How to Plan and Organize a Tour for Your Band
Posted By: Mr. NeedInstructions; Category: Music & Entertainment; December 12, 2010
Author Semmi; Tags: tour, booking, band;


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This instruction is to be used as a reference. I will attempt to keep it complete, but will provide updates on the web if and when I think of things to add to it.

Note: Much of this will sound like common sense. However, because there are so many things to think about when putting together a show – having a list of the obvious things to consider is necessary. Often times things are so common-sense to us that we neglect to even think about them.
Part 1: Pre-Planning

First and foremost, a concert is an expensive and stressful endeavor. Set aside all misconceptions you may have about how easy it is immediately – because there’s just nothing easy about it. If it’s easy, chances are you’re forgetting something or doing something wrong.

Putting a show together involves a great deal of interpersonal communication, as well as organizational skills, marketing skills, and good old-fashioned manual labor. Here’s a list of questions to ask yourself when coming up with ideas for a show:

Who do I want to play? This is usually the easiest question to answer. After all, if you want to put on a show, chances are you have a band or two in mind. However, you may need to consider factors like how many people the band(s) you want to play can draw, how much money they are expecting, and what venues are available.

What’s my budget like? If you aren’t willing to risk losing some money out of your pocket – you’re not going to have much luck putting on a show. Expenses to consider include:

- Band costs – local bands may play free, regional bands with no following may play for gas money. However, bands with a following will often expect to get paid. It is worth noting that you should take your time and think hard about the money a band asks for. Just because a band draws 500 people in Chicago doesn’t mean they’ll draw so many as 50 at a smaller area such as Champaign-Urbana. Some even expect certain other provisions that accompany their payment contract. This is typically called a “rider”. Larger bands often require certain musical equipment or lighting rigs, and many bands who have an established draw in a given locale will put food and other such items in their riders.

- Venue costs – venues aren’t cheap to rent. They can cost anywhere from $100 a night to $5,000 a night or more, depending upon location, size, equipment provisions, insurance, and specific details of the event itself.

- Equipment costs – If you’re renting out a small venue such as a VFW hall, YMCA, or other type of space, chances are there’s not going to be a sound system waiting for your use. You’ll need to rent a sound system (anywhere from $100 a night to several thousand, depending on your needs). You’ll also occasionally want lights, which small venues won’t provide either. Finally, bands themselves may need to borrow or rent additional equipment so that they can get properly set up to play. This includes items such as “direct boxes”, monitors, etc.

- Promotion costs – Flyers cost money, and you’ll need a lot of them if you want people to hear about your show. In addition, depending upon the magnitude of your event, you may need to consider newspaper, radio, and television ads. If you’re reading this, however, chances are your budget is limited to flyers. Of course, getting your show listed on sites such as and the CuBaNS list also helps a great deal.

- Insurance costs – This is usually handled by the venue itself in the form of a security deposit that is refunded upon inspection of the premises to make sure nothing has been damaged. However, in some instances, you’ll need your own insurance. The venue should be able to direct you to someone to help you with this.

Can I break even? So you’ve written down all the expenses you can think of. Can you really break even? Remember: even with all the flyers in the world, you may only get 20 people to show up. You need to set a maximum amount of money you’re willing to lose in your head, and find a way to guarantee that you won’t lose any more than that. Therefore, you’ll need one or more of the following:

- Band(s) who have proven they can draw a certain number of people

- A venue that draws people on its own, regardless of the live music that night

- A group of people you can count on to show up. This may be friends, acquaintances, members of a social circle, or anything – but as outlandish as it may sound, this is often the only way some people can avoid losing money when putting on a show.

- Band(s) who are conscientious about promoting their own show. Surprisingly, some bands have enough friends who’ll come to all their shows that they can almost pay for a show on their own.

Remember to be conservative about how many people you think will show up for a given band. Just because you like them doesn’t mean they have a big enough following to draw a crowd. You also need to take potential obstacles such as poor weather into account if that may affect attendance. Make sure you won’t take a huge loss, even on a rainy day.

