how to book music tour

How To Book Your First Music Tour

One of the most common questions we get is “How do I book my first music tour?” So we went ahead and made a step by step guide on how to book your first music tour!

In this article you’ll find the exact actions you’ll need to take to successfully pull off your tour!

These are tips without using a Booking Agent, Label, Publicist, or Manager. It’s completely do it yourself.

Booking can be difficult for not just new artists, but even seasoned DIY musicians, so this might be worth reading even if you already have some indie touring experience.

So here’s how to book your first music tour:

1. Decide When

First decide when your tour will happen. Will it be in the Summer? The Fall? Talk amongst your team and see when everyone thinks will be best.

Maybe you have an album or single coming up that you want to promote via touring.

Either way, it’s important to plan how much time in advance you’ll give yourself for everything that’s involved.

Following these two rules of thumb have been a life saver for me when it comes time to book anything from weekend tours to being on the road for months.

  • 4-5+ Months advance for booking September – May
  • 5+ Months advance for booking June – August

This means you are sending your first booking emails 5 months before your first shows during June – August.

The other logistics I’ve listed below should be planned even farther in advance, maybe 2-3 weeks before you start sending emails for booking inquiries.  

2. Decide Who 

Next, figure out whether this is a solo tour or if you are going with one or more artist. This may dictate where to play, the length, the ticket prices, tour budget, and so on. It’s nice to know this in the early parts of tour planning. 

3. Decide Where To Play 

If you are drawing blanks of where to play, don’t worry. Here are some places to start:

  • Think of any music inclined Family, Friends, Mutual Friends, Internet Friends, etc.
  • Take a look through your booking contacts and venue resources. Are there certain cities where you have a personal relationship or a lot of options to try?
  • Use sites like Spotify, Bandcamp, & Soundcloud, to see where your fans are from.
  • Let the fans speak! Ask your fans on your social channels where they want to see you perform.

4. How Long

Next I like to decide how long the music tour will be, how many show dates to book, and how many intended days off?

I suggest aiming to book every single date of your tour. I promise you one of your shows will drop and you’ll be glad you didn’t plan any off days… They will find you.

If this is your first time I would suggest small and building. For example, the first tour might be 3-5 days, then 7-10 days, 18 days, and so on.

My first tour was 25 days with 24 shows, and although we didn’t go into the red, looking back I would have worked my way up in chunks.

5. Make Your Tour Routing

First, use the Cities you wrote down from Step 3 (Where to Play) to help lay the framework for your tour.

Think about how long you want to drive each day. To help keep you in the green, I suggest no longer than 5 hour drives between shows.

When you’re on the east coast you can do 1.5 – 3 hour drives frequently. The West coast is a different story and will often be much longer.

Don’t count out the suburbs of big cities when you are routing your tour. There are people there too, and (some of them) like music!

Often the demand to play in a suburb will be lower than the major city and it might increase your chances of getting booked if you’re a newer artist. 

(TIP: If you need help creating a budget friendly Tour Routing contact us HERE. One of our team members will personally help you.)

6. How Will You Travel

Minivan, Bus, Plane… Bike, we all have different preferred tour vessels. How you travel is super important for estimating expenses, how you’ll transport your equipment, where you’ll sleep, etc. 

If you’re not sure what vehicle is going to suit your needs the best, take a look at the tour routing you made and see what makes the most sense with your route, budget, and crew size.

If you need to rent a vehicle try Uhaul or Greenvans

7. Venues and Local Support

Once you have your tour routing, travel vehicle, length of tour, and other logistics planned out, the next thing on your list is:

  • What music venues will you aim to perform at?
  • What local artists should open the shows?

If you don’t have booking contacts, research venues on site’s like Google or Top Left Booking’s 3,000+ Music Venue Platform.  

Once your booking contacts are in order, think about local artists to open the show.

A great lineup makes all the difference between 10 people versus 10,000 people.

So, if you’re new in a city, chances are the local artists will play a big role in the gig’s attendance.

8. Create Your Booking Pitch

First impressions matter.

You need to make your intro email to music venues short and sweet, while finding a way to provide value and/or educate the venue on why they should put you on the calendar verse all the other musicians. 

Always make it personal. Automated and generic emails are obvious and distasteful.

9. Contact Venues

Once your pitch is together you’ll want to reach out to every venue you have information for. I’ve personally had better luck emailing Wednesday – Friday, and I recommend chunking your emails so you’re not killing yourself in a “one fell swoop” approach to booking.

