Posts in Touring
AVOID DEAD ENDS:  6 TIPS FOR SUCCESSFUL TOURING AS AN INDEPENDENT ARTIST 

Hey Friends! It's June and we're getting right into the thick of tour, festival and gig season. With that, we thought we'd share some wisdom from our friends at TuneCore and their blog on tips for independents to tour successfully. It's never too late to start implementing some of these, even if you're already on the road. Of course, we just love number 5 on this list! ;)

AVOID DEAD ENDS: 

6 TIPS FOR SUCCESSFUL TOURING AS AN INDEPENDENT ARTIST 

TuneCore, May 21, 2019

[Editors Note: This article was written by Rich Nardo of NGAGE]

If you were to survey one hundred independent musicians who have spent at least a full year touring, I’m willing to bet that at least 75 of them are going to say the experience did not live up to their expectations. Touring is arduous, it’s difficult and there is, by no means, a guaranteed light at the end of the tunnel. 

That being said, it’s 100% worth it. If you’re willing to take the risk and smart enough to approach it with a degree of preparation and hard work, it will be the source of a lot of the best memories you’ll ever create in your life. Also, if you’re serious about making a career as a musician, it is necessary to start generating enough of an income to dedicate your life to what you are passionate about. 

It won’t be easy, but if you’re ready to take the risk and hit the road, here are six things that you and your bandmates can do in order to make it the most successful experience possible. 

1. PROMOTE YOUR SHOWS AHEAD OF TIME

It seems like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many bands go into a city for the first time without preparing and are shocked when they end up playing to just the bartender. The internet makes it easier than ever for EVERY artist to promote their shows. Make sure you’re promoting on your own socials and sourcing the venue’s pages for people to spread the word to. Also, do some research to find local press.

Depending on the venue, ask them for a “media list” – which is a list of writers that the venue regularly reaches out to about events. They’ll usually be happy to pass it along to an artist who is willing to do some outreach around their show.

2. FIND THE LOCALS

Playing with a local band is by far the best way to put yourself in a position to get in front of a crowd when you’re away from your home market early in your career. That being said, it’s important to do your research. Find a band that has a sound where their friends and fans would also enjoy your music.

Also, look at their social media sites to see if there are decent crowds in the pictures or scan their previous gig archive to see if they are playing reputable clubs or the same room consistently enough to indicate that local promoters trust them to bring a crowd. It’s also important to remember that finding and booking with these bands in other cities is just step one. Make sure to stay in touch afterwards and take the time to talk to as many people as possible at your show. If you convert them to friends and/or fans, you’ve taken an important step towards building a base of people that will come back and see you next time you’re in town. 

3. DON’T QUIT YOUR DAYJOB…YET

One of, if not the, most stressful elements of touring is the fact that it requires a significant time requirement where traditionally you couldn’t make money elsewhere. That is no longer true. If you’re looking to transition into spending more time on the road promoting your music, start taking on freelance gigs or talking to your employer about letting you do your job remotely.

There’s plenty of downtime in the van or opportunities to work from a coffee shop when you’re touring. Why not make use of that time to earn a little extra cash and take the pressure off of having to rely completely on touring to make a living?

4. CONSIDER ALTERNATIVE VENUES

Traditional music venues are the least effective way to tour when you don’t have a guaranteed audience. The amount of money that a venue is willing to give a band in relation to their draw and efforts is stingy at best. One alternative is to try to book shows at colleges where you’ll have a built in audience and better pay (colleges have a healthy entertainment budget to work with). You can also usually find a party at an off campus apartment or dive bar to make the most of the evening in terms of money and making new fans.

Another great alternative to traditional venues are organizations like SoFar Sounds that hold private concerts in a bunch of different cities. These don’t always have great pay outs, but SoFar events are guaranteed to have a packed room full of people that are so excited about finding new music that they are willing to sign up to go to a show without knowing the exact venue or lineup in advance! 

5. INVEST IN MERCH

The chance to make real money directly from your performance is probably a couple of years away if you’re just starting out, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make money alternatively when you play shows. Young bands hitting the road for the first time will often make around $100 from the venue, but then add another $150-$200 selling music and t-shirts. It’s a huge opportunity to turn a show that might have barely paid for gas into one that will buy your bands post-show burritos and a hotel room to split.

If you can sell enough merch consistently, you can turn a tour that would have ended up costing you a significant amount of money to one where you might walk away a couple of dollars richer. Believe me, that distinction will make all the difference at the end of a stressful run. 

6. HAVE A BAND MEMBER “TOUR MANAGE”

One mistake young bands make on the road is to bring a “tour manager” to take care of the odds and ends of touring. At this point in your touring career that is not only “one more hand in the cookie jar” but it’s also one more mouth to feed.

If you have a friend who just wants the experience and is willing to pay his or her own way, maybe that works. If not, you’re better off appointing one band member to handle all of the traditional tour manager duties (coordinate load in times, venue addresses, collect money, etc.). In exchange, that member can get certain perks, such as not having to drive or first choice in sleeping spots.

 

Rich Nardo is a freelance writer and editor, and is the VP of Public Relations and Creative at NGAGE.

Click here for more from the TuneCore blog.  

