquely, it will set you up as an independent touring musician for the rest of your life. You will become an expert in digital marketing in one of the most competitive industries. If you can pull this off you will have another income stream and string to your bow.
Start locally, make one gig a success and export the principle. In your hometown I can guarantee there are loads of bands but what's in short supply will be leadership, drive, and energy. These are the virtues that will separate your band from the competition.
- An amazing set: Make it killer, around 45 minutes in duration. Dynamics and a bit of production will go a long way.
- Make sure the bill is logical: Include support acts that will attract the punters.
- The reason for the gig: Think like a journalist, give it a bit of spin and a cool title. The masters of this are “Earache Records” when they do combined bills there are always great names for the tours.
- Signage: Make sure you get your posters and flyers out there.
- Design: It has to be awesome - people are going to decide whether the event is cool or not based on aesthetic.
- Think ahead: Book a cool venue - location is everything.
- Local press: This should be a quick win. Generally, in a small area not much goes on and so this could be a big local story.
- Social media: Realistically these days, your organic reach is a little bit squashed so you may need to bump up your posts a little bit.
- Give yourself plenty of lead time to sell tickets: Don’t book a gig for next week. Give yourself 4 to 6 months to create a buzz.
- Establish a sales network: Local record shop, your website, mates, cousins, mum, dad, dog etc. Doesn’t matter who it is the key thing is to get a few people selling tickets. All band members need to take responsibility - if there are five members in the band you all sell 10. That's already a successful local gig.
All this good energy is what you are selling, remember you are an entertainer. You need to sell the mood and a certain type of energy. No one wants just another gig, they want a cool event and that’s where you come in. This is a great opportunity to learn some extra skills. Hiring a venue, doing deals and selling tickets are amazing life lessons and this stuff is never lost. It’s not just about that one gig but setting you up for a lifetime in music.
Take this principle and expand nationally. Most people schedule their tours around long weekends, three dates here and there. This way you can tour around your day jobs (or study) minimise costs and do drive backs to reduce travel costs. Also, you can look at the composition of your band and strip down your backline. The ideal scenario is that you can tour in an estate car, play the gig, come home and consequently incur very few costs. Now, if you make money on your merchandise, jobs a good’un.
Headline swaps are always useful for establishing your band in new territories and doing the same reciprocally for other acts. If this all sounds a little bit obvious, well, that's because it is. It just boils down to energy and work. This old fashioned approach, combined with social media and a DIY ethic does work. This is the way that the big bands are coming through and you need to emulate it.
Now, if you are putting in all this effort and you are not building an audience then it may be painful, but you need to look a little bit closer at your music. You will need to go back to the drawing board and reassess what you are doing. I can promise you that this system works. This is the way to do it.
I want to impart you with a few quick wins for improving your live shows. This will allow you to compete with the world's biggest and most professional bands. Before diving in, I think it’s beneficial to check back on my previous blog where I covered how to rehearse like a professional band. I advised you to look at your set holistically and consider every single second you are on stage as part of the show.
Now, assuming you have done that, what else can you do in order to blow people's minds? How can you deliver an amazing live show that elevates you from the soup of thousands of other acts into the elite group of real contenders?
For this tip, I’m specifically talking about the production of your live show, now we have to bear in mind that unless it’s a headline, you may only have ten to fifteen minutes to change over. However, there is nothing stopping you pushing the boat out and elevating the production above the level of other bands.
For example, LIGHTING, in the age of cost-cutting, lights tend to be in-house rigs. They are a bit of an afterthought and its one of the things that I sorely miss from rock and roll shows. For me, I really miss the spot and the spot operator. I watch big bands and you can’t really see the singer or the featured soloist and there is no one operating the spot. I miss it, I understand it’s an extra cost but it makes a massive difference to the show, so, let’s bring back the rock and roll spotlight.
While we are on the subject of lighting, there are all kinds of outdated analog pieces of hardware that you can hire to look unique. For example, you could use a sixties oil wheel, where the oil is heated up and spun around giving you a “Pink Floyd” sort of effect. I’ve also seen a band projecting old super 8 films onto a white sheet and their t-shirts for a unique effect. This kind of stuff costs very little, it looks amazing and with some organisation can be set up in ten minutes.