If 7 days pass and you have not heard anything, follow up. Do it a second time if you need to.

If it’s still crickets after the second follow up, move on until the next tour.

OK. So you contacted a bunch of venues and are starting to get some replies, now what?

If a venue offers you a “hold,” ask them what you need to do to confirm the show.

If a promoter offers you the gig ask them if they are open to working with a guarantee and then negotiate the details afterwards. 

If the promoter says no to a guarantee, ask for a door deal, bar percentage, or anything else you can think of. 

Don’t be afraid to combine potential payments for yourself. For example: “How does a guarantee of $500, plus 80% of the door & 10% of the bar after venue expenses?”

Be realistic and do out your expenses before you have a $ number.

10. Contact More Venues

This isn’t a joke. If it’s your first tour, what gives you the audacity to think the first 5 of YOUR choices will book you?

You need to hit up every single person you know! Because 100 gives you way more chances than 5 AND having multiple offers and choosing the best ones is a nice position to be in.

(TIP: Make a list of backup cities. If your first choice is booked, you still want to play, right? Maybe Philadelphia can’t do it this tour, but Atlantic City is close and said they can do the show).

Like I talked about in step 8, you should be asking for compensation and selling Merch for each show you book. This should totally cut out the need to raise money.

But, if you do want some extra funds before you leave for your tour, I’ve added that as the next step.

11. Raise Funding

Gas, Food, Lodging, Repairs, Gear… these all cost money. Before you leave for tour it never hurts to raise some extra money to help burden some of the expenses up front.

Here are some things you can do:

  • Play a Tour Kickoff Show with the goal of raising tour funds. Just tell your hometown fans it’s to help you on your tour!
  • Offer a merch sale and ask your fans to help!
  • Patreon is cool and if you must crowdsource then try https://gofundme.com/.

Don’t forget, having a savings account for emergencies never hurts too. Especially when you’ll be gone for weeks or months at one time.

12. Build Your Itinerary

As shows begin to confirm, start to put together your tour itinerary.

This will include things like:

  • Load In Time
  • Door Time
  • Your Set Time
  • Guarantee Amount
  • Equipment in Venue, etc.
  • Travel Time to get to the next show

Even research restaurants or other destinations you want to hit before or after the show. Being a tourist is fun!

(TIP: Contact family and friends beforehand and schedule places to sleep for the night to cut down on lodging costs.)

13. Plan Your Promotion

Once your tour is almost finished being booked you’ll want to start transitioning into promotion mode.

Will you be producing flyers to send venues?

When will you announce the tour?

What can you do to promote online and offline?

What’s your budget to promote the tour?

These are the things you may want to think about.

Teaming up with local radio stations and colleges is a good idea too. Most colleges have a college radio station or Music Industry Club (MIC for short). These are the people you want to talk with.

14. Follow Up With Promoters

After you have finished booking your tour, follow up with the promoters and music venues for your confirmed shows.

Contacting the promoters 2-4 weeks before your gigs can ensure everything is still good to go and if there are any new issues you have time to resolve them.

15. Pack For Tour

Live the minimalist lifestyle. Only bring what you absolutely need to feel happy and healthy on tour.

Here are some items I can’t tour without:

  • Headphones
  • Baby Wipes
  • Laptop
  • Ear Plugs
  • Book

If you can fit it, bring backup gear. You never know when a guitar, amp head, etc. will break.

If you’re just starting out, maybe there’s isn’t room or money for it, but as you grow, these things come in handy for those nights of malfunction.

If you can do with smaller gear, without compromising your live show then try it! You’ll be spending hours in the vehicle each day, make any extra space you can.

(TIP: Take pictures of good packing jobs to replicate it night after night. The first few times may be awkward, but you will be a Tetris legend in your town regardless of how big your music career gets).

16. Hit The Road!

All the hard work has finally paid off! Let the world know you are leaving and post on social media that today is the first day!

Stay hydrated, eat healthy, and have fun!

Tour is hard work and booking it may be even harder, just stay focused, persistent, and know it takes time and patience to develop the relationships you want.

Giving yourself lots of planning time and having the right contacts in each market will do nothing but set you up for success!

That’s it on how to book your first music tour. If you have any questions please leave them in the comments.

Top Left Booking has thousands of music venues, colleges, festivals, & promoters to book your shows with.

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