Performing In a New City? Tips For the Traveling Indie Musician

[Editors NoteThis blog post was written by Michelle Aguilar, a writer and digital artist based in Los Angeles.]

When I’m not studying, freaking out during mid-terms or in the mountains, there’s a high chance that I’m at a concert seeing/dancing to one of my favorite musicians or serendipitously coming across a fascinating artist. After getting to know several indie artists and hearing their stories, I thought it’d be a great idea to write an article specifically aimed for the traveling or touring musician…and assuming that you’re an artist since you’re reading this: Hello! I hope you find the following mini-guide for the next journey.

1. Health

But First: Your Health

I never thought I’d be the one saying this– it’s what my mother would say to me each time I’d skip out on doctor appointments—but “your health comes first.” A few things you can do to keep your health on check:

  • Party in moderation. Although there’s much to celebrate about, touring is not a vacation. You know yourself best so whatever that means to you, do it. Also, be sure to sleep as much as you can, your brain, body and everyone else will thank you!
  • Eat right. This may be difficult, especially when you’re on the road. Great news is that you can always buy a cheap cooler (use freezy- paks not ice) and fill it in with fruits, nuts, veggies and other healthy snacks. Buy lunch meat and other food from a near-by market.
  • Stay sanitized. Bring hand sanitizer and wipes and use them. Wipe door knobs, shower handles and other objects if you’re staying at a motel. The constant moving between different places, restaurants and meet-and-greets are easy ways to get sick.

2. Planning

Always Plan for Worst Case Scenario

They say “hope for the best and expect the worst”, you say “%$!*, we should have done that.” Don’t worry, it happens to all of us, but when it comes to traveling to play gigs, the consequences are no joke. A few things you can do to prepare:

  • Try to have extras of everything: cellphones, laptop, amplifiers, guitars, mic’s, cables, xlr’s, stands, extension cords, batteries, picks, stings, straps, and snare drums.
  • Know what’s around the venue, specifically hotels and their availability. Even if you already have a place to lodge, it’s always good to have alternative options at hand.
  • If you’re traveling by land, make sure that your vehicle is thoroughly checked and cleared of any issues.

3. Booking

Avoid Over-Booking

It can be tempting to get a little too adventurous or fill your schedule up for x needs..but if you stretch yourself too much, it may have a negative effect on your overall performance and motivation.

  • Know yourself. How many hours of sleep do you need? Do you get tired easily or are you naturally on-the-go? Keep all of these in mind to give yourself space to recharge and perform your best.
  • Read up online forums specifically for indie artists as yourself that may have a venue database. A great platform is Indie On the Move. This can help you sort out venues and efficiently narrow down your options to avoid over-booking.

4. Promotion

Be Ahead of the Game With Your Promo

With so many business elements becoming more and more digitalized, it’s easy to get comfortable with social media and be satisfied with simply posting your events. However, we must not forget the fundamentals! Also, if you do use Facebook, do more than just post:

  • Send a press release about your tour to the local radio stations, newspapers, and weeklies at least 6 weeks before your appearance.
  • Build relationships with established bands in the city you’ll be playing at. Start by befriending them on social media and reach out. You may even land another gig with them that same weekend or in the near future. Swap offers such as opening for each other in each other’s towns.
  • Use Facebook Ads effectively. Target these adds for people living in or around the zip codes for the venues you’re going to perform at. You can even limit them to people who are interested in your genre.

5. Networking

Stay a While

Regardless of where you are in your music career, there is always room for an after-show meet and greet with those that supported your performance. After all, being an artist is never a one-way street. You are here because of your hard work and you are also here because of your fans’ dedication and appreciation towards your music.

  • Depending on the venue that you’re in, try to squeeze in at least 20 minutes of meet and greet time. This shows you appreciate you fans and it will most likely increases fan loyalty. Also, you never know what you can learn by meeting a fan; they may be in the industry and have some advice, they may be that drummer you’ve been looking to fill in—you never know!
  • Hang out near your (if you have one) merchandise booth to show appreciation to those buying more than just the concert tickets.
  • Be initiative and take pics/videos with your fans, upload them on your social media. Humility stands out.

I hope these tips have been helpful in preparing you for your next show. Of course there are probably a lot more other things to keep in mind when preparing to perform in a new city, so I definitely encourage you to primarily rely on your own experience as well as consult with management or fellow musicians.