Also, there is nothing to stop you from being creative with your stage layout, say you have a load of amps behind you, then, with a bit of imagination, you can make these things look unique. I’ve seen bands put up camo netting and even take the grills off their amps to make a feature of the speakers. There are all kinds of DIY stuff that takes a little bit of thought and will make your show come to life. It’s also worth considering smoke machines, bubble machines, pyrotechnics. Don't underestimate the right slogan on the right t-shirt, it can look really cool and reach the back of the arena with the right message.
So, watch your favourite bands, pick up on history and use these little tricks that cost nothing and can make an awful lot of difference to the show. What we are talking about here is going the extra mile and putting in that creativity, bands generally don't do this sort stuff. However with the bands that do you can guarantee they have put the same extra effort into their songwriting, lyrics, and art. It elevates you to be a real contender, attention to detail is what it’s all about, and there is no limit to this apart from your imagination.
You need to do this not once, but multiple times during the set. What doesn't seem to work so well is a list of all your social media accounts, people will not absorb it and it kills the vibe of the show. Have that on the Merch stand, get people over there and hand them a flyer. However, on stage, mention your name not once, not twice but at the beginning, middle, and end. Whenever you can tell people so they remember!
Don’t forget that you are not just playing for the room, but all the social media that happens whilst you are on stage. The minute someone in the band does something lary like holds a guitar over their head, the phones come out, it’s broadcast to the world. Play to the extended audience as there are probably more people out in cyberspace than the venue you are playing. Make the most of it!
Maybe we should study audiences and examine why phones come out? Whenever you do something crazy, like climb up the rig, wear a unique costume or have a really amazing stance, the phones will always come out. Work on those triggers and this will improve your show, you will find out what makes an audience excited and how to make them share that excitement. That is a good thing for your band.
You’re playing gigs and building a following, however its all in your home town. It’s now time to take your band on the road!!!
So, why go on tour? The answer is simple, you need to build an audience and look after your fans. It’s that straightforward. This is what we live to do. It’s why we put in all the hours of practice, we strive to play live.
This will be a six month minimum of planning and will facilitate an aspect of a larger campaign. A tour will put you in good stead for radio, chart position, further tours, and other festivals. Due to that, it will require meticulous planning in order to fully realise it’s potential.
You may be asking, why does it take 6 months to plan a tour?
Firstly, venue availability, you cannot expect a hot venue to have a free slot at a moments notice. Secondly, you need to build a bit of a buzz, many bands complain about low attendance at gigs however they announce a gig for Thursday two days prior. This is not a good strategy, you need to promote and build a buzz!
Let's not forget that the whole point of doing a tour is to support a band’s career development. A tour requires planning as part of a wider campaign and therefore needs to be coordinated with radio plugging, PR, press and social media i.e the stuff you cannot just switch on overnight.
You need to allocate roles in the band. To demonstrate let's make a hypothetical band, in the group, there are four members. Each role is nuanced in its function and let's use this example for further analysis. The roles are as follows;
Member 1 - Artist manager
The Artist manager will make sure that everything is coordinated and fits into the larger picture of the campaign.
Member 2 - Tour manager
The Tour Manager plans the logistics of the operation and takes care of things like budgeting, routing. They tend to be the disciplinarian of the group.
Member 3 - Agent
The Agent does the deals and books the venues. This is arguably the hardest job, as it includes getting on the phone and calling a hundred venues to get a couple of gigs. It’s hard graft, remember when you face rejection just keep on plugging. The agent liaises with the tour manager to make sure the strategy is economically and logistically viable.
Member 4 - Promoter
The promoter sounds the horn and lets the fans know the dates and locations of the shows. These days, that tends to be taken care of by social media.
This is an overview of each role, however, it may still leave you with questions, if you want to find out more on the specifics, subscribe to our channel and we will explain each of these roles in more detail.
We now need to think about budgeting and that responsibility falls heavily with the tour manager, who will be berated by the artist manager if they are not making sure those figures add up.
Let face facts, five people in a splitter van coupled with hotel rooms is a tough economic problem. The gig fees will not support that level of touring until you are up to theatre level. So, what can we do about it?
To answer this we need to look at sustainable future models of touring in 2020 and beyond. However touring leaves the TM with a problem, they need to make sure the gig fees cover the band's expenses. For now, you may find the following suggestions to cut costs quite welcome;
- Have we kept our technical rider lean so we can travel in an estate car?
- Can we do a drive back instead of using hotel rooms? This can make a massive difference to the tour budget. For example, you play a gig and come back home and on the next day drive to the next gig, you’ll need to repeat the cycle for the duration of the tour.
