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New Trends in Touring

Touring might seem like one of the only sacred and unchanged aspects of music left in 2018, but, spoiler alert: like everything else in the industry, it’s being transformed in subtle and profound ways through technology and shifting attitudes. Things that couldn’t be conceived of in the world of music are now an afterthought, and the way musicians bring music to their audiences on the road is no exception.

Before they assumed the identity of Sound of Ceres, the Colorado dream-pop outfit Candy Claws took fans on a virtual world tour back in 2009, where they organized interviews and press coverage from outlets based all over the world. Cheeky, sure, but the stunt paid off, and the burgeoning group ended up receiving international attention and hoards of new listeners as a result.

But for bands in 2018 whose tours exist in the physical world instead of the digital one, technology is still leading towards some interesting new trends. From acts as large and storied as The Rolling Stones to ones as new as your little brother’s EDM project are turning to their audiences to shape the sets they play on tour. Through social media platforms and smartphone apps, bands are increasingly putting setlist-curation duties into the hands of their fans by crowdsourcing the vote for which songs get to be played during shows on tour.

Artists turning to social media to gauge interest in their music isn’t new, but the idea and execution of letting the fans shape their experience with a band’s music is a different animal entirely.

Deeper band-fan connections born via social media platforms are more important than ever in music, especially when it comes to touring. Even small bands are using exclusivity as a tool to develop and maintain relationships in their hometowns and on the road. For example, rewarding the most devoted segments of your fanbase with secret shows on tour is a proven way for artists to generate excitement about their performances. Obviously, more established bands see bigger payoffs when it comes to providing loyal fans with exclusive content, but even smaller acts can get a lot out of offering interviews, merch, local opportunities, and exclusive music on tour to fans they’re trying to win over and with whom they’re looking to develop a deeper connection.

Streaming services are still being blamed for the music industry’s collective financial woes, but they’re changing touring for the better in an unexpected way. Just a decade ago, bands had to rely on information gathered by costly professional radio campaigns to determine where to book shows, but now streaming platforms like Spotify and Apple Music are giving artists valuable insight into which cities are listening to their music, and how frequently. Bands are beginning to use this information to their advantage and book tours accordingly. A silver lining for musicians struggling to earn money in a world turning to music streaming, but bad news for the small section of the music industry who pays their bills by running radio campaigns.

Touring is more important than ever as it remains one of the most reliable ways for musicians to earn money. A major source of touring revenue is an artist’s merchandise. Of course, selling merch on the road is nothing new, but bands are offering more high-quality merch than ever before — not only to make money, but also as a way of carving out a unique identity for themselves. Bands now sell everything from cellphone cases to, um, condoms with personalized wrappers at shows.

And while it all might seem gimmicky, more merch options — no matter how ridiculous — are earning hard-working touring acts more money in 2018 than ever before. Because streaming is the dominant way fans are listening to music these days, merchandise has taken on a new life, serving as a memento of the live experience. In other words, you don’t need to sell only music, since your fans already have access to it. Get creative! 

We’re used to major festival-headlining acts like The Flaming Lips utilizing everything from fireworks to synced-video projections to elaborate light displays to liven up their live performances on tour, but smaller touring acts are beginning to adapt similar tactics on a smaller scale. As tech and coding prowess have become more widely accessible, collaborative, democratic, and cheaper to obtain, there’s so much that one can achieve in entertainment on a modest budget.

These days, fans want to be blown away whether they’re seeing U2 at an arena or the new indie band everyone in their scene has been talking about. Makeup, props, costumes, live dancers, and custom lighting displays can make for a more engaging performance experience. The manic psych-funk project Of Montreal might not be selling out big stadiums, but with their ambitious use of costumes and lighting on stage, their show is like nothing you’ve ever seen.

Another new trend revolves around bands giving their fans unique, unfiltered access to their content on and off the stage with self-made apps. Mega country star Luke Bryan created and sold his own app with great success. Through his app, paying subscribers are given direct and ad-free access to everything from special live-streamed performances to videos, pictures, and interviews with Luke, his bandmates, and even the touring stage crew.

Obviously, the app was a hit because of Luke’s legion of die-hard fans, but with traditional social media outlets becoming more politically problematic (cough, cough, Russia) and harder to navigate when trying to reach fans, the trend of bands taking things into their own hands with self-made apps is becoming more consistently effective. In just a few short years, the ways that bands book tours, communicate with fans, and promote their music might all change in unpredictable ways!

For now, however, it’s really not that complicated to get your band on the road playing shows in new cities and making new fans across the country. For tips, tricks, and ideas to help you get on tour faster and smarter, check out Soundfly’s popular free course, Touring on a Shoestring, today.

Here’s a video from the course called “How to Reach Out to Venues.” Enjoy!

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Patrick McGuire
Patrick McGuire

Patrick McGuire is a writer, musician and human man. He lives nowhere in particular, creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.