Touring Done Right

So recently there’s been alot of thoughts/comments/conversations going around about this article. There have been alot of other articles that have been posted in response to what Jack Conte (one half of Pomplamoose) “lamented” about in his article. One of the best (if not the best) responses is definitely THIS one by Will Stevenson (of The Artery Foundation).

So with perspective being brought to the picture with regards to that situation that is rather specific to touring in the US and UK, I reckon I’d kickoff this new blog section on our website with a post related to the situation.

I reckon acoupla artists based out of Asia, specifically Singapore or Southeast Asia (SEA), are wondering what’s the best way to approach touring since our conditions are different from touring in the US or UK. The obvious being that most of our dates are fly dates (ie. you have to fly to locations) versus being able to rent a (affordable) van and trailer and hit the road.

Here are some of my thoughts I adopt for the artists we work with that have worked out pretty well for us in planning a successful tour:

1. ROUNDING UP THE CIRCUS

While all artists would love to have the full shebang on the road with them – ie. the full 50-piece band, tour manager, FOH engineer, monitor engineer, backline techs, hair/makeup, merch person, someone to carry their bags, someone to run and get them coffee, someone to tell them they look and sound awesome 6 times a day, mother, granddad…etc. -, most artists honestly aren’t at a level where they can afford it financially. As such, being financially conscious about the number of people you bring on the road is the first step towards not losing your pants. In most cases, the FOH engineer is probably the only luxury most independent bands out of SEA can afford to have on the road with them. That said, the FOH engineer would then be required to pull double duty as a tour manager if the manager doesn’t go along for the ride. In the case of Singapore, those people (if any) are far and few. (Good) Tour managers to begin with are far and few. Band leader, time to step up.

Another option would be that the band learns how to get their setup so tight and sweet that the venue that they’re playing honestly just needs to put anything with arms and some fingers (a ninja turtle!) to turn on the system and push up the faders. Alternatively, someone (or all the people) in the band learns how to operate some sound equipment at least on a sustenance level to aid setup and facilitate the show. Again, whereby a 3mth old monkey could operate it.

2. COMFORTS

For most independent bands out of SEA, they will likely not be able to provide alot of luxuries for their tour party, much less themselves. As such, it’ll probably be easier to negotiate with your working party a package rate that includes everything – ie. their salaries together with the per diems and everything else – than to be breaking down all the costs separately. That way you’re not on the hook to feed them daily while on the road.

The other thing would be sleeping conditions. The best way to do it when starting out would be literally just boys and girls – get 2 large rooms and everyone bunks in it according to their gender. For single gender bands/tour parties, maximize every room. Triple sharing rooms, one large room (suites?) to put everyone in it, AirBNB…etc. are all possible options to save some cash on lodging. Let’s be honest here, the rooms are purely just for sleeping, storing all your crap and for washing up. It’s hardly being used otherwise. You can count the number of waking hours you are going to be in it. The floor can be quite therapeutic when done in moderate amounts.

3. TRAVEL

This is probably the only unavoidable expense that every artist incurs out here as most (if not all of our dates) are fly dates. Even for drive dates, it probably costs about the same or barely much difference to fly, which makes more sense as it cuts down traveling time and gives everyone abit more time to rest on arrival. However, there has been some good news recently from AirAsia. They’ve just announced the AirAsia AirPass, which allows passengers to fly to multiple locations on the cheap. This would come in handy for bands/artists that are expecting alot of travel in that particular month. Anyhow this point goes back to point #1, where the band/artist should tighten up their travel party so as not to be assaulted by huge traveling expenses.

Another related point to this would also be to tighten up your band’s setup, so that you guys are not carrying an insane amount of gear when you tour and racking up extra baggage charges all the time. Those are actually worse than carrying an extra person in some cases.

4. MASTER THE MATH

This is where everyone’s high school math skills would come in handy. You have to do the math on revenue you’re generating from the tour versus the expenses you’re incurring. It’s ok to have a deficit in most cases if it’s a key/new market that you wish to invest into, as you want to build and develop your audience there. However it also depends on the type of engagement you have been booked for. If it’s a private show/event in a key market, you should not be losing money at all. You should be breaking even at the bare minimum if not walking away with some cash in your pockets. With regards to the investment into the markets to build and develop your following, what active steps are you taking to do that? Are you engaging with media/press when you’re there to help build your profile? If this is something foreign to you since it’s a foreign territory, an option would be to hire a publicist to help you navigate and work the ground for that tour.

At the end of it all, for all our artists that we work with, we typically intend to at least breakeven if it’s new markets and  walk away with some cash in our pockets if it’s a key market. However, it’s ok to invest into the future. We do that too. It just has to be done in a calculated and quantifiable fashion that builds towards you walking away with some cash in your pocket after a targeted amount of visits into the targeted market.

This is probably not a cover all post but I hope it helps to put some thought structure in place when thinking about touring for your band. Touring in SEA is still in it’s infancy and has alot of room to grow. So be smart about it so that you last long enough in this game to benefit from its growth.

— Keith