- Can we potentiate this tour by reaching a much wider audience through our social media and consequently deliver a tour that is three times as big?
We now know we are going to be keeping costs down by enacting a lean team. Everyone will be doing multiple roles, for example, the drummer may be playing, triggering samples, loops and tour managing, who knows they may even be managing social media!
Now, whilst we are busy trying to save money, the big question in 2019 and beyond is, can we get someone else to pay for it? It falls to the artist manager to set up some sponsorship deals, anything to offset costs, this can be free booze from Cloven Hoof, free strings from Ernie Ball or a loan of instruments from Boss/Roland. Remember it's not just about the free merchandise from companies but the interaction between both of your social networks. Find companies that are brands that support new music!
To organise these deals all the artist manager has to do is send an EPK. If you don't ask you don't get!
Thank you so much for reading this blog. Don’t forget to subscribe to our YouTube channel for more industry advice and tips.
As the saying goes: if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. The tech spec is a document that helps plan and communicate to and ensure a gig or event runs smoothly.
Writing technical specifications for your band for promoters and venues is important. A clear, concise tech spec helps in many ways: it makes you look professional and helps you to be taken seriously; what’s more, in practical terms, thinking things through and communicating clearly and concisely what your needs and expectations are helps avoid oversights, misunderstandings or mistakes. It helps the production staff help you.
As usual, we’ll be talking with an industry insider and expert to get valuable insights and advice from those in the business. For this blog, we’re delighted to be talking with Barry McParland.
W.B: Could you tell us a bit about yourself and what your work entails, Barry?
“Like many people in this industry, I freelance in a few different roles. Mainly, as a sound engineer, I look after the audio for Rudimental and I also production manage lots of festivals and gigs.”
As well as his work with drum and bass band Rudimental, Barry also works with Zero Degrees Events, who design, create and produce unforgettable experiences for global lifestyle brands, including Adidas, Red Bull, GQ, and the Hard Rock Hell festivals. He has extensive experience, especially in sound engineering and production management and has read a LOT of tech specs and delivered the gigs and events.
N.B. My own work in music PR mean that I’ve seen first-hand just how complex and hard a production manager’s job can be, at gigs and festivals. Barry, for instance can be working on 5 festivals back to back. That can involve hundreds of bands over a course of a month. Production managers deal with artist liaison and sound techs, and the whole backstage crew and bands should help them help them in order to ensure things runs smoothly.
W.B: Barry, you’ve seen more tech specs than most people have had burgers at festivals. Can you talk us through what one involves and what it ought to include?
“A tech spec is a concise document that lets venues and promoters know what’s needed to make your show happen. It should be accurate and contain only relevant information. It’s not a wish list or a drinks rider.”
W.B: So what info ought to be in there?
“Typically, the tech spec should contain information about your audio set up, lighting requirements, backline requests and most importantly your channel list and stage plot.
“Often bands will combine their spec and rider in one document: this is fine, but if you do that, layout and accuracy become even more important.”
W.B: What if a band’s starting out and doesn’t know the form for a tech spec, or what to put in one?
“If you’re unsure about any of the above, there’s no shame in asking for help from any local venues or engineers. At the end of the day, the more accurate the information you give, the easier everyone’s day will be, which in turn should make it easier for you to get the most from your performance.”
W.B: So what are the do’s and don’ts. Could you please list them for us?
“First off: Always, always, ALWAYS put your band name on EVERY page! Quite often (especially at festivals) I’ll print all specs and keep them in a stage folder, but once they’re printed there’s no way of knowing whose spec is whose, if your name isn’t on every page. It sounds so simple and obvious, but it’s so important. Name on EVERY page!”
W.B: That makes sense! What else?
“Here’s another biggie: I get so many specs from agents where the band don’t include any contact details. This is a massive fail and asking for trouble! If there’s anything that needs to be clarified, it’s such a pain to go back to agents, especially as they often don’t reply.”
Thanks!. Bands might not think about it from the point of view of the promoters, venues and production management, but such companies receive literally hundreds of tech specs and rider documents, and it’s all too easy for pages to get missed, muddled or end up out of order.
To make the documents effective, number the pages and on every page, include the name of the act, as Barry says. A header or footer on the doc can be a good place to do this. It’s also helpful to include the date (or dates) of the gig or event that the tech spec and rider applies to. Stating an expiry date for the document can also help its readers know if it is active and relevant or out-of-date. Also, as Barry’s mentioned, put contact details on every page. If the contact details are on a page that goes walkabout.
