A car breakdown is never a fun experience, but for a touring band it can spell real problems. You might be a couple of hours from home or several days. You could be stranded in the middle of nowhere or be stuck on a city street or parking lot. Either way, if you have gigs scheduled it’s hard to figure out how you’re going to make everything work to get you to the next spot.
Hello lovely blog folks! Long time no see, and I heartily apologize for that. I’m trying to return to a space where I can churn out blog posts and document my mental and physical state more regularly. I have a bad tendency to get really down on myself if I miss a deadline I’ve set for myself which makes it way harder to get things started up again. So here I am practicing self-forgiveness for neglecting the Miss Minstrel blog and I’ll try to keep up with the writing.
Musician networking sites and advice blogs have been touting the benefits of touring for the professional musician for a while now. They point to evidence of how many big artists are touring and how revenue data shows touring as the most reliable source of income now that album sales are low. I’m definitely a proponent of the idea of touring but what isn’t talked much about is how different touring is for each individual band or artist. Some bands do short stints of time but cover massive distances – trying to hit as many major markets as possible. This tends to be the case if band members have regular jobs they have to get back to. But the way we tour is a little different and in this post I’ll explain why.
We nixed venues
For the most part, our touring this year is based off of long shows (2+ hours) at small breweries, wineries, and coffee shops. Since our current project Razzvio has a small footprint and a very accessible sound we opted to only contact venues where that sound would fit. It turns out that there are TON of great breweries that host music and we’ve been very very happy with this strategy. Venues don’t tend to pay flat rates unless you’re a “big deal” and we’re just not playing that game this time around. So by targeting a specific venue market our tour routes came together really well.
We stay out for a LONG TIME
Our tour this year is about 9 months long. That’s a long time to be driving around and living out of a tour van. But the benefit is that we’ve been able to really plan our route out to maximize the number of shows and minimize driving times and distances. We’ve had to turn down a couple of shows due to routing but it’s overall been great! Taking the time to route a tour properly makes such a big difference to our financial bottom line.
We creatively cut costs
This year we invested in a solar panel array on our van roof so that we can have power for appliances and our computers. Since there are just two of us touring we have enough space in the van for all our gear, a bed, and a small kitchen setup complete with a mini-fridge. Now we can buy groceries instead of eating fast food and we can stay in the van at night in rest stops or campsites rather than getting a hotel. Because our tour started in March and ends in November, we’ll have many months of comfortable van camping without extreme heat or cold.
We budget intensely
This year I’m using a new budget strategy to try and really stay on top of our finances. Touring is our business and we’re in this for the long run so having clear concise budgets really helps manage things. I work off of a percentage system rather than a set monthly amount due to how much our income fluctuates. I’ll go through our financial planning in depth for a different post. But touring without an idea of how much you’re willing or can spend is absolutely nuts to me – the whole point is to be able to keep going and you can’t do that with a sinking financial ship.
We take time to enjoy life
Touring for us isn’t just a short term arrangement, we spend a lot of time on the road and have really prioritized touring as a life style. That means that we try and sight see wherever we’re going. Hiking is a pretty inexpensive hobby that lets you see more of the scenery than just the view from the road. It also makes a long driving day that much more manageable because you get a chance to stretch your legs and see something new. We also book the occasional hotel, go see a movie, or just have a really nice dinner. Not every day should be about penny pinching.
I’m not saying that our way of touring is better or more efficient than anyone else’s but after 5 tours this is the kind of travel that makes the most sense to me. Sure there are things I’d like to upgrade and invest in so that we can keep doing this for years, but right now it feels like a great start!
Well I finally finished our solar panel setup after months of baby steps! When we last left off in Part I, the solar panels were on the roof but nothing else was set up. Well it turns out that although installing the panels was the most nerve wracking (because we drilled holes in the van) the rest of the install was tricky and required a lot of figure checking and slow steps towards the end goal – working power in the van!
It has been a few crazy weeks getting things together to head out on the road but here we are! Our first tour leg (the west coast side) started several days ago when we left Monterey at 5am on Thursday morning. The few days before that were frantic with last minute shows, tour preparation, and van repairs. We had a bit of a scare with the van since a routine tuneup showed a few major problems with the brakes and fuel line. But our buddies over at Susi Auto in Monterey worked overtime to get the issues fixed and get us on the road on schedule! We cannot thank them enough, the team over there is awesome! Thanks guys for not letting us explode. Exploding would be bad.
In a few weeks I’ll be returning to my high school to give a short concert and presentation on music. I, like many creative professionals, was NOT a big fan of the high school experience. Although looking back, I definitely feel a greater affinity (and sympathy) towards the teachers that instructed me during that time. So that got me thinking, what skills did I learn in high school that I actually still use to this day? As it turns out, some of those lessons were useful!
Amanda Palmer, a musician who has been called the “DIY Queen”, and whose rise through the Indie music industry has inspired countless musicians has this to say about busking in her book “The Art of Asking”:
I highly recommend street performing over attending a conservatory to any musician, especially if they’re going into rock and roll: it wears your ego down to stubbly little nubs and give you performance balls of steel.
Street performers occupy performance spaces that don’t come with permission or validation from anyone. If you can navigate the fear, the vulnerability, and the self doubt that comes with putting yourself on display (in some cases more literally than others) then you’ll be rewarded with the magic of finding your audience – your people – in the midst of strangers. Through years of busking I’ve found that following 3 cardinal rules kept me not only performing longer, but making true connections and garnering more tips and income.
Staying with friends (or friends of friends, or friends of friends of…well you get it) always seems better than asking a complete stranger. But in reality, often the people I’ve stayed with from sites like Couchsurfer.com and AirBNB have been really cool people who specifically like helping out artists. Sometimes if I’m trying to book a show and someone doesn’t have the full budget to hire me I ask if they can help me find someone to stay with. This means I can give them a lower rate and it always has worked out beautifully. In fact, those locations end up feeling the most special because I’m suddenly part of the local music community.
So if you’re just diving into the world of couch surfing, here are three tips for how to be a great guest.
Although I spend a lot of time on the road, there is always a place that I’m happy to come back to. I’ve been supremely lucky to have a beautiful workspace in the form of our home recording studio in the Carmel Valley. Let me share the space where the magic happens!