Road Hazards: 5 Challenges Of Touring and How To Avoid Them

[Editors Note: This blog was written by Patrick McGuire. Patrick is a writer, composer, and experienced touring musician based in Philadelphia.]

 

For young, ambitious bands, there’s nothing more exciting than hitting the road for a national tour. There’s something timelessly exciting and relatable about a band traveling from city to city in hopes of getting the world to care about its music. But while tour is capable of bringing huge benefits for artists as far as opportunities and industry credibility goes, touring can be tedious, thankless and even downright dangerous for some bands. In this article, we’ll highlight some of the road’s more serious challenges and show you how to cope with them.

1. Physical Inactivity

If you’re someone used to exercising regularly, touring for long periods of time can be especially brutal. Unless your band is raking in the dough and traveling in a big tour bus, you’ll most likely spend the majority of your days on tour crammed in a car or van. Long-term physical inactivity is hell on your body, and the longer you stay sedentary, the more your risk for things like depression and heart disease increases. One two-week tour isn’t a big deal, but if you’re a serious musician intent on touring over the course of your career, inactivity can lead to massive problems.

The only solution here is movement. Make every effort you can to move as much as possible throughout the day. Encourage your bandmates to get a gym membership at a national club and to reserve an hour or two each day for exercise. Easier said than done, of course, but if you don’t take care of yourself on the road you simply won’t be able to do it for very long.

2. Excessive Drinking and Drug Abuse

Partying is simply the funnest part of tour for some musicians, and while it’s not our place to judge here at the TuneCore Blog, booze and drugs have caused musicians more than their fair share of problems over the years, so we think it’s worth mentioning. Whether it’s a tedious eight-hour drive through the midwest or the lengthy period between loading in and performing, there’s a ton of time to kill on the road, so it’s no wonder musicians drink and use drugs to pass the time. But while casual drinking or drug use is completely harmless for some people, it can be hugely damaging for others.

Moderation is the key here for some musicians, but if you find yourself getting out of control when you drink or use drugs, it’s time to stop and even consider getting off the road altogether. Assuming that you tour because you’re a serious musician, the main goal of touring is playing well on stage and making connections on the road, and this is going to be much harder if you’re drunk and high constantly. If drinking and drugs are keeping you from being your best on the road, consider cutting down, taking a break or stopping completely.

3. Strained Relationships

Maintaining relationships out on the road can be a huge challenge whether you’re touring for the first time as a young band or are a seasoned touring veteran. Relationships are essential to the happiness of most people, and this is one of the main reasons why so many serious musicians become depressed and eventually burn out. If you plan on being a serious musician for the rest of your life, you’ll have to learn how to make relationships work on the road.

Nothing can replace the time spent away from a loved one, but there are things you can do maintain relationships while you tour. Scheduling and sticking to daily calls, FaceTime and Skype chats is one obvious option. Bringing your loved ones with you on the road for certain legs of your tours is another, though that’s not always an option for some musicians. No matter what you decide to do, just remember how vital your relationships back at home are and proceed accordingly.

4. Financial Hardship

Touring is a huge financial investment that never quite pays off for some bands. This means weeks or months at a time away from jobs and a steady source of income. There’s no way to tell for sure, but money problems have probably caused the untimely demise of many bands, and it’s not difficult to see why. Musicians are accustomed to making all sorts of sacrifices for their craft, but there’s a point where lack of money makes it impossible to keep going.

To avoid burnout over money issues, conversations need to happen long before you hit the road about your resources and limitations. Lots of bands set out with lofty goals for tour without having this conversation break up when they realize they can’t be on the road for months and pay their bills at the same time. Communication, realistic expectations and planning will help you be able to tour and keep your personal bottom line intact.

5. Lack of Sleep

Everything from the bad food to excessive drinking on tour can be hell on your body, but the lack of sleep can be especially pernicious. Not getting eight hours of sleep a night while you’re on tour might not seem like a huge deal for some bands, but sleep loss can cause everything from obesity to depression. Again, on a short tour this isn’t a problem, but it’s something that serious career musicians should address.

A major factor in sleeping issues on tour has to do with the fact that most bands can’t afford hotel rooms every night on the road. What can you do if the house you’re sleeping at has a party raging till four or five AM? Doing your best to find accommodations before you embark on a tour is essential if you hope to get good sleep on the road. Stay with friends and family when you can, and communicate your needs, even if it’s awkward to do so.