Is there time to promote? Remember, unless a band has a huge reputation, you typically can’t book a successful show only two weeks in advance. You’ll need a minimum of 3 weeks to promote – preferably 4-6. Furthermore, most venues are booked up anywhere from 4-8 weeks in advance. In order to get a decent day of the week, you’ll need to reserve it at least 4 weeks in advance.

What am I up against? Always look at your calendar before picking a date for a show. Make sure you’re not up against a holiday, finals week, or even a competing concert that will take away too much of your potential audience.

Do I have everything I need? If a venue doesn’t provide a sound system, and you don’t have your own – you’ll need to rent one. You’ll need a mixer, an amplifier, and speakers. This is commonly called a “PA” (short for Public Address). Beyond that, you’ll need mic stands and probably microphones, as most bands do not provide their own. Not only do you need microphones for vocals, but unless you’re in a small venue, you’ll need microphones for each instrument, as well as several microphones for drums. There are specific mics made for drums – so make sure you can get a hold of those. In smaller venues, it may be possible to mic all of the instruments except the drums, but this varies from drummer to drummer, and venue to venue. Chances are you won’t have intimate enough knowledge of how loud a drummer is to make this kind of a call. It’s better to have all the equipment you may need on hand.

Am I mentally prepared? Do I have the time for this? If you’re a busy person – the last thing you want to be doing is putting on a show. You need to be easily reachable by telephone from the time you start planning the show and on through the day of the show. You need to respond to everyone promptly if they leave you a message, and be able to answer questions immediately, rather than asking bands or venue owners to wait while you get back to them.

As you can see thus far, there’s a lot of thinking and planning that goes into a show. Take a breather though, because we’ve only just begun….
Part 2: Show Planning

There is a specific order in which you should do your planning. It can vary a little bit, but in order to run as smoothly as possible, the order should be followed as closely as possible:

1) Make a list of possible band(s) you would like to have play.

2) Check the schedules of those bands, preferably on the web so that you have not yet called them. The more you already know going into emailing or phoning a band or their agent, the more professional and organized you will seem.

3) Choose a venue based on the bands you think you can get to play. If they’ve got a huge draw, you’ll need a big venue. If they’re heavy metal, you probably don’t want them to play at a venue that attracts mostly pop-punk fans.

4) Contact the venue and check the availability of the venue on the dates you’re shooting for. It is almost always better to confirm open dates at a venue before contacting a band. Many bands won’t even reply to you if you don’t present them with potential dates. They’re on busy schedules and need to keep things organized. For smaller bands, this is not as true. Smaller bands are usually not booked so much that they need specific dates presented to them. Still, you may as well know what your only options are before bothering with the bands, as there’s no sense in finding out that all of your bands can play on some date only to find that it’s not even available.

5) Assuming you’ve found some open dates at the venue in the general area that you know your band(s) to be available – contact the band(s) and check their availability, as well as what kind of compensation they will require.

6) Confirm the availability of the venue on the date you’ve decided on with the band(s). Also confirm the load-in times and set times for the band(s) involved, and whether help will be provided with load-in, load-out, and ticket taking. Also, confirm whether or not the band(s) and organization(s) involved can have a guest list.

7) Given your budget and estimated attendance – decide on a ticket price for the event.

8) Inform the band(s) of all the information you confirmed with the venue including ticket prices, load-in/load-out times, and equipment provisions. Also, be sure to confirm what compensation the band(s) will receive at this point.

9) Now that you know the time, date, and cost of your event – begin your marketing. Create flyers and any other advertisements as soon as possible. Be sure to check with bands and venues about permission to use photographs or logos on your advertisements.

10) Find and confirm friends, organization members, etc to help the band(s) load in and out of the venue, take tickets, work security, etc if necessary.

11) A few days before the show, it is in your best interest to call each of the bands and reconfirm everything with them: their arrival times, their equipment needs, etc.
Part 3: Marketing

Marketing your show is one of the most crucial and difficult parts of the entire process. There’s several methods of marketing that vary in effectiveness: word of mouth, flyers, newspaper ads, radio ads, television ads, and chalking are among the more prevalent methods.

