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Being an independent touring musician might seem like a dream job for many. But the truth is that it’s not quite as glamorous as it’s made out to be, and the early stages of touring for an artist or band can be tough and grueling.
The fees aren’t great, and if you’re lucky to sell out of merchandise while on the road, that might just be your biggest source of income for the tour. In order to maximize your earnings you will need to minimize your spending. As the old English proverb says: “look after the pennies, and the pounds will look after themselves.” Instilling good spending habits will allow a band to continue to grow while being financially sustainable.
Here are my five best tips to saving money while killing it on tour.
1. Budget Correctly
This is the single most important way to save money on tour, and it can be done in many ways. First, you’ll need to keep a track of all the band’s outgoings and expenditures. Additionally, you’ll have to set spending limits for each day you’re on tour; in other words, give yourselves a per diem.
Online banking makes it incredibly easy to check spending and I would advise opening a bank account specifically for the band so it’s as clear as possible. At the very least, try to open a PayPal account as a way of keeping track of things specific to the group, like touring essentials such as gas and food.
Simply put, if you’re spending more than you’re making you’ll be netting a loss. Try to use your next tour to form a few better habits and hold yourself accountable for keeping track, and in the future you’ll be better prepared. It’s always tempting to spend money on tour, which leads me to my next point.
2. Don’t Waste Money on Eating Out and Alcohol
Of course, you need to eat — but there is no need to spend $20 on dishes in a restaurant just because you’re away from home. Likewise, try to consider the cost of things like using single-serving water bottles versus buying a giant bulk bottle or bringing your own water bottle and filling it up.
The “costs of convenience” can add up on the road when you’re crunched for time, but being mindful helps. When shopping for food, look out for offers in supermarkets, and whenever possible take advantage of venue riders that offer food for the green room to make sure you can eat decently for free or cheap.
Before setting out on tour, stock up on provisions of food and drink to bring with you in the van. It might not be the glamorous lifestyle you were expecting, but it’s better than blowing all your hard earned money eating out each night.
3. Be Resourceful
Artists are often pressured to bring a crew on tour to handle duties such as merchandise sales, lighting and sound (if the setup is complex), driving duties, and, of course, gear transport. If you’re making enough money to hire folks to come along and help out at a daily rate, more power to you. But for sure this is a luxury you can do without in order to cut overhead.
In order for this section to not be totally redundant to the DIY touring band course, I bring this up as more of a general point about making sure the members of your group are as flexible and multitalented as possible. Help each other out, learn new skills like how to run a lighting board, streamline your own sound checks, and bring only the gear you need, not tons of extra stuff. And of course, everyone should get a Driver’s License to share the driving duties.
That said, if you’ve got friends either locally where you’ll be playing or who want to tag along and help out at the merch table, for example, that’ll save you tons of money. Lastly, here’s a pro tip for touring drummers like myself. If you’re not accompanied by a drum tech, I highly recommend getting a precision drum tuner to save time and money while on tour.
4. Secure Your Equipment
All too often I hear of touring bands having all their equipment stolen, and it’s a catastrophe that can easily ruin a band’s entire career. While this isn’t precisely a tip for “saving money,” it could save you from an utter financial disaster.
Tens of thousands of dollars worth of equipment including custom guitars, amps, drums, and laptops can be stolen from a trailer in the blink of an eye. And often insurance claims are unsuccessful. It’s impossible to keep an eye on equipment at all times, but precautions can be made to prevent this calamity from happening to you.
Never leave expensive gear in a van or trailer overnight, and use alarms, heavy-duty locks, and tracking devices for your van and equipment. I also suggest bringing slightly cheaper equipment for the road than you’d use in your studio, especially instruments that are replaceable and hold little sentimental value.
5. Plan Your Sleeping Arrangements Beforehand
Hotels can cost a small fortune, especially if you’ve got 4 or more people in your band! Although not even close to being as comfortable, crashing on the floors and couches of friends and family in nearby towns is a very good way to save a buck. If fans, friends-of-friends, or promoters are able to put you up, definitely look into those options. Be sure to offer to put them on the guest list for a show to thank them for their generosity. I like to use Couchsurfing in the same way — offering a spot on the guest list or a free CD to anyone that puts me up on the road.
If you do decide to get a hotel room (a hot shower and a clean bed can do wonders for your sanity), check rates on price comparison websites such as Kayak in advance to secure the best deal for a hotel in a particular city.
Due to the inevitable decline of record sales in today’s market and the measly payouts from streaming royalties, it’s thought that touring is now the best way for artists to make money. But that doesn’t mean touring itself is cheap, especially when you consider the your own quality of life on tour versus that of mainstream pop superstars.
If you want to stay afloat while on the road, you’ll have to think smart and plan ahead, consider your margins and how you can trim costs, and streamline your band’s approach. I hope you find these tips useful for touring, whether you’re just starting out or are more experienced and looking to take home a more sizeable paycheck on your next adventure.
Got 10 minutes to learn something new?
Explore Soundfly’s wide array of free online courses and expand your musical skills over your lunch break! Here are just a few free courses you can choose from: How to Create a Killer Musician Website, Theory for Bedroom Producers, How to Get All the Royalties You Never Knew Existed, and of course, Touring on a Shoestring. Here’s a snippet of what to expect on Soundfly.