How To Book A Gig Yourself…and Be Invited Back

[Editors Note: This blog was written by Rich Nardo. Rich is a freelance writer and editor, and is the Director of Public Relations and Creative at NGAGE.]

No matter what anyone tells you, we have yet to figure out a digital musical experience that can equal the fan connections a band can conjure through their live show. There is something in our DNA that is profoundly impacted by live music. Maybe it’s the shared experience with those in attendance or the nostalgia a concert can create for a certain time in our lives.

Or maybe it’s something more primal; the process of syncing our natural rhythm to live drum and bass as it pulse through our bones. Either way, performing is still undoubtedly the best way to create loyal fans and combat the current “musical-flavor-of-the-week” culture we live in.

Still, developing a live following is no walk in the park. You’re going to need to dedicate hours-upon-hours of time to tightening your set and tirelessly promoting your shows. It’ll get tedious, and success won’t happen overnight, but if you work hard you’ll eventually graduate from dingy bars and VFWs to better rooms. On top of that, I can honestly say nothing can match the indescribable feeling you’ll get from performing in front of a room full of people and, if you’re lucky, the dedicated following you’ll gain from gigging out.

Here are some tips on how to book that first gig, and how to get invited back!

1. Be Professional In Your Pitch

Yes, the promoter knows that you’re self-booking. They still want the comfort of knowing you will take the night seriously. Keep in mind that they’ve probably gotten a few hundred other “booking inquiries” that week. Ask yourself what’s going to make them offer you a slot on one of their nights over those other bands? Some ways to be professional include:

  • A succinct, clear subject line (i.e: Booking Inquiry – The Beatles October Date @ MSG?).
  • Be informative in the body of the email. You should include a description of your music, where you’re from and any performance history. It is also necessary to include a link to where the talent buyer can listen to your music and check out your socials.
  • Don’t have typos!
  • Follow up approximately 3-5 days after reaching out if you don’t hear back. Also don’t hesitate to pick up the phone. Sometimes that’s the best way to cut through the clutter of acts hitting up a promoter.

2. Stay In Touch with The Promoter Ahead Of Your Show

Nothing makes promoters more nervous than booking a band and not hearing from them again until they show up at the venue night of. Give the promoter updates on what you’re doing to get people to come see your band. Also share any promotional assets such as Facebook events or flyers with the promoter as well. This way they can take comfort in the fact you’re promoting and maybe even help get the word out as well.

3. Promote On Socials and Ask Your Friends

Actually promote, don’t just show up! Be active on both yours and the band’s social media accounts. Also don’t discount the value of hanging flyers (particularly in the venue) and calling/texting your friends. Sometimes those IRL invites are more memorable than a Facebook invite.

4. Help Book The Bill

This isn’t as important as a lot of the other points on this list but it’s definitely a plus. Promoters are usually booking a bunch of dates at once. If you can book the rest of the band’s on your bill it takes the work off of the promoter’s plate and gives a better chance of the bill being cohesive.

5. Bring Your A-Game

Put in the work before the show to have a great performance. At the end of the day that’s what’s going to ensure people want to see you again and get your band invited back to play on better bills.

6. Communicate With The Promoter Night Of

Introduce yourself to the promoter when you get there and thank him/her for having you. Thank him/her again at the end of the night and let them know you’ll reach out about subsequent dates.

7. Follow Up After You Performance

Give it a couple of days after the show and then email the promoter. Thank him/her again for having you and then see what upcoming dates he/she has available. If you can get in this routine with a few different promoters, you can put a nice little circuit together for yourself.

8. Don’t Overbook

Space out your dates in any given market! If you play too much in the same area, you’re going to most likely divide your draw. Obviously when you first start playing, do as many low profile gigs as possible to find yourself as a performer, but once you’ve achieved a level of confidence in yourself that you care about draw, try not to play your own market more than once per month.

Promoters will not be happy if they find out you’re playing next door in a week. Neither will your friends and fans be as inclined to come out and support if you’re ALWAYS playing out.


Keep these eight things in mind and you’ll be well on your way to building your live career!

From the Stage to the Studio: How To Adapt Vocals For Recording

[Editors Note: This blog was written by Sabrina Bucknole. Sabrina has been singing in musical theater for over eight years, and wrote this as a deep dive into how live and theatrical singers can adapt their vocals for the studio and offers five practical tips for singers recording in the studio.]

