Brian Penick is the founder of artist development company The Counter Rhythm Group, and author of the Musicians' Desk Reference and a touring musician.
The number one question I most often hear from musicians is how to “make it” in the music business. While there are many ways to answer such a wide-open question and a number of varying factors—including marketability, timing, social presence, financial resources, hard work and just plain luck —one vital key to any artist’s success is their touring strategy.
Road warriors not only increase their exposure to fans, which can have a direct impact on music and merch sales, but touring helps reach the broader market place which can create manifold opportunities and exponentially enhance any musician’s career. This can include bigger shows, greater social engagement, increased exposure to labels and managers, publishing opportunities and more.
“The significance of live performance to a musician/band's career can never be overstated,” says Bryan Weber, co-founder of IndieOnTheMove.com (and Musicians' Desk Reference contributor). “It is the tried and true method of sustenance and longevity, and the only definitive way to take your music, literally, direct to fan."
Being an artist is certainly not an easy job. There are many responsibilities and it's easy to overlook some of the simplest things. Here then are a few areas most often overlooked in the touring sphere,
1. Reality Check: Setting Milestones & Goals
Every artist wants to headline Coachella, but focusing on the big picture can make the here and now difficult. Smaller, more realistic steps (milestones), is key. Want to tour more? Figure out how often you (and your crew) can get out of town, plot a radius strategy and hit the road with a plan. Increasing your range and frequency at three, six and nine months while making sure to incrementally increasing your draw and pay.
2. Proper Merch Mentality
An artist's merch can be your most consistent source of revenue – not realizing its importance can seriously stunt growth. It starts with knowing what your fans like/want. Wearable merch has multiple value as its inexpensive to manufacturer and helps with marketing. A pro-looking merch display, the ability to accept cards and an engaging salesperson can also go a long way.
3. Take Care Of Yourself First - Initial Media Self-Servicing
Working with media professionals is highly encouraged, but do yourself a favor and test the media waters yourself before you dive in. The Internet is full of contacts who want to hear and cover all kinds of music. Heading out on tour? Find alt-weeklies and college radio stations in show markets who want to list your shows. Worst-case scenario: someone says no or doesn’t respond; best case: your band gains media exposure and you make personal connections to help you throughout your career.
4. Take Care Of Your Peeps - Incentivize your Fans
We live in a social world that can help or hurt careers with a few keystrokes. While connecting with fans is important, know that every other artist is attempting the same thing. Go the extra mile and incentivize people for their efforts. Show your dedicated fans that you not only care about them, but that they’re a part of your team. Create special groups to preview songs, review merch or get advance sale tickets -- all of which can all be done from your computer. Up the ante by offering special acoustic sets before performances or private signings/photo sessions for VIPs.
5. Results Oriented
Touring can be fun just in itself, but at some point artists need to start setting guarantees over donations and open tabs. Every move becomes significant, especially when it can be calculated in hours and miles (i.e., opportunity cost). Setting schedules to repeat markets (approximately 30 days locally, 45 days regionally and 90 days nationally, with obvious exceptions) and tracking results in draw and pay (with realistic increases/expectations) can put you on track to keeping the bank account positive. Touring requires time to book shows, so why not place the same type of attention on the results of your efforts?
6. Know Thy Self- Recognizing your Strengths and Weaknesses
Knowing your strengths and weaknesses can keep you efficient, saving time, money, and alleviating stress on the road -- better than a free round of shots. Make your band's extroverts in charge of networking, social media and running the merch table; introverts can focus on behind-the scenes operations like booking hotels and routing; and meticulous members can be great at handling finances, merch displays and inventory. Non-business performers are great for driving and loading. Going against the grain causes splinters.
7. The Schmooze - Networking
So much success is determined by who you know and what they can do for you (along with what you can do for them). Working with a third party requires trust, based on your personality and representation of their brand. Be yourself (as long as you’re not a jerk). Not sure how to network? Go to a show with music or promotional materials, seeking out venue staff, other bands, managers, label people. Engage your artist peers. Go prepared to festivals knowing you’re surrounded by the industry. We're all human and the most solid relationships are built with a layer of trust and human connection.
8. Don’t Skip the Legalese
Too many artists don’t take the business side of the industry seriously, especially early in their career. As long as you are selling your music/merch, you’re a brand marketing a product. The industry is always on the lookout to gobble up the next best thing, and the longer an artist waits to legally solidify their business, the more risks are possible when the time for action comes. Simple one-page agreements can settle debates before they happen and and so can lawyers. Don’t wait to find out someone's true personality when a lump sum from a licensing deal or label advancement is dangled in front of you– it’s not a pretty sight.
9. Fiscal Discipline
Some artists think that talking about finances is like walking in on their parents. Guess what – you happened. And so do finances. Bank accounts can be opened with just a social security number, or even better, an Employer Identification Number (EIN) after registering as a business. Lack of accountability can lead to loose money floating between members and merch bins, eventually fading into oblivion. One person in charge of money, weekly bank trips, a debit/credit card to track expenses and free accounting programs like Mint can keep your blood pressure down especially come tax season.
10. Don't Forget the Fun
With all of the work that can build up for active musicians, celebrating accomplishments is often overlooked. Hard work deserves reward. Don’t forget to pat yourself on the back, have another round and be thankful you're doing something you enjoy.
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