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Have you ever taken a road trip? A silly, 'get in the car with $15 between the four of us, and we'll make it back somehow' road trip to nowhere special? You made it back home or back to college somehow; maybe because your fraternity brother hit blackjack enough at the casinos to get you gas money home. Sometimes you aren't really sure how you made it back. Now, could you live like that (and still eat) 52 weeks a year? Let's apply our basic knowledge of the no-money road trip to touring, and see how you can travel, get paid, and actually make some cash to take home (and not have to double down).
Before you leave the rehearsal space for this week's shows, there are a few things you have to know and apply before you even pull out of town. First, you need to have a travel expense log. It can be a notebook, or a true business ledger (Office Max), but you need to track your money. You also need to figure out the weeks' cash income and make sure you have start-up cash to at least get you to your first gig. You also need to stock up on things that you may need that you don't want to have to pay double for later. These are things like guitar strings, duct tape, drumsticks, laundry detergent, towels, sharpies, and antibacterial lotion. (Yes, anti-bac. You can't perform sick) Gas is an expense you can't get away from. Food is also an inevitable expense, but you can eat out of a cooler for the week for a heck of a lot cheaper than eating out every meal.
So you and the guys are loaded for bear. You have everything you need to rock the house, then you set out to show the world your great new juggling chainsaw guitar solo in the middle of your hit song. The only problem is that there was a Bingo tournament in town, and the attendance at your show was less than you had hoped. Did you get a guarantee from the club owner? This is what you usually budget for- just the guarantees- this way, if you have a packed house the next night, you'll have more cash when you get home. Back to the club owner. On your contract (hoping that you have signed one) somewhere there should be a very valuable statement. "Buyer provides lodging". This means the club puts you up in the local "Kick the Door Inn", and you save anywhere from $40-100 per room to stay. At some of our shows, if the hotel hadn't been provided, we would have been sleeping in the van. (oh yes, we've done that, too). Try and negotiate at least one room when you have to stay overnight. Crashing at a friend's house is perfectly acceptable as well, (and cheap) but bring your own towel, and don't overstay your welcome.
OK, so you've done all that, and you still ask "Steve, why don't we have any money at the end of our week?" Remember that hotel you stayed in last night? Did you take the shampoo, soap, toilet paper, kleenex, and pens with you? They charged you for all of that, you might as well take it all. Did you eat the free breakfast? Shame on you- that's 5 bucks you don't have to spend on McCrappie food. Are you handing out per diems? A per diem is a set amount of money (given out daily) on which you eat. $20 a day is a good benchmark, and it can be stretched, too. When negotiating hotel rooms with the club, try getting a food deal as well. Then your per diem becomes extra income.
A huge mistake I see bands do is split the cash after a show. Try putting the band on a salary- maybe $50 or $75 a gig to start- and have one "bookkeeper" keep careful track of the cash. If there is extra at the end of the week, then split it. By setting salaries, you know exactly how much to budget for that week. This also allows you to put money into things your band may need, like merchandise, or an oil change. You can also use a debit or credit card to track your spending and figure out where the money is going.
Another great tool for saving money is the rider. The rider is a list of items that the band can get from the venue and have backstage. On our rider, among other things, we used to have 2 cases of water, and munchies. We would use one case of water for the show, and have another in the van for the next day's use. The munchies would end up in the van as well, so we weren't buying junk at every gas station. IT all adds up.
It goes without saying that bands like to drink. If you must have alcohol at the show, and the bar isn't providing it, buy a pint of something, or buy your own case of beer. $2.50-$5.00 a drink can add up very fast, then you find yourself in a Blues Brothers situation, having your bar tab add up to more than you were paid to play.
Your band's best asset is common sense. Look for the cheapest gas, hotels, and food. Have a reliable, non-chemically dependent band member in charge of the moneybag. (Mic case bags are perfect for carrying cash). Don't leave the money in the open or in the van overnight. There is no shame in eating buffets. The most expensive is not the best, and the biggest rule for making money on the road-Stay the hell out of casinos with your cash. Trust me on this one.