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In 1763, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart leaves Vienna and sets out at the tender age of seven to perform in London and Paris. Earlier this year, the Rolling Stones announced plans to play a string of shows all over the world. Your band has a show next Friday at the Pine Bluff Jiffy Lube grand opening, then on Saturday you have to drive to Ft. Smith to be the entertainment at the third-annual BBQ cook-off and bake sale at the St. Mother of our Blessed Okra church and plasma center. What you may or may not realize is that have a lot in common with Wolfie and Mick-that's right, you're on tour, baby! Pack up the van, and don't forget the map.
What is a tour, you ask? My definition is 'if you are playing at least two shows outside of your zip code', then you are on tour. We call it touring, because it sounds better than "If we don't play, we don't eat." Unless you have a rich uncle, then you need to get out and hit the bricks to pay for that new CD you want to put out. Or pay rent. Or pay for that speeding ticket. It's simple. Usually you have to leave the friendly confines of your city in order to make any cash. You can't keep drinking from the same well. One day the bottom will drop out. Besides, you don't really want to stay at home, do you? Get out and see the world!
Being out on the road is a wonderful time. Imagine this: driving for hours at a time, getting no sleep before a show, dosing on Sobe, not having enough money to get a hotel room after a show, then driving 6 hours to the next town, only to find the gig has been canceled. On top of that, you had a flat on the way, the A/C is broken, and a Wham! tape is stuck in the cassette player. (What was it doing there to begin with?) No stress there. Really, touring is one of the best times of your life-when done with a little bit of forethought. Even if you don't plan, you still need a couple things to get started on your way to fame fortune, and conquer uncharted territory.
The first thing to look into is transportation. Anybody have a van? Does grandpa still have that old RV out back? The family truckster available? See if you can line up wheels, then have it checked out by a mechanic. (Hint-your drummer is not the mechanic). Once you find a ride, get current tags and insurance, or have a couple guys insured to drive it. There's nothing worse than being hassled by the Man a long way from home, especially when it could have been handled in advance by a trip to the DMV.
Second, ask yourself "Where do we want to 'tour'?" The best way for a band to start leaving its comfy nest is to make concentric touring circles. If you are a new band, start playing everywhere within 100 miles of home. I do mean everywhere. Raffles, dances, used car lots, wherever they will have you. After some time, try stretching out to 200 miles, and so forth. This will give you a change of scene, and you will be winning over new fans in your region. You need to be careful not to spread yourself too thin, however. Conquer a market, then conquer it some more. Become huge, then move on. Once you get in the groove of things and you get a following, try and go back once a month or so. This will keep your fans familiar with your music without becoming old hat.
One of the key words to planning a successful string of shows is routing. Let me say it again. ROUTING. Routing is planning shows in cities that are easily reached from the city you just played. One time, (in band camp), we played a show in Fayetteville, drove to Colorado Springs for ONE show, then drove 30 hours straight to play in Nashville. Take note--that is not good routing. Memphis to Little Rock to Fayetteville is good routing.
As I will preach time and time again, the reason you do what you do is to be happy. Did it make any sense to drive to Colorado for one show? Well, economically, no. Logically, no. Can we say we saw Pike's Peak? Now we can. We saw the wheat fields of Kansas (and saw them, and saw them, and saw them), and the Gateway to the West in St. Louis. All in one trip. That's the beauty of touring. You'll be broke and tired, and wondering why you didn't take that job at Hertz. Well, the people at Hertz have to wait until Saturday to even think about getting away, and even then it can't be far away because they have to be at work Monday. You, on the other hand, can see 5 states in 3 days, and get paid for it. (It's 50 bucks more than you had, right)?
So get out there and have fun. See different cities, find the good restaurants, and read the roadside markers. I'm not kidding. You are young and can handle the travel. Ask your grandparents, they'll tell you the same. This country has a lot of beautiful places, and as you set out to be a superstar, stop and smell the roses, steal a few, and plant some more for the next band. See you on the road!