IHM News

IHM Road Tips Vol.2: Planning Your First Tour Pt.1

Posted By : IHM, Posted On : July 16, 2013

The following blog post assumes you have great music and a solid live show before hitting the road. Not sure? Contact Bram, head of IHM Artist Relations & Support about a show evaluation,, on twitter @bram_rocks or call 877.994.6446 xt. 2.

Got a band with great music and a solid live show? About to release a new record and ready to take it on the road? Up til now, you may have packed out your hometown shows and done all you can playing the usual venues to a strong but local fan base. All the while you watch other bands come and go from the road and you think “I want to do that”. Then it’s time, you’re ready to hit the road. But before all your dreams come true, and after all that hard work already done to build a fanbase, writing and releasing a record or few, the work still has just begun. Don’t step into uncharted territories on the road without reading both parts of this article.

Any artist’s first tour outside of their local market feels like starting over again. You may sell out shows in your hometown due to years of building an audience and busting your @ss. It’s very likely you will be rebuilding entire fanbase in other cities, and here’s the stinger – you may not make any money in the process. The potential setbacks and adversities an artist faces on tour can make or break them.

So, the first tour is about two things:

  1. Lay down the foundation for future touring success

  2. Maximize a limited budget.

We at IHM have put together a comprehensive list of tips, tricks, and actionable items that will help in planning your first tour. Start here:

Build the Right Relationships

The difference between a successful and unsuccessful career depends on the relationships you make while on your journey. The venue is an important place to start. The talent buyer or that room’s promoter (if you’re lucky) will be a direct source of revenue for you. Most likely, you won’t have a promoter for your first tour, nor split ticket revenue or bar sales. But when the time comes, expect a typical split of the door at 80/20, and selling out rooms before you get a piece of the bar.  When starting out, you can expect small flat fees to open for other artists and be a supporting act: the general rule of thumb is about $150/show or less – usually not enough to cover gas, lodging and food, never mind money in your pocket. Don’t get discouraged though. If you engage your audience (play great music), and make relationships with the venue owners and operators, this won’t last long. Remember, your first tour is an investment.  If you’re not planning on returning anytime soon, consider it a vacation.

Then there are the venues with “pay to play” models common in large cities like New York where supply exceeds demand for live music. It’s a debatable topic, but we advise “to pay-to-play or NOT to pay-to-play” depends on whether it increases your bottom line and whether you need (and will benefit from) the opportunity.  If you are going to pay, figure out the likelihood of walking away with a net profit AND make sure you track your actual return.  If pay-to-play gigs net you a profit – both in terms of new fans and revenue – then it is definitely worthwhile. Every artist is different, so you make the call based on gut and facts (tracked data).  One thing to note is that major and indie labels pay-to-play via buying into big exposure tours more than you think, and, assuming your music is really good, it can be a good way to gain exposure, fans, and revenue!

The next place to easily build relationships is with local acts. Make friends with the bands you share shows with out of town, they most likely want to open for your large hometown crowd as much as you want to open for theirs. Getting on bills with local artists is as easy as exchanging CDs, compliments, and contact information. Tweet them after the show. Give them love on your Facebook page. Relationships can mean the difference between being recommended for an amazing opportunity or watching someone else get the gig. Use Twitter, Instagram, Skype, Facebook, new Myspace, Vine, email, texts and most importantly word-of-mouth and stay in contact with the people you meet on tour. Find out when they’re releasing a new album. Let them stay on your torn up couch when they come through on tour. It’ll all pay off one day – the universe works this way.

Be Realistic About Expenses

When planning your first tour, you may want to get advice on how to properly budget from seasoned vets in your market or online.  Make sure you planned out the budget for your tour by accounting for every expense. That means hotel, gas, airfare, baggage check feeds, food, tips, etc. The last thing you want to do is get on the road and wing it, only to realize you barely have enough money for food or gas to make it back.

Whether you use a spreadsheet or an online tool like, plan every expense BEFORE you hit the road. Underestimating tour expenses can make for a great band break up story. Also remember that you are splitting the money with other artists in the group, so you’ll make less money than you might think. For example, in their 1980 tour that grossed $2 million, each member of Devo took home only $12,000 after final splits…and that was a band at its commercial peak.

Food, gas, transportation and lodging are four major expenses that will eat up much of an artist’s tour budget. Throw in the odds and ends like laundry and flat tire or equipment repair, and expenses grow. Your financial expectations may be the most important factor in not only deciding whether the tour was a success, but whether you want to continue as a group. Yes, it is very possible that you don’t make any money this first time out, but think about what you’ve gained in contacts that may result in future opportunities. Think of it as taking one step back to go two steps forward.  

So, you’ve built the right relationships through a combination of social media and good old fashioned phone calls, and saved enough money from your job by not going out every night.  The next step is to hop into a van and head out on the nearest highway to the closest town with a bar and a stage, right? And you’ll play in front of thousands of fans and have record label execs begging to sign you? Not quite. Be on the lookout for Part 2 of the Indie Hitmaker Road Tips series, where we’ll cover funding your tour, using online resources to promote your show, and how to effectively sell merchandise.  

Want more insights from music industry pros on how to make the most of your live shows? Sign up for our free IHM Road Tips series here today and get one month free when you register for Indiehitmaker monthly live venue reporting services.

Have a question, comment or feedback? Tweet us @indiehitmaker #RoadTips or contact us online. Find Vol. 2 of IHM’s #roadtips here.


IHM Road Tips Readers get one month free when you register for IndieHitmaker monthly live venue reporting services. Click to Sign Up for the Newsletter Now and receive your immediate discount code.   Code lasts for a limited time only!

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