Do you have any other tips or suggestions you’d like to share? What is something you’ve learned about traveling as an artist? Please, feel free to let us know in the comments.

5 Reasons Teaming Up With Another Band Means a Mutual Boost on Tour

[Editors Note: This blog was written by Jhoni Jackson, a music journalist and Puerto Rico-based venue owner.]

 

Heading out on tour with your band has the potential to bring everyone in it closer together. Co-existing and constantly collaborating, playing together night after night—becoming a tight-knit troupe in the process is almost inevitable. But why not double the bonds you could solidify by bringing another group into the picture? Organizing a joint tour means you’ll connect with even more fellow musicians—and that’s not the only benefit, either.

The notion that there’s strength in numbers is inarguably true for independent and DIY bands. Touring is one of the toughest parts of the gig; in that effort especially, you’ll accomplish more working together.

1. You’re sharing fans

Even if you hail from the same city, chances are you don’t share the exact same fanbase with any other band. That means pairing up in any capacity is an opportunity for exposure to new listeners; touring together is a maximized version of that.

Whenever possible, tag your tour-mates in related promo and other posts—and they should do the same, of course. Collaborate as much as you can: Both bands should be reflected in promo material like tour posters, promo videos announcing dates, Facebook events, and so forth. Every time you promote together is another chance to appeal to each other’s fans.

One result of two separate camps collectively pushing the promo could be increased show attendance, and there’s some strategy within that for increased effectiveness. If either group has toured before, include spots in your schedule that one has played and the other hasn’t; the band visiting for a second time can help carry the newcomer in terms of pull. Even if both bands are embarking on first-ever tours, though, you can also use Insights on your Facebook page to learn about the demographics of your fans. Their locations could help you choose which cities you visit, or what kind of marketing effort will work best based on your existing (or yet-to-be-built) audiences.

2. You can pool resources

Lug around less by sharing gear, particularly the bulkier items like amps and drums. Go in on groceries together to save money, and share the burden of cooking and preparing meals by rotating responsibilities. Depending on how big your group is, you might even travel together in a single vehicle, so there’s only one gas tank to fill to be split among all of you. And when you’re reaching out to friends and acquaintances as you line up places to crash on tour, more musicians in the mix means a greater potential number of generous hosts.

3. Two networks are better than one

Maybe one of you knows a booking agent in a particular city and the other doesn’t, or perhaps you’ve established a rapport with certain outlets that your touring mates haven’t. Knowing the right people in any given city can be a boon to a DIY tour. Whatever the effort, your connections combined are obviously doubly powerful.

4. Collaborating sparks creativity

Working together on any type of creative strategy, the sharing of influences and obscure discoveries, even casual conversations about art and music—something special happens when separate imaginations meet. New ideas pop up seemingly from nowhere; you gain fresh perspectives about other people’s work and your own.

Creativity fuels creativity, and in the close quarters of tour life, there’s no doubt you’ll find inspiration in collaborating—and practically living together—throughout the trip.

5. Through the camaraderie, you strengthen community bonds

Touring together is one of those shared experiences that facilitates deep connections and meaningful, lifelong friendships. The struggles, triumphs, exhaustion—incredible shows, bad turnouts, strategizing for press, the perpetual uphill battle of financial sustainment—are all collectively endured or celebrated.

Camaraderie develops naturally, and that, in turn, helps you strengthen your overall ties to your scene, whether that community is local or built around a genre and spread throughout different cities.

Copy of Facebook’s New Reach Objective: A Game Changer for Touring Musicians

[Editors Note: This is a guest blog post written by Don Bartlett, owner of No Door Agency, an Austin, TX-based boutique management and marketing agency. Don also hosts a seminar titled “Facebook Marketing For Musicians. Be sure to read his TuneCore Blog article on maximizing your Facebook ads on an indie budget.]

From it’s earliest days Facebook has used its powerful data algorithms to deliver incredibly well-targeted ads. It was a dream for most advertisers. They wouldn’t just put your ad in front of your target audience, they’d put it in front of the specific members of that audience who were most likely to engage with the ad. The success of this approach changed the entire landscape of advertising, and advertisers reaped the benefits. For musicians trying to promote tour dates, though, this presented a problem.

Bands are in a relatively unique position, from an advertising perspective. In each tour city we have small but very valuable target group of people we want to reach. It’s critical that we reach ALL of that group, not just the ones who might be prone to engaging with Facebook posts. If we’ve got 500 fans in New York City, we want all 500 to see the ad for our show.