 

Singers who have a lot of experience performing live can often find difficulty in bringing the same level of performance to the studio. Whether this is because of the space itself, the lack of an audience, the different approaches to singing techniques, or the range of equipment found in the studio, singers must learn to adapt their vocals for the studio if they want to create the “right” sound.

Introducing the Stage to the Studio

There are many elements about the studio that cannot be re-created on stage, but with technology advancing, this gap is closing, especially where vocals are concerned. For instance, loop pedals are becoming increasingly popular in live performances among the likes of famous artists including Ed Sheeran, Radiohead, and Imogen Heap. Loop pedals are used to create layers of sound and add texture to the performance, allowing a solo artist to become anything from a three-person band to an entire choir.

Vocals are recorded similarly to how they are recorded in a studio except they are recorded in the moment during live performance. It could be said that recording vocals in a studio is more intimate and requires more focus due to the enhanced sensitivity of the mics used in these spaces.

Both dynamic and condenser mics usually come with a specially designed acoustic foam windshield which absorbs the soundwaves coming from the voice. Duncan Geddes, MD of Technical Foam Services emphasises the importance of choosing the correct type of foam for the microphone windshield when recording in the studio. He explains that “having the right microphone windshield is essential to ensure an effective barrier against specific background noise while still allowing acoustic transparency. The critical aspect is the consistent pore size and density of the foam, to ensure complete sound transparency”.

To avoid picking up any unwanted sounds including plosives (“b” and “p” sounds created by a short blast of air from the mouth), acoustic windshields can be very effective. These air blasts strike the diaphragm of the mic and create a thump-like sound known as “popping”.

From Broadway to Booth: Vocal Differences

Singing in a recording studio can be daunting, especially for those who are used to singing live in a theatre. This could be because every tiny imperfection of the voice is picked up in the studio, including things that go unnoticed when performing live. Faced with these imperfections, some singers try to smooth out every little bump or crack in the voice in the pursuit of “perfection”.

Others embrace the “flaws” of the voice to create a sound unique to them. For instance, the well-known artist Sia embraces the natural cracks of her voice. This is apparent in most of her songs, especially in the song “Alive” on her 2016 album, This Is Acting. At 4 minutes 10 seconds you can hear her slide up to a higher note. To some, this might sound a little strained, but to others and Sia, this may simply be a natural and welcome part of her sound and performance.

Volume control can also be something to think about when entering the studio from the stage. Theatrical singers are taught to project their voices even in soft, quiet parts so they can still be heard. It could be argued that belting high and powerful notes becomes almost second nature to them, which is why they may find themselves having to reign it in slightly when adapting their voice for the studio.

For instance, according to multiplatinum songwriter and producer Xandy Barry, vocalists need to tone down their performance when recording in a studio. He reveals, “In certain quiet passages [singers] may need to bring it down, because in the studio a whisper can be clearly heard.”

It could also be argued that when performing live, the stage is a space where a certain type of energy is released, something that cannot be re-created in the studio. Playing to a crowd may bring something out of an artist. Some performers feel they can express themselves more on stage compared to in the studio. A live performance is ultimately, a performance after all.

This does not mean that the studio is restricting; instead it could be argued that other techniques are evoked when recording in this space. For instance, some singers display more finesse and subtlety in their work, something that cannot always be re-created on stage.

Five practical tips for singers recording in the studio:

1. Warm up

Studio time can be expensive which is why it’s best to warm up before entering the studio. As well as being prepared vocally, make sure you’re prepared with how you’re going to approach the piece. Some recommend knowing precisely how you’re going to sing every section, but this can come across as being over-rehearsed and may not sound natural. To avoid this, approach the piece differently each time and try experimenting with different sounds, textures, and volumes.

2. Record, record, record

Try and capture everything you can. If you vocalise something you like the sound of, but no one hit “record”, it can be frustrating for you as the singer, trying to re-create that same sound.

3. Keep cool and have fun

If you feel like you’re getting frustrated because a take isn’t going well or you’re not hitting the right notes, or you’re sounding rather flat, take a break. Take some time to clear your head and start afresh, so the next time you hit record, you’ll almost certainly get the results you were after!

4. Be emotional

Conjuring up emotions in the studio can be harder to do than on stage. This can be due to the lack of atmosphere, people, and the confined space. To avoid lyrics coming across bland or meaningless, try to focus on the lyrics themselves and decode them.