The most common marketing tool, especially for a small show, is the flyer. Many fundamental mistakes are made when creating a flyer. Selling the event is more important than artistic expression. While art is awesome, it’s not the main purpose of a flyer. Here’s some pointers on how to create a good flyer:

- Information is key. The main information about the show (who’s playing, where, how much does it cost, and what time is it at?) should be easy to read.

- If there’s a band with a draw – the key to a good flyer is to have their name be huge and easy to read from far away.

- Overly ornate fonts should be avoided. Remember – a flyer should be relatively easy to read from far away, meaning at least 10 feet.

- Catch the eye. While art shouldn’t overtake the conveyance of information – try and do something eye-catching. You’ll be making copies at a Kinko’s or somewhere similar, so don’t be afraid to use lots of black ink, it won’t ruin YOUR toner cartridge! If you can afford color flyers, and you’ve got a good artist to design them, go for it. If you don’t have a decent artist, though, save your money, it’s better spent elsewhere. Color flyers that aren’t significantly more eye catching than their black and white counterparts are not worth all the extra money.

- Be genre appropriate. Don’t use fonts or artwork that “look a certain genre”. If you saw the font that NASA uses on their logo – it might bring a certain kind of band to mind. Chances are, it doesn’t bring a female singer-songwriter to mind, though, does it? Use fonts and artwork wisely to attract the people who are most likely to want to see your show.

- Be detailed – if you have a few bands who are playing but have no established following, try and add a few words about what kind of music they play. Don’t embellish too much. “Punk Rock” is sufficient. There’s no need for “pop-punk influenced mariachi-core with SKA undertones and a hint of metal”. Then again, that sounds so funny it might just get a few people to the show ;-)

Be sure to distribute flyers in as many locations as possible, especially “hot-spots” like local record stores, popular cafes, bars, etc. In addition, be sure to do it early. Ideally, you’ll want to start flyering about 3 weeks before the event. Then, with about 10 days before the event, you’ll want to make a second run to replace torn down or covered flyers. Finally, you’ll want to make yet another check around 3-4 days before. If you have time, make one last check the morning before the show so that you have flyers up the entire day before the show, as well as the day of. People forget things easily, and they might just remember to go because they saw the flyer the day before, or even the day of the show.

Also make sure to get your event listed in as many places as possible. This includes record stores, internet e-mail lists (i.e. The Intelligence Report, CUBANS), radio station websites, and the venue where the event is taking place.
Part 4: Constant Communication

Throughout the period of marketing, you’ll likely be asked to confirm and re-confirm information for both the bands and the venues. Be sure to keep in touch with both sides, assuring that things will be on schedule and run according to plan. With a week or so to go before the show, be sure to reconfirm load-in/load-out times, set times, and equipment provisions with both the venue and the band(s).

Communicating with the bands and the venues is the key to coming off as professional. There are things each side will need to know…

You need to know:
- What equipment you need if the venue or band(s) can’t provide it.

- How you intend to pay the band(s) and/or venue

- What’s a sound check? A sound check is when a band sets up their gear before the show and plays their instruments so that the sound technician can optimize the band’s sound by amplifying each instrument to its ideal volume in the mix. Any band with a following will probably expect a sound check.

- What’s a line check? A line check is where a band simply gets to set up their equipment and make sure it’s working properly and the venue’s mics are working. This is typically done when there’s not time for a sound check.

- What’s “backlining gear”? Backlining is what bands prefer to do if the stage is big enough. The bands who aren’t playing on stage at the time store their gear on stage, typically lined up along the back of the stage behind the band that’s playing. This way, they don’t need to lug it all up and down multiple times. The band on stage takes their stuff down out of the way when they’re done, and the next band just drags their stuff to the front of the stage.

- What’s “striking gear”? Striking gear is the act of taking gear offstage after sound check. Bands prefer to backline gear, but if the stage isn’t big enough, they’ll have to take it down so that other bands can fit/play on stage.

- What’s a “direct box / flanger / delay / amp / e-bow / head / cabinet / channel / mixer / ????” – If you don’t know the answer to most of the above, you are hopefully holding your show in a venue with a sound technician. Direct questions about gear to the sound technician, and you’re home free. If you’re putting the show on yourself, you’ll have to know how to set up a PA and all of the other equipment, or you’re in trouble. This is why you must be sure to check equipment provisions with the bands and venues beforehand.