Until now, the best objectives were “Page Post Engagement” or “Website Clicks” which deliver to those people who historically took those actions when viewing ads. In many cases that left a decent chunk of your fans out.

In late 2016 Facebook rolled out a new objective that solves this problem. When you choose the “Reach” objective you are now functionally telling Facebook that you want to reach as many people in your target audience as possible. After a few months of testing we’ve found that ads with the Reach objective perform significantly better for these small but valuable targets.

Note that that when you’re advertising to larger, non-fan target audiences….fans of similar bands, for example…you’re still better off using the “Page Post Engagement” or “Website Clicks” objective.

Another significant advantage to the Reach objective is that for the first time Facebook is allowing you to put a limit on how often people see your ads. Even an ad for your favorite band’s show can get annoying if it’s popping up in your newsfeed 4 times a day. This new feature lets you define an amount of time that a user will not see your ad again after viewing it.

It’s a very helpful tool that provides an extra degree of control to what your fans are seeing from your page. A good rule of thumb is to build in a frequency cap of at least two days for most campaigns.

Taken together these two new features provide a huge improvement to the tour marketing arsenal. Facebook ads have always been a one of the most effective ways to reach fans in a given city, but the effectiveness was often limited by their optimization algorithms. With the “Reach” objective we now have a concrete way to reach all of them.

Maximizing Facebook Ads On an Indie Budget

[Editors NoteThis is a guest blog post written by Don Bartlett, owner of No Door Agency, an Austin, TX-based boutique management and marketing agency. Don also hosts a monthly seminar titled “Facebook Marketing For Musicians.]

Independent artists are constantly looking for ways to eke maximum value from very limited promotion budgets. As Facebook continues to solidify its position at the center of the social media ecosystem, many conversations revolve around taking advantage of their incredibly powerful advertising tools.

The primary hesitations about the platform tend to be some combination of “it’s too expensive” and “we don’t see results”, but by sticking to a few core targeting and budgeting strategies you can take advantage of Facebook’s promotional benefits without going broke in the process.

In our experience you don’t need to spend a lot of money on Facebook advertising to get concrete results. However, if you’re working with a modest budget, it’s even more critical to structure your campaigns in a way that delivers the most value.

To this end, start with a premise: The bulk of your “results” – ticket sales and album sales in most cases – are going to come from your existing fans. Using Facebook ads to increase this pool is a separate topic entirely, but once a show is on sale your focus should shift to those who have already identified themselves as fans.

The most effective way to spend money on Facebook by a wide mile is reaching this group of people. On the surface this seems like a very easy concept and in many ways it is. So why do so many bands have a tough time getting results from their campaigns? In many cases, they’re spending too much.

Let’s look at an example…let’s say a band has 500 Facebook fans in Chicago, and they have an upcoming Windy City show scheduled that they’d like to promote:

Assuming a typical ad cost of about $10 per 1,000 people reached, a budget of $10 will reach all of those fans, likely twice each.

Since these 500 people are our most-likely ticket buyers, we always suggest reaching them three different times leading up to a show. However, these three campaigns should to be separated from each other by some “dead air” time where people won’t be seeing your ad.

Think of it as a reminder. This is a group of people who already likes your band, so they don’t need to be persuaded – they just need to be reminded. And if you remind someone about something five times a day, they’ll be annoyed. If you remind them every week or two, they’ll appreciate it.

So ideally, the band creates three different campaigns budgeted at $10 each, for a total of $30. It’s important to note here that this is very different from a single campaign for $30.

With the 10/10/10 model, they’ve got 100% coverage of their fans a few different times, but not to the point where they’re being bombarded six times a day for a month.

So to reach the 500 fans in this example $30 is not only all you need to spend, it’s all you SHOULD spend. Unfortunately many bands think that by pushing the budget up to $100 is going to give an extra push to ticket sales, when the reality is that it won’t help – and often it hurts. When people see your ad too many times they often will block or hide the ad posts, which negatively affects your page’s organic reach down the line.

There are certainly ways to put an additional $70 to good use, but that isn’t one of them. And the bulk of actual ticket sales are always to your existing fans so spending the $30 is critical, but spending the additional $70, even when done correctly, is far, far less critical.

Which brings us to another critical component of campaign structure: Your ads to existing fans should always be separate from any other targets.