To stir the emotions you’re looking for, personalise the material by asking yourself “What is the meaning behind these words?”, “How are these lyrics making me feel?”, and “How can I relate these lyrics to my own life or the life of someone I care about?”. Like an actor and their script, discovering and analysing the intention of the words can have a great effect on the performance.

5. Manage the microphone

Singers with experience behind a mic know how to handle one. Skilled singers know where and how to move their head to create different volumes and sounds. For instance, by moving closer to the mic as they get softer, and further as they get louder they can manipulate the volume of their vocals, reducing the amount of compression required in editing later.

Singing into a mic when recording can be different from singing into a mic on stage. The positioning, mounting, angle of the mic, and distance from the singer, can all effect the captured vocal sound. Live singers usually hold the mic close to their mouth especially for softer parts, but in a studio, the mic is usually more sensitive to sound. This is why it’s best to keep more distance between yourself and the mic, especially for louder sections.

Is Touring Still Relevant In the Digital Age? Yes, Actually – More Than Ever.

[Editors Note: This blog was written by Patrick McGuire. Patrick is a writer, composer, and experienced touring musician based in Philadelphia.]

 

In 2017, there’s never been more ways to experience the world around us on our computers and smartphones through the omnipotent lens of the internet. The internet’s effect on how music is now being created, discovered and distributed is so profound that it’s hard to remember a time when listeners discovered new music from friends and record store clerks rather than music blogs and playlists.

For bands coming up in an era when seemingly everything can be done, seen and heard through the internet, it’s tempting to question the real value of something like touring. Is touring still relevant in the digital age? Yes, actually. More than ever before.

Where are you right now? Are you reading this article on your laptop at a coffeeshop? Or maybe you’re thumbing through it on your smartphone on the train home from work.

Look around you. Everyone’s eyes are constantly glued to some kind of a screen, and this is why the live music experience is more vital now than ever before. No amount of technology can replicate the experience of seeing a band performing their music right in front of your eyes in real time. Live music will always be a distinct and powerful experience because it’s something that can’t be translated to the world of screens.

Yes, at any given moment there’s thousands of bands live-streaming their performances from every corner of the globe that you could watch whenever you like, but that will never substitute the feeling of being there in the venue and experiencing it all for yourself in person. As our culture becomes increasingly reliant on the internet for everyday things, the need to experience nature, visual art and music right there in the moment will become more important than ever. And here’s where your band comes in.

If you make great music that you can pull off well in an engaging performance setting, people will go out of their way by rearranging their night and by paying to see you. Yes, touring is an experience filled with challenges, risk and even financial hardship for some bands, but if you’re viewing what you do as a sort of business, investing in the touring experience might be your best shot at actually earning money as a band.

Many of the fans who’ll jump at the chance to see you play live in their hometown won’t drop a dime on your new record. This is a difficult thing to accept, but it’s true whether we want to blame streaming services like Spotify, rampant music pirating or the shifting attitudes toward the value of media in the digital age. Yes, you’ll probably sell more music if you release your records on vinyl, but even with those increased sales, the days of small bands making a living purely from selling their music are pretty much over now. The live music experience will always be valuable because it can only be experienced in person, and if you’re able to present your music in a truly unique and thrilling way, there be a higher demand for your performances.

But the benefits of touring in 2017 are more than just financial. Hitting the road with your band not only builds tightness and more confidence musically, it can also give you priceless connections with other bands/artists, new fans and music industry folks that you simply couldn’t have established by releasing music and strictly playing shows in your hometown.

Yes, maintaining a social media presence can help with these things, but nothing can substitute the value of human interaction. Talking with a fan after you’ve just gotten off stage is an experience that can’t be matched with a tweet or Facebook comment. And maintaining a constant presence on the road tells press and industry people who might be interested your music know that you’re serious about what you’re doing.

Trends in music come and go every day it seems, but touring is here to stay. Unfortunately, this doesn’t change the fact that a band has to make huge sacrifices for their touring efforts to be worth it. Hitting the road for two weeks over the summer to play a few cities in your region might be fun, but it won’t make a significant difference in whether your band gains traction or not.

If you want to get the most out of hitting the road, you’ll have to book multiple tour routes a year through cities where you think you have the best shot at building a presence in. You and your bandmates will have to walk the thin line between obligations, like careers and relationships at home, and taking the time and energy to build a national presence by frequent touring.

It’s not easy, predictable or simple, but if you’ve been at this game for awhile, you probably already know that nothing in this industry is.

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.