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By Ellisa Sun
In August 2018, my partner Ken and I left the (expensive) San Francisco Bay Area to live in an RV and tour the country. We book all the shows ourselves and we’ve played to crowds of two and crowds of 200. We’ve gone three weeks straight playing shows every night, and we’ve had RV breakdowns.
It’s been a crazy journey, and the indie touring scene can be both amazing and awful. Stressing out about your next meal, tank of gas, or whether you’re gonna get kicked out of that Walmart parking lot is not always fun. But we’ve had some good times too, so here are a few ways to have more fun on tour (even if your livelihood doesn’t depend on it!).
1. Ask for recommendations.
When you’re playing shows, tell your audience you’re looking for fun stuff to do in town, ideally stuff that doesn’t cost a lot of money. Yelp and Google are great, but getting recommendations from the locals is always the best way to find things to do. For example, when we were in Oklahoma City, a guy in the crowd happened to work for the biggest venue in town. He got us into a Hozier concert for free that night — win.
2. Go for runs (or long walks).
You may not like this one (I’m not a huge fan of running either) but it is free, it is exercise, the endorphins will feel great, and it’s a great way to explore a city! Go for runs through the town or Google good running paths in local parks. It’s really easy to get stuck in a van or get used to sitting on the computer or your phone, which definitely leads to back and neck issues, depression and a general shit mood.
3. Quit social media.
You also may not like this one (“but I need it, it’s my job!”). Well, you don’t need it every day, all day. Consider deleting social media apps from your phone for one week out of every month. You’ll feel so much lighter. You’ll notice the world around you, and realize there’s so much more than filtered, curated content. You’ll be able to breathe. You’ll be able to be yourself and make real connections with real human beings!
4. Go to the movies.
This is a silly one, but look at local movie theaters — usually they offer specials once a week (Tuesday is often a cheaper day of the week) and it’s a nice distraction from the van, the stage, etc. It’s fun to lose yourself in a movie and turn off your phone for a few hours.
5. Read novels or listen to audiobooks.
Have you noticed by now that “fun” means “not music?” Rather, not music business. I don’t know about you, but I have so much more fun when I’m not thinking about my next show, booking the next leg of the tour, or planning out my next release strategy. I love being a full-time musician, but it is important to step back from it sometimes. I have the most fun when I’m living in a different world, a world written by somebody else. Whatever floats your boat and gets your mind off yourself, stick your nose (or eyes) into a book.
6. Listen to throwback music.
My sister is a TV comedy writer, and she once told me all she wants to do when she gets home is watch CSI or some other dark, dramatic show — because all she does all day is write jokes! I’ve noticed a similar pattern (have you?). When I’m done with a long string of shows, all I want to do is listen to nothing. But I found a loophole for this: Listen to the stuff you listened to as a teenager or when you first started getting into music. For me that’s ’90s R&B and neo-soul. Give me Ms. Lauryn Hill or Destiny’s Child and I’m instantly transported to a happy place, where I can dance around like a dummy and not care about anything.
7. Jump into bodies of water.
I’m serious. No matter how cold it is, if you find a creek or a lake or a river (and it’s clean, of course,) jump into it. It’s good for your circulation and your immune system, and it feels like a reset.
8. Make friends.
If you’re an introvert this can be scary, but do your best to really talk to people at your shows. Talk to the bartender, the soundperson, the doorperson, or somebody sitting at the bar. Ask people questions about where they’re from originally, what they do for work, what they like to eat, etc. You never know who you’ll meet and the adventures you could have.
For example, we played a show in Vancouver and made friends with the other artist on the bill. She told us about an “Italian Day” street fair happening the next day, and guess what — we were there! Friends help you get through the monotony of long tours.
9. Reconnect with friends and family on the road.
If you’ve got friends in a town you’re touring, don’t forget to tell them! Also, if you post to Facebook that you’ve got x amount of hours in x city, you may have old friends you had forgotten about come out of the woodwork. Maybe that person you knew from high school will want to take you out and show you their town.
10. Go to the local thrift shop.
Old clothes, accessories, furniture, and junk can be fascinatingly different from city to city. Scouring the local Goodwills or thrift shops is super entertaining, affordable, and fun. Plus it’s a great way to add to your show wardrobe.
There are plenty of ways to have more fun on tour, but these were the first 10 I could think of that don’t cost a ton. Money does not buy fun, but it sure can help — so I tried to list the cheapest tactics. Thanks for reading!
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Ellisa Sun cuts out her heart and leaves it on the stage — which is why she never wears white. Currently on her first national tour, Ellisa is showing she has what it takes to make it on her own. Just a guitar, a 30-foot RV, and an insatiable desire to perform. Raised in Los Angeles and (until recently) based in the San Francisco Bay Area, her sound is honest, heartfelt, and textured, combining elements of jazz, soul, and pop.