As your most-likely ticket buyers, you want to ensure 100% coverage of this target. With other targets, you’re just looking to reach as many people as possible within your budget. So instead of running one campaign to “fans of our band, fans of Band X and fans of Band Y”, you should run one campaign to “fans of our band”, budgeting to ensure full coverage, and then a separate one to “fans of Band X and Band Y”.

To be sure, there are plenty of other elements that go into successful Facebook Ad campaigns. But following these targeting and budgeting strategies will put any campaign in a much better position to maximize the value of limited budgets.

3 Tried & True Methods of Negotiating Higher Pay From Venues

[Editors Note: This article was written by Jhoni Jackson and originally appeared on the Sonicbids Blog.]

Upstart bands and artists in the early stages of cultivating a fanbase often encounter opposition when booking. From a business perspective, it makes sense: if a talent buyer or venue owner isn’t sure you’ll draw a crowd, then handing over a potentially big-bar-sales night to you is a risk. And when you do land a gig, he or she might insist on minimizing that risk by offering you a super low pay rate – or no pay at all. How do you convince that person you deserve more?

When looking to negotiate higher pay from venues, these three strategies can actually yield results, especially if you work hard to promote your shows. Really, these methods mean opportunities to genuinely earn more if you put in the extra effort. Talent buyers and venue owners can appreciate that, and most will pay you accordingly.

1. Show your worth with numbers

Bands often reference what they’ve been paid before when suggesting a guarantee or percentage. That’s a somewhat futile method of negotiating, as no two venues are exactly alike financially. What works for one in terms of payments won’t necessarily work for another.

Your best tools of persuasion here are found on social media. How sizeable is your online fanbase? For your last show, how many responses did you get to the Facebook event? It does matter, of course, how many actually showed up – but if you don’t have crowd shots (use them if you do!), then the closest thing to proof of great attendance is those event responses. Send over your social media pages as well as past events to show the strength of your following.

This won’t work for everyone, of course. Obviously, if you’ve never played before, you don’t have any previous Facebook events to use as examples. Additionally, not everyone trusts the prowess those numbers supposedly signify: an impressive online following doesn’t always translate to in-person devotion.

2. The plus deal

This is sometimes referred to as “back end,” though that’s technically the name of the extra profit you get. Here’s how it works: you’re guaranteed a certain percentage or dollar amount, but you also get an additional amount after a certain point. That marker can be a number of tickets sold, or the talent buyer’s bottom line.

For our purposes here, we’re talking about bands and artists who aren’t getting much pay to begin with, so let’s work with relatively low numbers.

Example one: $50 guarantee plus 10 percent back end after 50 tickets sold at $5 each.

In this scenario, you’ll get your $50 either way. But if more than 50 tickets are sold, you get more. Let’s say the cover count is 100 – the door has raked in an additional $250. You’d get $25 extra.

Example two: $50 guarantee plus 10 percent after $250, with tickets at $5 each.

This could be a situation where there are four bands on the bill, and each is guaranteed $50. If the door money reaches more than $250 – meaning more than 50 tickets sold – then 10 percent of the surplus goes to you. (And probably 10 percent to each of the other bands, too.) So at 100 tickets sold, you’d get your $50 guarantee, plus $25 more for reaching 100 ticket sales.

These numbers are somewhat arbitrary; they’re intended not as standards of negotiating, but rather as examples you can adjust to fit the exact situation you’re in. Talent buyers and venue owners might be more willing to accept a deal like this because there’s little risk on their part. They don’t think they’ll make enough from the door to pay you more than X amount, and you agree to that amount – but you get a little more if you prove them wrong.

3. Prove your draw, then up your rate

Did it take a lot of convincing to get the gig? If the talent buyer or venue owner is dubious of your ability to pull a crowd, he or she might ask you to play for free. When you’re just starting out, that’s okay, but you should always be looking toward the future. You should only perform at no charge when it means it’ll get you closer to paid, or at least better quality gigs. (Or if it’s for charity.)

Agree to play for free (or cheap) once, but ask them to commit to another gig if you draw X number of attendees. Post-show, if you can, talk with whoever booked you. What did he or she think about the performance? The turnout? If the right person isn’t present, follow up the next day via email or whatever form of contact that person preferred in the past.

Send him or her a clip of your set if you’ve got one, and mention the fan response as a way to help him or her see that your next show can be even more successful, and that you deserve some level of payment. Try to actually book a follow-up gig before the conversation goes stale. (Booking several months ahead is ideal, anyway.)

