Four years ago my band was playing local gigs in Utah. Due to Utah’s bizarre liquor laws and night club restrictions it was basically an expensive hobby. We decided to focus on writing and recording original music to send out of state, when suddenly we were offered some gigs in Wyoming that paid more than double what Utah clubs were paying, plus lodging and food. We decided to postpone the original project in order to make some extra money. Little did we know that this offer would turn into four years of touring.
By the time we played our third venue in Wyoming, we were referred to a professional booking agent. We were instructed to put together a website and promo kit. Once we did this, our booking agent was able to keep us on the road as much as we could handle. There were a lot of things about touring that we didn’t know and most we had to learn the hard way.
The purpose of this article is to share a lot of the things we had to learn and hopefully save you, the working musician, a lot of time and trouble.
* Travel as light as possible; carrying several suitcases, plus instruments in and out of a band house or motel room gets old after a few weeks. Also, the lighter your vehicle, the better the gas mileage, and less wear and tear.
*Most Midwestern venues have some form of housing available. Our experience has been that we have stayed in many types of rooms, from “sheds with beds” to exquisite hotel suites. In the rare instance that a room wasn’t included, we were able to stay in a KOA type campground cabin for about the same as the cheapest motel rooms.
*Some venues also provide meals, usually one meal per band member per night. Casino gigs will often include buffet vouchers or some form of meal ticket. Most venues will provide a bar tab or offer free shift drinks, and soft drinks are usually complimentary and unlimited. As for additional meals most casinos don’t provide microwaves or refrigerators in their rooms (they want guests to spend money in their establishment). We would always carry an ice chest that we could keep sandwich fixings and snacks in.
*Always try to have a prepaid visa card with around $500 for emergencies. We have been stranded due to weather, vehicle problems and scheduling issues. Sometimes we were prepared and other times, luckily, someone was able to provide financial aid for a room and food. We also have had to borrow money for towing, car rental, vehicle repairs, and bail money…
*Another important tip is always carry coats, blankets, bottled water, tools, fix a flat and a flashlight in your vehicle. Emergency snacks such as canned beans and corn nuts also come in handy.
*I would highly recommend using a vehicle with All Wheel Drive or at least Front Wheel Drive when traveling across the plains in the wintertime. Tire chains and jumper cables would also be a smart investment. The best plan for winter Midwestern travel would be to have plenty of time to get there and emergency motel money. We actually had to spend Christmas in a motel in Rock Springs, Wyoming due to weather related road closure…
*A lot of motel chains offer various discounts (military veteran, corporate, student, etc.) and “frequent guest” rates. In off-season, most managers would rather make some kind of profit rather than have empty rooms, so they are usually willing to negotiate some kind of discount.
* Most hotels and motels provide free WiFi, but a lot of band houses and apartments do not. Portable hot spot devices are available at stores like Walmart, and work virtually anywhere.
* Always carry a copy of the contract for your next gig to clear up any misunderstandings or issues regarding number of rooms, size of beds, meals or no meals, etc…
I hope these tips will be helpful. My next article will be “part II” Things to do while on the road.