DIY Touring: Solo vs. Full band
I have done a couple of very different DIY tours and a bunch of two-show weekends, and I thought it might be helpful to pass on some advice to musicians who have yet to get out of their local music scene.
Megabus solo tour
I did a solo tour from NYC-Boston-Cleveland-Chicago using the Megabus, and it was very inexpensive. If you book shows at venues with a PA system, all you need is a guitar, and this makes Megabus a good option for travel. There is a map on their web site to help you chart a tour. Travel as light as possible (I brought too much merchandise on my tour, and I dragged the excess around for 10 days). If you’re playing small clubs and you’re not well-known, then you’re not going to sell a bunch of merchandise.
What I saved in transportation on this tour I spent in food and lodging. Finding a free place to stay for the night is great, especially in NYC. I have a bunch of friends in Cleveland and Chicago so I had those towns covered, but NYC and Boston were expensive because I had to rent rooms for the night.
Full band van touring
If your band is playing out of town one weekend a month, rent a van. If you’re playing out of town more often than that, buy one. If you’re a four-piece band and you can’t fit in a mini van, your gear is too big. If you have two reliable cars and you’re touring within a 6 hour radius of your home town, don’t bother with a van. It is nice to ride to the show together in the same vehicle, but after a while touring boils down to (1) Getting there (2) Playing the show (3) Getting back. Touring is fun, but it’s mostly travel/killing time. When your band gets into a rhythm hitting the road, you won’t even think about the drive anymore, so don’t let two-car travel be a concern. You are driving to a different city/state to play to a small crowd and crash on someone’s floor or at a Motel 6. There is nothing glamorous about it, but it’s always an adventure.
Merch Person -never tour without one!
Google Maps – chart distances, check against your vehicle’s mpg to get the transportation cost. (Add 10% of the total miles to give you an accurate idea). You can also search for “live music near (tour stop)” on the map to find venues.
Indie On the Move – good site for bands to get an inside scoop on a lot of venues.
TripIt – this is helpful for long tours. You can put your trip details into it and be able to get directions to the next town/motel/venue. Phone app available!