W.B: What about content, Barry?
“Don’t make it an essay or story. No rambling or waffle. Keep the spec concise: bullet points if need be. If you get as many specs in your inbox as I do, often they don’t get fully read: just glanced through. Keeping it concise makes it easy for everyone.”
That’s important advice! Bands may be artistic and creative, even lyrical! but a tech spec isn’t the place to waxing lyrical; nor is it a place to paste in photos from the Net or swanky clipart. If you’re going to include graphics, stick to simple diagrams (especially for the stage plot), with clear symbols and notes. Also remember: the documents have to be clear. They’ll often get photocopied, so don’t rely on colour or use colours that don’t photocopy well. Black and white is best. Also, bear in mind that the pages will often be consulted backstage and in low lighting, so clarity and readability are key.
Some technical advice: If you’re sending tech specs and riders by email, don’t rely on Word documents or similar. Issue them in Adobe’s PDF format. That means that they’ll be readable and compatible with the recipient’s system, and will look consistent on screen and when printed. Do bear in mind the advice we’ve given above on colour and formatting for PDFs too, because the docs will get printed and copied too. You can print into PDF from software like Microsoft Office or Apple equivalents, or use conversion software (including freeware) to convert other document formats to PDF.
Update and Changes -- For bands, it’s good practice to bring hardcopies of the latest version of your tech specs and riders to the event, so that if you find that a venue or production manager has an old, superseded version of the docs, you can give them the current and relevant ones.
Sometimes specs do change between the time they’re originally issued and the event. You might have a change of band personnel or instruments, or change a set thus requiring different instruments, equipment, lighting or sound production. Keep venues and production staff appraised of changes, but go for a belts and braces approach by bringing hardcopies of the specs on the day.
It’s also good practice to check with a venue a week or fortnight, say, before the gig. That can help ensure that you and they are on the same page, with the right specs, and clarify oversights and omissions on either side. Sometimes, also, you might find that your spec and riders haven’t been followed to the letter. There may be compromises, substitutions or omissions. Dialogue, e.g. a phone call, can make sure everyone’s on the same page.
W.B: Not naming names, Barry, but can you give us an example of how not getting the right advance packs from a band can have repercussions on the night of the show?
“Yeah. Last year I was advancing a tour for a Chinese artist who was doing a small UK run. Their spec and rider were in one document, but their tour manager, who didn’t speak a word of English, relied on some software to translate the document from Chinese to English.
“I copied the info from the hospitality section and sent it to the catering company; the technical section, I sent to the relevant people for PA, Lighting, backline etc.
“Now this document was written like a story, and the lingo conversion wasn’t great, but we muddled through.
“Then came Show One: a Sunday night in London and there’s a vital keyboard missing. In translation, the software had moved this specific keyboard from the backline section to the catering section, and so it was completely missed by everyone. Luckily we managed to sort it, but it wasn’t cheap getting one of the major backline companies to reopen so late on a Sunday!
“To make matters worse, the entire band spoke perfect English. Had we chatted with one of them, rather than struggling with the Tour Manager and document, the problems could have been avoided.”
Wow! Thanks. That illustrates exactly what you’ve been saying about the importance of brevity and clarity, and the chains of communication. Also a lesson to bear in mind if a band is touring internationally and needs to translate documents like a technical specification.
W.B: Lastly, have you any advice on how to be a professional band when dealing with the production and crew?
“Just treat people with respect. On most gigs, production staff are the first in and last out, and work all the hours in-between, so common decency goes a long way. Even if we don’t like your music, if we like you as people then we will go that extra mile to help you. If we’re met with hostility or egos, it’s not a nice place for anyone.”
That’s been advice we’ve heard time and time again from every pro we’ve interviewed for the WaterBear blog, from so many angles of the business. Treat people politely and well. You get better results from them and people talk to people, so if an artist or band is rude, unhelpful etc. their rep can get tarnished.
From my own experience in PR, I can also offer some advice, based on what I see at festival and gigs (and I’ve worked with Barry at some major events). Time after time, bands don’t read their production packs, so they turn up on the day asking Barry Twenty Questions about parking etc. when he is incredibly busy co-ordinating production and solving problems. And lo and behold: it turns out all the info was there on page 16 of the production pack! Bands need to read all info before they arrive and adhere to it.
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