A couple of weeks ago, I spoke with a group of musicians to discuss the essentials that first-time touring bands often forget. During those conversations, another topic came up: the things they used to bring on tour that just ended up taking up space.
If it’s your first tour, your mind is racing at a thousand miles an hour. You have visions of what you’re going to do while on the road, what you’re going to sell, and what the lifestyle will be like. That said, before you pack another box of CDs or pair of shoes, here are the top three things the experts advise you not to overpack to make your van a little less cramped and your tour a lot more enjoyable.
Yes, you want to have enough albums and T-shirts to last the entire tour, but too much merch takes up a ton of space, and can be a pain on your back and your wallet. Brooklyn hip-hop artist Rabbi Darkside remembers, “First time out, I brought, like, 300 CDs. My bags totaled something like 55 kg! Paid a price, too, literally. Flew Ryanair from London to Germany and didn’t realize the luggage weight limits were so low. Ending up spending an arm and a leg to get all my bags to our first destination.”
After that experience, and touring with J-Live, he says, “I’ve studied how people pack, kept track of my own sales, and learned to bring a reasonable amount that turns a solid profit margin. I set realistic sales goals for shows, and cap the amount of physical product.” He also notes that certain items sell better in certain areas: “Having vinyl, especially overseas, has been clutch for me since 2013. I try to pack as many double LPs and seven-inches as I can, and I still can’t bring enough.”
Rabbi Darkside adds that Dropcards come in incredibly handy. “A hundred and fifty of them take up as much space as 10 CDs,” he explains, and although Dropcards retail for less, “it more than evens out because their overhead is so low.”
When it comes to merch, if you’re planning on hitting the road in the near future, start paying attention to how much you sell at shows now, and be realistic about how much you’ll need to take on the road with you.
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Just because you’re going to be gone for a month doesn’t mean you need to pack a month’s worth of clothing. Kristen Marie of the metal band Conquer Divide remembers this being an issue for her band, saying, “We brought way too many clothes on the first tour, and I think we’ve definitely learned how to condense down to the essentials. We also had a giant wardrobe closet in the trailer, which was nice, but took up way too much space.”
Phoenix based hip-hop artist Mega Ran starts his tours with as little clothing packed as possible. “I’ve now realized that packing more than two pairs of socks or T-shirts is pointless. A simple stop at Walmart will do fine for socks, and you’ll pick up tees from the bands you play with at the shows.”
Rabbi Darkside seconds this, saying, “Wherever you’re going, and for however long, you only need clothes for a week. Have some dedicated performance pieces and running/exercise gear.”
SpaceLAB Recordings founder Jake Palumbo adds that the one time he packed too much in the way of clothing, “it made my bags heavier and landed me additional baggage fees when it was time to fly back home, not to mention [it was] annoying carrying [it] on the crowded subway when I got back to NYC. If I’d used my noodle, I could have washed my clothes at almost any hotel we stayed at, and saved money and space.”
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3. Exercise equipment
While we like to emphasize the importance of staying healthy on the road, there are smart ways of doing it, and there are cumbersome ways of doing it. Thomas Becker of Kansas City rockers Beautiful Bodies remembers one tour experience that exemplified the latter: “I am throwing my singer [Alicia Solombrino] under the bus here, [but] she decided she wanted to stay in shape on tour, so she brought a personal trampoline on tour with us. The thing took up half the trailer and knocked equipment over day after day. In the end, she only used the thing once on the tour. We now have a ‘no trampolines on tour’ rule.”
Anika Pyle, frontwoman of the Brooklyn punk rock band Chumped, adds that if you don’t already have a workout routine, on tour is probably not the time when you’re going to start one. “I bring my running shoes every time in hopes that I might motivate myself to conquer my laziness and go for a run,” she says. “Never gonna happen.”
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Adam Bernard is a music industry veteran who has been working in media since 2000. If you live in the NYC area, you’ve probably seen him at a show. He prefers his venues intimate, his whiskey on the rocks, and his baseball played without the DH. Follow him at @adamsworldblog.