The venue needs to know:
- What time you intend for the event to start

- What time bands will be loading in and out

- What equipment the bands have and/or need (the sound technician needs to know this so that he/she can be prepared to set things up)

- If they need to provide anyone to help the band(s) load in their gear

- If the bands expect a sound check before the show (Note: most venues only permit a certain number of bands to sound check due to time constraints, other bands will get a line check, or even no check at all until right as they take the stage. Typically, the headliner always gets a sound check, and since the opener has to have their gear up on stage to start the show, they may get one as well)

- How much equipment the band(s) have

- What you intend to charge at the door, and how much of that they’ll receive (typically 10-20% for a club)

- What genre of music the band(s) play (in case they want to describe the show in their event listings)

- How the money will change hands between the venue, the promoter, and the bands. (Often the venue will pay the bands directly, especially if the promoter isn’t profiting from the show in the first place)

The band(s) need to know:

- When to load in / load out

- If they will get a sound check or a line check

- Set start/end times, and most importantly, how long of a set they’ll get to play

- How much they’ll be paid

- When they’ll be paid (bands typically expect payment the night of the show, some even expect it up front. If you can’t pay them until after, you must let them know well in advance, or you’ll seem very unprofessional).

- How much of an audience to expect

- If they’ll be allowed to sell their merchandise at the show and/or if there is a fee in order to do so.

- If they’ll have any help with loading in their gear
Part 5: The Big Night…

So everyone knows what’s going on, there’s flyers all over the place, and you’re psyched up for the big show. Now what?

First of all, arrive at the venue early. Preferably 30 minutes or more before load-in time. It’s responsible and professional to do so. Not only will it reflect well upon your involvement in the event, but in case a band is traveling from afar and arrives early due to overestimating the drive (stranger things have happened), they won’t be waiting.

Help the bands with load-in. You’ll make friends with them immediately by offering your assistance, as well as speed up the process – making the sound technician and venue happier.

Be present as much as possible during sound check. Chances are, any questions that a band has will be presented to you before anyone else. If you’re holding the show in an actual venue – it’s likely that you’ll just be redirecting them to the sound tech, the on-duty manager, or security. However, the first person they’ll think to ask is the one who put together the show, so you need to be present. After all, they don’t know who the manager is, who runs security, etc. If you’re running the show in a rented space, rather than a venue – you’ll definitely need to be present, because it’s probably you who has the answers to all the questions.

If you don’t have an answer to a question – don’t hesitate to be honest about it. Never lie to a band, and never skirt around questions that you don’t understand. Admit that you don’t understand the question, and be sure to state that you want to make sure things run smoothly. If a band throws terminology at you that’s over your head, don’t be embarrassed – just ask what it means. If nothing else, you can blame it on regional dialect differences like soda vs. pop ;-) Honesty is the key to coming off as professional and likeable – which is the way to get bands to keep coming back.

Be present during the show, and make sure that bands are reminded about their set times if they’re planning on leaving to grab a bite to eat, etc. If possible, help the bands tear down their gear after their set is over. The faster the changeover between sets, the happier the audience. Surprisingly, (or perhaps not?) a lot of people will leave and not come back if the set change time is excessive.

Help with load-out after the show. This probably goes without saying, but yet again, it maintains positive relations with the band(s) involved, and reflects well upon your professionalism and your dedication to promoting and running shows.

Finally, you can go home and get some rest. Take a breather and reflect on the night. If you didn’t book any bands that have a commanding draw, and you broke even, consider it a success. After all, it’s hard to get people to come to a show – they won’t just show up because it’s there.

Good luck in putting together your first show!
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  • posted by: John Detjen; March 24, 2012 05:37:14 PM

    I book all my Indie Tours using an iPhone App called Independent Musicians Touring Guide. It is a niche app that has pre-set maps, lists of thousands of mid-sized club level venues throughout the US, and email templates for all types of booking requests. It is very helpful if you are just starting to book tours with your band independently.

    App Store - Independent Musicians Touring Guide