I’ve been playing shows since I was 12 years old and touring across the country for the past 3 years - I’m 20 now. Somewhere along the way I went from opening up for an Elvis Presley impersonator at the town fair to booking my own national tours with my manager and mother, Lori Hinze. Over the years, having experienced trials and triumphs in the booking world as an independent artist, I quickly realized that there is no one set path for everyone. But I also realized that when we as musicians start sharing our individual stories and tips and ideas, we have the potential to build off of one another and build up one another. I lay no claim to knowing everything about successfully touring as an independent artist but I can share with you what I’ve learned along the way in some very practical tips. There is enough highway for us to all be out there on the road, sharing the gift of music, so let’s get to it! Love, Kylie Odetta
GRASS ROOT TOURING TIPS FOR INDEPENDENT ARTISTS:
1) Saturate Your Region
-Determine a list of towns and cities that are within a 3 hour radius from where you live. (Or less, basically however far you’re willing to drive there and back in a day)
-Research and compile a list of music venues/clubs/coffee shops that have live music you think fits your vibe in each of those cities.
-Email the venues you want to play at least 3 months out from when you’d like to play a show there. (The lead time for music festivals is much farther in advance)
•In this email you need to include:
A SHORT introduction, a link to your music and a live performance video, specific dates you’re looking to book, a pleasant close, and a one sheet if you have one.
I.E. “Hey there! My name is Kylie Odetta and I’m an independent artist from Greenville, SC looking to book shows for my fall tour. My music is jazzy and r&b - I play the piano solo but I can also play with a trio. I came across your venue and would love to set up a show if possible! Here’s a link to a live performance of mine (insert link) as well as a link to stream my music online (insert link). Let me know what you think and I look forward to hearing back from you! Thank you and I hope you have a great day.
-Kylie Odetta www.kylieodetta.com”
*A one sheet is a one page pdf document with a short bio, at least one promo picture of you, a list of places you’ve played previously, and your booking contact information*
-Once you are in communication with these venues BE HONEST about whether or not you can bring a crowd! IT’S OKAY if you can’t! Let them know that you’re a touring artist currently trying to grow your fan base so if it’s a show where they need you to bring fans go ahead and say that you’d love to partner with them and set up a show where you could open up for a local artist or just focus on playing venues that already have a BUILT IN CROWD. (House concerts, singer/songwriter nights, etc)
*These tips can apply to touring outside of your region as well*
2) Make The Most Out Of Your Show
- CIRCLE BACK AROUND. The purpose of saturating your region first is to allow you to create a genuine following in cities that you will be able to come back to easily. The best way to create and keep a following in that city is by playing there once every few months or at the least twice a year. The hope is that each time you go back the 10 people who were there the first time will have brought 10 more people with them the next time and so on and so forth. This may be a slow process but it can truly work.
-CONNECT with the people at your show! Whether you’re playing for just 5 people and the venue staff or 500 people at a music festival, make it a point to talk to the people there and actually listen to what they’re saying. This may sound obvious or silly but don’t be the artist that thinks they’re hot shit and doesn’t thank the sound guy. Music is all about connecting and expressing and loving. You’d be surprised how much of an impact being kind (not fake) to everyone who just sat there and listened to you sing for an hour or two will make. We’re in this together and a smile goes a long way, both ways. Spread some love on those at your show.
-EMAIL SIGN UP: Create an email sign-up list and have it at every show! You can capture people’s attention by offering to send them a free song if they sign up for it. (Make sure to actually follow through on this and do it). This is a direct way to update your fans on your upcoming shows, exciting news relating to your music, or just send them a positive quote once a month.
-SOCIAL MEDIA is a huge way to stay connected to the people who came to your show. One thing I do when touring is initiate a free CD giveaway in exchange for people to follow me on Instagram during the next song I play. At the end of the song I will choose one winner from those who just followed me to win the CD. This is just one fun way to interact with the crowd and get people looking at your socials. After the show I always enter the usernames of the people who followed me into a word document that has the city and venue listed with their names under it. This way when I am playing in that town again I can personally reach out to each of the people who came to the last show and tell them about it!
