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Taking It To the Road

16Touring_0Bands inexperienced in the ways of touring tend to think of it as a thing that just sort of happens, like this crucial part of band life falls quickly and easily into your lap the minute your record is released. And sometimes it does; record labels often hire booking agents for their bands to provide musicians the ability to concentrate on playing, not deal-making.

But more often than not, you'll be responsible for booking a tour yourself at least once. In fact, some booking agents won't even consider working with a touring band unless they've had at least a little experience in tour booking, so it's important that you learn how to do it -- and how to do it right.

Start Early

In order to avoid some of tour booking's most stressful problems (or, at the very least, have time to work around them), it's crucial that get an early start. Give yourself at least three months before the first date of your tour to contact venues, send press kits, follow-up with promoters and secure any guarantees. If everything goes completely as planned, you'll have a few weeks to relax before you hit the road. But be prepared: the process of booking a tour almost never goes as planned. Venues will close, promoters will flake out, shows will be suddenly and inexplicably canceled. Getting an early start on tour booking allows you some buffer time to deal with these issues.

There is something to be said, however, for waiting, especially if you're a brand new band. A lot of times, booking a tour with slightly less lead time will allow you to hop on bills with already established bands in the area. Of course, there's absolutely no guarantee that this will prove effective, and it's a tour booking strategy best approached when you have a booking agent behind you; he or she will have the influence necessary to get you a space on an already packed bill.

Find Great Contacts

Perhaps the most important aspect to booking a tour is having a host of fantastic contacts. If you're working with a booking agent, or if someone well-versed in the industry is giving you a little help, these contacts will already be built in. But if you're like most new bands, familiar only with the venues and promoters in your area, you'll have some research to do.

The easiest way to find contacts is to ask around. Talk to your friends in touring bands and find out the names of promoters they've worked in various areas, or even ask the promoter at your favorite local venue; a lot of times, local promoters will have ties in other cities and can become invaluable resources to tour booking.

Also take a look at the tour schedules of some of your favorite bands. Where are they playing? What cities seem to be the most popular? Find the websites for the venues you see popping up most often, and put any email addresses and phone numbers in your contact file. Just be sure that the venues are an appropriate size and style for your type of music; it always helps to look at the schedule of touring bands who play a similar style of music to yours, or who are on roughly the same level career-wise. Sounding a lot like Aerosmith isn't enough to secure you a date at a huge arena.

Tweak Your Press Kit

Though a standard press kit is fairly adequate for the purposes of booking a tour, you'll need to make a few minor adjustments in the interest of helping a promoter get to your information as quickly and easily as possible. The following elements (all printed on your logo letterhead, of course) are vital for a tour booking press kit:

Cover Letter -- A brief, half-page letter telling the promoter who you are, which date you're trying to book (and whether or not that date is flexible) and the contents of the package.

Bio -- A copy of your standard bio (which should already be an important component in your press kit). If your bio is over one page, shorten it for the purposes of the tour booking package; promoters only really want to know who you are, where you're from, which label you're on and what you sound like.

Press Quotes -- This is by no means vital, but if you've received some favorable mentions from national publications, or any local to the area you're pursuing, feel free to send them along. But don't send magazine or newspaper clippings; format the quotes on a single sheet of paper, with the writer's name, publication and article date under the quote.

CD or Demo -- Obviously the most important part of your tour booking press kit, your CD or demo lets the promoter actually hear what they'd be booking. Make sure to include a full track listing and star any tracks you feel are completely necessary for the promoter to hear. Also, if you have MP3's available online, make that explicitly clear somewhere on your package; sometimes promoters prefer to hear your music online.

And make absolutely sure that you put your contact info on every piece of your tour booking press kit. If things get separated, the last thing a promoter wants to do spend time matching everything together again.

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