Merch Smarter – Unraveling 5 Common Mistakes Artists Make With Their Merch Business 

There are two ways that musicians have always made money. One is by performing and the other is by selling merchandise (“merch”).  With the continued decline in music sales (except vinyl), and the increasing popularity of music consumption through streaming platforms like Spotify, artists are yet again forced to lean more heavily on other income sources in order to make a living doing what they love.  Touring and live shows continue to be a primary revenue stream for artists, and most artists sell 85% or more of their merch directly at live shows at the merch table.[1]With that, merch can be a lucrative source of income to artists if they play it right.  While many artists know that selling merch is a good way to keep the hypothetical lights on in their business of being an artist, we’re still seeing some common mistakes being made out there across all levels. Let’s zone in on 5 of these and see if we might make more sense of this merch madness. 

1.    Not having a merch business 

See above!  In order to win at the merch game, you need to be in it.  Artists are under the misconception that there is a high cost barrier to entry for having a merch business, but the reality is that you can, and should, start small.  There are multiple merch vendors out there who have low minimums with good price points and cater to the independent artist.  Start small, see what works and build it out from there.  Keep designs simple to start– this will help keep costs low.  A one location, one color item for a first run will suffice to get you started.  Yes, you will have to do the leg-work of ordering, choosing styles and sizing, and actually selling the merch, but the reward is that you get to keep 100% of the profit.  If you buy 50 shirts for $250 ($5 each) and sell them for $15, you’ve made $10 per shirt. Multiply that by your 50 shirts and your profit is $500.  Yep – an additional $500 in your pocket to fuel the van, feed your belly, buy more beer, or reinvestto buy more merch and grow your business.  Your fans WANT to buy things from you to help support you, so give them the opportunity to do so.  Merch is not just a way to make cash, but it’s also a great marketing tool.  Let your fans be your brand ambassadors and spread your music message by wearing your latest merch.  

 

2.    Not accepting debit/credit cards for payment

Crazy, but true, many artists still do not accept debit/credit cards.  I was recently on the merch line at the show of a successful veteran artist who shall remain nameless.  The people in front of me asked the merch person if they took cards, the merch person said “no” and the people walked off of the line.  Maybe they went to ATM machine to get cash and come back, but I’m guessing that sale was lost.  Today’s world is all about convenience, and unless that fan REALLY REALLY wants that merch item enough to go find cash and get back on line, that pivotal moment is gone. Not accepting the form of payment that a fan is most likely to have in their wallet – i.e. plastic, will result in sales lost. In today’s day and age with the multiple payment services out there that will give you a swiper for free, there is really no excuse for leaving this kind of money on the table, unless you just don’t need it. I often hear complaints about the transaction fees for cards, but let’s do the math.  At an average transaction fee of 2.75%, the benefit of being able to make the sale, outweighs this small cost.  Don’t lost a 20 dollar sale to save 60 cents.        

 

3.    Not keeping track of what is being sold

Okay so now you have merch to sell, you’re taking cards for payment and your merch business is starting to rock.  How are you keeping track of what you’re selling?  Are you using a tally sheet?  Excel spreadsheet?  Not keeping track at all?  Do you know if you’re making a profit?  How many shirts did you give away at your last show? What inventory did you sell? What inventory is left after a tour or show?  If you’re not keeping track of what you’re selling, it will be near impossible to understand what’s going on in your merch business.  If you don’t know what’s going on in your merch business, it will be hard to make future decisions to ensure that it is working for you in the best possible way.  

 

4.     Not knowing when inventory is low and it’s time to re-order

That moment when 5 of your biggest fans rush to the merch table and all want a size small and all you have left are larges.  Depending on the fan, this may or may not result in lost sales, but wouldn’t guaranteed sales be better? Timing is everything, and time is money, so the better handle you have on what inventory you are out of, along with allowing enough lead time to re-order so you’re not paying more for expedited shipping, the better position you will be in to capture that fan in the moment and make as much profit as you can on that sale. Fan engagement is a key driver of an artist’s business today, so you want to be able to capitalize on that to every extent possible.

 

 

5.     Not taking note of fan behavior at venuesand showsshows/venues

No, I don’t mean taking note that fans try to jump on stage when you play a show at Mercury Lounge in NYC, but when you play at Smith’s Olde Bar in Atlanta, they beckon you to crowd surf. While there might be value to knowing this, I’m talking about taking note of what your fans are buying at what shows – styles, sizes, and quantities. What sells big in the Southeast, may be different from your bestsellers in the Northeast, both in styles and sizes. Maybe you kill it in Merch at venues in primary cities, but when you travel to less mainstream destinations not so much.  Or maybe it’s vice versa.  There is not an exact science to this, but chances are that if you start keeping track of these things, and listen to what the data is telling you, the next time you have shows in these places, you will be better prepared.  You can also measure venues against one another to figure out why you had a killer merch night at one, but not another.  Maybe your price point was too high and next time you can try lowering it a bit, or maybe the location of the merch booth didn’t have the right visibility, so next time you work a little harder to make it known that you’re selling merch.  Paying attention to these metrics will also help minimize waste. If you know what people are NOT buying, you will not re-order those items and sizes on the next go around. 

 

Now I know you’re thinking this all sounds like a whole lotta work.How am I supposed to do this while traveling, writing, recording and doing whatever else artists do? Enter Merch Cat, our one-stop app and web solution that was created for artists like you to help you have a better merch business. You can sell your merch, keep track of inventory and get real time analytics, all from your iOS device at the artist friendly price of $7.99/month or $84.99/year.


[1]Hypebot.com “Modernizing The Merchandise Madness”