-TOUR MERCH is a way of creating revenue at a show. (CDs, business cards, t-shirts, stickers, etc) I would recommend at-least having a business card including your picture on one side and your contact information/social media links on the other side. People remember faces better than names and they love free stickers. It can be hit or miss whether people buy merch at the shows so no need to go overboard and spend a ton of money on it but someone buying your CD is still a way of showing their support when you’re out on the road. It’s a good idea to have some.
3) Think Outside The Box
Don’t just limit yourself to places labeled “music venue” when going on the road. It’s good to find a mix of gigs to play in order to help out financially as well as crowd-wise. Below I’ve listed a few “out of the box” places to consider when planning your tour.
-House Concerts - These are a HUGE helper and super fun to play. You can usually just google or Facebook “House Concert series in _________” and find people who host them in whatever state you’re heading for. House concerts provide a listening audience in an intimate setting, most of the time all of the donations at the door go directly to the artist, the host often has a free place for the artist to stay and provides a meal. One of my favorite house concert organizations is sofarsounds.com
-Aloft Hotels - All Aloft Hotels across the world have a lounge called the “WXYZ Lounge” and offer different deals to touring musicians. Depending on the individual city they have provided a free room to touring musicians in exchange for them playing a set in the lounge. They have offered pay for playing in the lounge and a discounted rate for the room. Either way, it’s worth checking out. I personally have played and stayed at both Aloft New Orleans and Aloft Oklahoma City. http://www.starwoodhotels.com/alofthotels/index.html?language=en_US
-Restaurant Gigs - Let’s be honest, touring can get expensive especially when you are traveling to somewhere you have to stay overnight or stay out for a few days/weeks/a month. Don’t be ashamed of filling in some week nights with a decent paying restaurant gig. These sets are usually around 3 hours long and need to consist of at least 40% cover songs. As you’re researching music venues in different cities go ahead and research restaurants with live music as well in case you need to fill in a night somewhere along the way.
-School Shows - Depending on your music and your message, playing in a school auditorium or chorus class may be something of possibility to you. Schools prefer for artists to have a platform that coincides with their curriculum or theme for the year (i.e. anti-bullying, follow your dreams, healthy living) and to have a defined program planned out before you approach them. The guidance counselor or principle is usually the person in charge of bringing in out of school entertainment and hosting assemblies. All that I have to say about this is PLEASE make sure your heart is in the right place before considering playing a school show. This is not for your personal gain but to impact and inspire younger dreamers with your own story and song.
4) Food, Gas, and Detours
Touring can be unpredictable! It’s incredibly fun and has the potential to be incredibly draining. Make sure you’re taking care of yourself along the way! Physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
-Eating out all the time can get expensive. In an effort to save money in this area, bring a cooler in your car packed with things like carrots, peanut butter, hummus, bread, apples, pretzels, protein bars. Bring a refillable water bottle and fill it up in restaurants or venues before you leave. Also, Waffle House is always reliable at any time of day/night and it’s DANG good and dang cheap.
-Create a budget before you go on tour. Do the shows you’re playing at-least cover your gas money/hotel expenses?
-Remember that this is you living your dream, taking a leap of faith towards a new experience every time you get on stage. Soak up the fact that your battery died and you had to get it repaired in some random town that morning before you barely made it to your gig on time but you DID in fact make it on time and it was an epic night under the stars. Embrace the ups and downs that come with touring.
-Take a detour if you want to! Take some time to explore the town you’re playing in OR don’t! Some days you’re going to have all of the energy in the world and be fired up from how awesome your show was last night and other days you’re going to be exhausted and just want to sit in your car in the parking lot before you go in for soundcheck. Both feelings are to be expected and both feelings are a part of this unique journey. You CAN do this!