Ah, summer. Beautiful weather, beach trips, bike trips, trips to who-cares-where… let’s just get on our bikes and GO! There’s nothing quite like that feeling of playing an outdoor gig in your neighborhood with the sun going down behind your band. But… is it the right time to go out on the road?
That’s a little bit more complex.
Summer is one of the most popular seasons for live music — people spend a lot of their vacation time off and their saved up money on seeing live shows. But does that create more opportunity and a bounty of newly accessible audiences, or does it instead create competition and an over-supply which can hurt your chances of finding that audience?
Pro: Summer really is the perfect time for adventure.
Let’s start with the obvious: this is a time that is ripe for adventures. The weather is gorgeous and the possibilities seem endless. You’re essentially getting paid (hopefully) to travel with your buddies and do the thing you love. That’s pretty amazing.
If you’re touring on a shoestring budget, you can always crash on couches (roommates tend to be away), sleep on the beach (if said beach allows for that sort of thing), or just set up a tent in a campground and camp on the cheap. (North America is particularly rich with national and state parks in every state and province.)
Nights spent playing music, hosting campfires, and making s’mores? Sounds pretty perfect to me.
Con: You’re competing with a lot of festivals.
Summer is kind of this magical time where there’s a million things going on at any given moment, yet people always somehow seem to have the stamina to attend every last one of them. Still, I’d be remiss not to mention all the festivals as a potential con. People are likely spending a lot of time, energy, and money to get into festivals and see bands they already know and love, so it can be a tricky time to convince them to spend an extra night (and dollar) going out to see new music.
On the other hand, you could turn festival season into a potential pro with a little bit of promotional savvy. Perhaps going to where the big festivals are happening and busking near the crowds, giving out free downloads to people at festivals so they listen to your music, entertaining people on line to buy beer. Any number of grassroots, DIY approaches could do the trick!
Pro: You could be playing those festivals!
While some music festivals like Coachella and Bonnaroo might be a bit out of your league, there are thousands of independent, local, and regional festivals happening all summer long, domestically and internationally. Many of them even take applications!
Do your research well in advance — summer festivals often start programming as early as the autumn before. If you’re lucky, you’ll pick up one or two well-paid anchor gigs for your tour months before having to book clubs and small venues. Just make sure you present your best self, with top-notch pitch writing, professional photos and media, and courtesy album copies galore, and you could be sharing the stage with some of your favorite touring acts.
Con: Watch out for heat stroke and overheated engines.
Neither has happened to me, but both have happened to my musician friend Jeremy Young, the instructor of Soundfly’s Touring on a Shoestring course. When your van doesn’t have A/C, or the venues lack ventilation, or you simply forget to stay hydrated, touring in the summer can quickly turn into a health nightmare. Drink lots of water, and make sure your bandmates do too!
As for those engines, well, I’m no expert in that either. But it sure does suck when your only form of transportation to tonight’s gig breaks down in the heat, hauling five musicians’ worth of amps and drums! Read this to stay informed on some of the more common tour van mishaps.
Pro: Students are home. 😀
One major advantage to summer tours is that students are home from college, and usually, they’re looking to have a good time before they head back to school. So while they may still be working on summer break, with the pressures of school removed and the promise of wild summer nights dangling in their foreground, you’re reaching a whole new demographic that might have otherwise been too busy (or broke!) to attend your previous shows.
Con: Students are home. 🙁
Yeah. Here’s the thing, though. When students are home, they’re not necessarily where the cool venues are, (i.e., in college towns and big cities). Be careful where you book during the summer months. Entire small towns where nightlife and live music culture thrive may empty out, leaving you with nothing but the bouncer and bartender.
Pro: Barbecues and backyard parties!
As my cohort Jessica Allossery describes in detail in her article, “What I Learned on My 4-Month House-Concert Tour,” playing in people’s homes and on their backyard lawns is an incredibly rewarding experience, albeit not without its own set of constraints and obstacles. Summer is the time to be outdoors, amongst friends new and old, and letting the hours float by, why not add your music into that mix? Allossery advises to schedule in some down time, off days and nights, so you can fully take in the weather and surroundings while you’re on the road.
Con: Lackluster accommodations.
Let’s be honest, you’re probably not staying at the Hilton every night of your tour. So while roughing it in the van or on friends’ couches is a part of the ritual, in the heat of summer, if there’s no A/C on, it’s going to be pretty miserable. Is it a make-or-break-it kind of thing? Probably not. But there is something to be said for those crisp, fall nights.
Pro: It’s summer! Yay!
Lastly, really, what more do I need to say? Touring in the summer is a chance to do the thing you love, with and for the people you feel most at home, underneath a colorful sky. Sure, it’ll be kind of hot sometimes, but at the end of the day, it’s a pretty solid way to spend your summer.
Consider these points, and don’t forget to check out Soundfly’s free Touring on a Shoestring course for tons of advice and resources for booking your next (or first!) national or international DIY tour on the cheap! Here are some quick, helpful tips on what to watch out for when booking your next tour.
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