How To Tour. Part 3: Packing For Tour

LLet’s take you from lift-off to docking ship back home in this third installment of the How To Tour series.

How To Pack For A Tour

You need to approach touring the way you would backpacking through Europe: you can only take what you can carry on your shoulders. Your van is already filled with guitar amps, drums, the bass rig, more drums, merchandise, drum hardware, food, some band mates, and then your drummer. Suffice it to say that room is scarce unless you’ve got a bus (and if you’ve got a bus you can probably skip this article altogether).

As you’re packing you need to ask yourself “Do I really need this? Can I just pick this up at a store if I’m dying without it?” You’ll find that you’re packing way too much clothing. Assuming you know where you’re sleeping most nights, a few of those places will likely have laundry facilities or you can hit up a scrub shop on an off day. If the drives are going to be long, you’re not going to be impressing anyone with your fashion on a daily basis so don’t worry about roughing it. Try to keep it down to one back pack – something you can walk a few blocks comfortably. Stick dryer sheets in your bag and shoes to keep things fresh. Moist towelettes go a long way to make you feel better when you wake from a van-nap.

Gear wise, make sure you have extras but don’t go overboard. Bring extra strings, tubes, sticks, and a backup guitar. Space is usually an issue so don’t worry about bringing a second cabinet or stuffing your acoustic thinking you may get bored and play in the van. You’ll find ways to entertain yourself: simple things like books, an iPod, or your laptop are good starting points.

Packing smart will keep the van comfortable. A few other things you can do to keep the van a happy place:

  1. Change up the driver and passenger seating every few hours. The new locale will stimulate you provide a nice change of pace.
  2. Take trash out with you when you make pit stops (the cup-holders will fill with candy wrappers, I promise) and spray some air freshener before you get back in. From band-stink to Spring showers in five minutes.
  3. GPS. Understand that it can go crazy at times but it’s worth bringing one. Don’t buy one just for the tour – you likely have a friend who will be glad to help out the band by lending theirs. Word of caution: never bring two. They will fight like competing bakeries.
  4. Make a tour itinerary listing all of the venues, phone numbers, addresses, sleeping arrangements, pay arrangements, load-in times, set times, and distances between shows. Dress it up and make it fun, then print two copies: one for the front of the van and one for the back (so that the guys in the back aren’t always pestering you for information).

There are a lot of other things you can do to make the van a home-away-from-home but that stuff will hit you quickly during your first tour. The bottom line is you’re going to be getting really close to your band mates for what will feel like an eternity. Tensions build while everyone is out of their comfort zone. Do the best to respect one another while making yourself some personal space.

Finally, treat your van like you would a guitar: tune it up before making it do the work. Find problems early before you wind up busking at a Canadian Tire in Whitby to pay for that break job.

Arriving At The Gig

Image credit: ratatat15 on Tumblr

There’s a difference between playing gigs at home versus while on tour. The band needs to think of itself as a travelling salesman: You have a product that you’re demoing around the country. You want people to buy this product, love this product, and show this product to their friends. A professional attitude is enough to make you seem like a pro, even if you’re throwing your back out trying to lug that 412 cabinet up the most insane flight of stairs (tip: buddy-lift EVERYTHING).

So you’ve arrived at the venue at the requested load-in time. What’s next? Here are the things I like to run through with each show:

  1. Learn the sound engineer’s name. Everyone should know it. Convince yourself that the sound engineer is your best friend. Sound guys (and gals) are people, too – they will be more likely to make you sound good if they like the way you treat them.
  2. Learn how to setup other pieces of equipment. If your drummer could use a hand and you’ve got your stuff setup, help him instead of sitting at the bar waiting.
  3. Start when you’re told and finish on time. The next band is excited to play and doesn’t want you getting in the way. No encores unless A) You’re the headliner; or B) The situation is calling for it and you’ve sent someone from the band to clear it with the next band.
  4. Push your merchandise. You’ve travelled all this way and your door cut will more than likely not be great until you’re an established band – merchandise is gas in the van. Make sure one band member runs to stand by the merch table when you’ve finished your set. Tell some stories and let the crowd get to know you – they just may want to buy into you.
  5. Get to know the other acts. You never know when you’ll run into each other again (it happens more often than you would think, at completely different parts of the country) or when you’ll need to borrow their equipment.
  6. Get paid. Have a designated person within the band to handle the collection of finances. There’s an art to talking money with door guys and other bands so that you’re able to take of yourself while meeting the needs of the other people involved. This develops with continuous exposure so it’s best to get one person learning the ropes instead of taking turns.
  7. Before you leave make sure you’ve said goodbye to everyone who works at the venue. Get to know them a bit – they’re your gateway back into this place. I like to make sure each venue has a copy of the album and a business card (the bartender or door person who likes you the most is the best person to receive it as they’ll push it around).

Final Notes

The goal is to build profile, fan base, and hopefully make money. Touring isn’t always (or usually even) a money making endeavour until you’ve secured good guarantees so try to break even. Figure out beforehand what the tour should cost you and factor in emergencies (having an extra 1000.00 in the band fun will help you out when things take an unexpected turn). Try to have as much of the expenses covered before you head out so that you don’t get half way through the tour wondering if you’ll make it home.

Lastly, treat this both as a career move for the band and as a vacation. You’re likely suffering personally and financially by committing so much time on the road so make the best of your time out there. Be a tourist. Flaunt the band around as you check out the local hot spots – it’ll give you something to talk about and make you feel like a rock star. And let’s not forget band traditions: make them. My band would drive around with megaphones promoting the show for an hour before sound check. You’ll find something you all like to do to harass the general public.

Chris Gallant is the lead singer and guitarist of The Sidewalks, an alternative rock/ska band from PEI, Canada. He has been promoting acts and booking his own tours for three years now. The article was originally published on Ultimate Guitar.