I play with queer country band The Paisley Fields. We are based in NYC and have toured all over the US.
Below are my How-Tos for making a profit on tour.
Keep it small.
The more people you bring, the costlier it’s going to get. Don’t bring a huge crew if you don’t need it. We perform as a 6-7 piece group in New York, and tour as a duo or trio. We only need one vehicle and one hotel room on the road. Pro-Tip - Make sure you’re up front with bookers if the size/setup of your act will be different when you’re on the road.
Make a budget and stick to it.
I like to over-estimate how much we expect to spend on tour. Take into consideration EVERYTHING you’re going to spend. Don’t forget about tolls or other small expenses that add up. Pop those numbers into a spreadsheet, and line that up with how much you expect to make. Know how much $$$$ you need to earn per show to make a profit.
Cut those corners.
Save that stay at the Ritz for the stadium tour you’re doing in a few years. (And don’t forget about your friends The Paisley Fields when you get to the top!) If you can stay with friends or family, do it. Find a points program and stick to it. That has been a huge help to us. There are tons of programs that reward you for frequent stays. Choice Hotels is what we use. Our last two tours earned us $100 in gas cards and a free hotel night. Eat cheap and drink cheap. Venues often offer a comp meal and drinks, or at least a discount. Take advantage of that.
Push that merch.
Make sure your merch display/table is on point, so people notice it. Have enough lighting, so people can see it in the dark. Have quality items for sale. A good gauge is asking yourself if you or your friends would buy what you’re selling. If the answer is no, it’s time to rethink some things. Announce it from the stage, so people know what you’re selling and where they can get it. By the way, our new record Oh These Urban Fences… is out now. We’ve also got t-shirts, shot glasses, bandanas and more. You can get everything at thepaisleyfields.com/store. We accept all major credit cards.
Keep it close.
Draw a circle around your hometown on a map, and hit those cities near you. It saves money on gas and logistically is much easier to play cities where you know you can bring a crowd.
I don’t understand why bands don’t do this. It’s not that hard, and it’s so important. Nobody is going to come, if they don’t know you’re there. Send out posters, compile a press list, send out your newsletter and hit up your social media followers. You don’t want to harass people, but you definitely don’t want people saying “I had no idea you were here!”
Get it in writing and don’t play for free.
You are there to do a job, and you deserve to get paid. So many musicians and artists would be happy to play for free because we love what we do. That’s why people so often take advantage of artists. Get your fee in writing, and get that money. Keep a detailed record of everything you make.
Go out, and get it girl!
We will see you on the road in January! Let me know in the comments, if I’ve missed anything. Don’t forget to visit thepaisleyfields.com/store to pick up some paisley swag, or if you need some unique merch ideas for your own band! I’m always happy to answer questions; you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.