For more on transitioning from free shows to paid gigs, check out this interview with a seasoned musician who’s successfully moved into making a living off her music.


Jhoni Jackson is an Atlanta-bred music journalist currently based in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where she juggles owning a venue called Club 77, freelance writing and, of course, going to the beach as often as possible.

5 Tips to Make Your Local Shows More Successful

[Editors Note: This is a guest blog written by David McMillin, singer, songwriter and frontman of Fort Frances (check out their latest release, “Alio“). He holds several songwriting awards and has helped to soundtrack shows on PBS, NBC and The CW.]

Every band wants to experience the glory of the road—seeing new towns, meeting new people and feeling the thrill of a new stage night after night. In most cases, though, the first steps toward success are only a few miles from the front door. Before building a national or global profile, it’s important to create the buzz that turns you into one of the most talked-about bands in your town.

If you’re aiming to climb to the top of the scene in your market, here are five tips to make your local shows feel like major events.

1. Book Small

Tom Windish, founder of the Windish Agency, offered some expert advice in a Los Angeles Times interview last year. “The right place to play is the place that sells out,” Windish said.

Every band should aspire to play the legendary clubs in their respective towns, but it’s important to balance ambition with reality. Selling tickets is super challenging. My band worked our way toward selling out our favorite 200-capacity club in Chicago, and we decided to make the leap to the 500-capacity room we all loved. We weren’t ready. We sold 260 tickets. We made less money—due to much higher production costs—than the smaller room, and the half-full show felt like a bit of a disappointment. After that mishap, we played our next release show in a sold-out 300-cap room.

The lesson: when you’re at home, you don’t want open seats. You want a line waiting outside the door to get in.

2. Think Big

You may be booking a small room, but you should strive to make your show feel massive. In fact, don’t think of it as a show. Consider it an experience. Don’t just go play your songs. Bring them to life in a bigger way than you might be able to at the other end of the country. Since you’re in your hometown, your overhead expenses are much lower. You’re not paying for gas or a hotel. Invest that money in something that will make the evening more special for everyone in attendance. When we’re touring outside of Chicago, we’re a four-piece, but our hometown shows are a six-piece that includes a horn section. It’s become one of the favorite pieces of the night for our fans.

Think about what can take your show to the next level. Can you hire someone who really knows your songs—the hits in the chorus, the tempos, the out-of-time sections, etc.—to run lights? Have you always wanted to have a string quartet on your acoustic songs? Is there a special guest you can bring out to appear in a verse?

Whatever that piece of extra magic is, your hometown show is the place to make it happen.

Fort Frances TuneCore Blog
Fort Frances playing a local gig in Chicago

3. Get Personal

As you’re putting in extra care for how the evening will sound and feel, there’s another area that needs your focus: marketing. In your hometown, promotion shouldn’t simply rely on mass communication. Your social media presence is a critical piece of building your community, but you need to use a more intimate approach to connect with your friends, family and neighbors. Set time aside to send individual emails to everyone you know.

Make them feel special with a personal note about the new record you’ve been working on and why you want them to come to the show.

4. Act Confident

One of my favorite books that I regularly consult on my coffee table is The Musician Says, and it includes some wise advice from Marilyn Manson: “If you act like a rock star, you will be treated like one.”

You may be playing a show for an audience that includes 30 of your closest friends, your cousins and your roommates, but when you take the stage, remember that you are in a coveted place: on the stage. So let yourself go. Embrace the spotlight. Dance. Sweat. Shred. Do whatever verb is best done to your music.

Because when your friends wake up the next morning, you don’t want them to say, “I went to see my friend’s band play last night.” You want them to tell their friends, “Holy shit. I saw the next [Bob Dylan/Beyoncé/The Beatles/whatever Hall of Fame-level comparison that makes sense for your act] play last night. You have to check them out.”

5. Be Scarce

Once you start finding success in your hometown, it can be tempting to accept every offer that comes your way. It’s good to get on-stage as often as possible, right? Wrong. You need to create some demand around your shows. If you’re playing in town every other week, it becomes easy for your fans to say, “I’ll just catch the next show.” Give some healthy distance between your dates, and each time you play, do something different.

Debut new songs. Learn unexpected covers. Crowd surf your way to the stage to start the night.

Make people cry or scream or pump their fists to your songs. Be unforgettable, and they’ll always come back for more.