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Tips for Planning (and Surviving) a Tour

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Touring is hard work. You spend hours on the road, watching the pavement pass by. You go to bed when the sun comes up, and wake up as it sets. You may go days without sleeping in a bed, taking a shower or eating a hot meal.

It’s a labor of love.

Ask any musician and they’ll tell you it’s worth it, though. Touring is a great opportunity to grow your fan base and sell some merch — if you play your cards right. If not, you may end up breaking up the band, getting stranded with no way to get home (or worse).

So how do you tour the country without going broke or strangling your drummer? Great question! The first step is booking the gigs. But where should you go?

Go Where Your Fans Are

So many bands are tempted to hit the big markets. It sounds cool to say you played NYC or LA. But what good does it do if no one shows up? You can play for the bartender in your hometown, why travel across the country to do it?

Milwaukee, Kansas City and Tulsa might not sound as sexy as Los Angeles, but if that’s where your fans are, that’s where you should be playing.

Check out the analytics on your social media pages to find which cities you should visit on your next tour.

If you’re just starting out, your fans are probably pretty close to your hometown. That’s fine! Book shows just outside of your city. Plan a short tour up to the closest major city and back. Spend time building a regional fan base before you try to cross the country.

Only Travel West If You Have To

Sorry, West Coast. We love your weather, your food and your lenient views on marijuana. But aside from California, the population density is abysmal.


According to Tour:Smart, “If you draw a line from Minneapolis to Texas, only 15/100 of the largest cities in the U.S lie west of that line.”

That means roughly 15% of your revenue lies on the West Coast. It doesn’t make sense to blow half your budget touring the West Coast (unless that’s where all of your fans are!).


Touring the East Coast lets you hit more cities with less time on the road. Every hour you spend driving is another opportunity to blow a tire, drive off the road or get food poisoning from a gas station.

The less time you spend on the road, the more time you spend with your fans, making new friends and selling merch.

A Day Off Is A Vacation

Touring can be grueling. It’s a 24-hour-a-day job. You literally have no free time for days on end. Some bands try to lighten the load by scheduling a “drive day.” You spend all day in the van, driving to wherever your show is the following night.

It may not sound like a vacation, but any day that doesn’t make you money costs you money. Every day you’re on the road you’re spending money. Hotels. Gas. Food. If you’re not making money, you’re losing money.

If you do find yourself with a day off, try to find other opportunities to perform. Coffee shops, radio interviews and house concerts are all potential opportunities to gain new fans and make some money. And don’t rule out busking!

Party Strategically

Most people think touring is all sex, drugs and rock and roll. It’s mostly social media and signing merch. If you spend all of your time getting wasted, you’re going to piss some people off. Your bandmates, the venue staff, your fans…

It’s fine to celebrate every once in a while, but be strategic about it. Save the Jägerbombs for after the show. Maybe stay sober the night before the early load-in. Get rid of any “party favors” before boarding a plane or crossing a border. Be smart about getting stupid.


Be Polite!

It should go without saying, but a little politeness goes a long way. Shake people’s hands. Remember their names. Say please and thank you. Don’t be like Axl Rose, be like Henry Rollins.

You’re going to meet a lot of new people on tour. Bands, venue owners, promoters, talent buyers, concert techs. People who can help you further your career. Or, you know, people who could blacklist you for getting wasted, trashing the green room and generally making a fool of yourself. Your first impression makes a big impact. Don’t blow it!

Step Your Merch Game Up

Bands make most of their money on tour from selling merch. Print up a few t-shirt designs, a couple stickers or buttons and some way to buy your music. Make sure you have enough stock to last through the tour.

Make your merch booth attractive! You don’t have to break the bank on an LED sign of your logo or anything. A simple suitcase with some Christmas lights can go a long way.

Make sure you have a dedicated merch person who’s not afraid of selling. It’s not good enough to just put your booth up — you need someone who can get people’s attention. Fans are significantly more likely to buy something if they can touch it. Get someone who will interact with your fans just as much as you would.

And put up a tip jar! It’s an easy way to make a few extra bucks each night. It may not be much, but it might be enough to buy the band a much needed dinner after a particularly hard show. Every dollar counts.

Get Organized

It doesn’t matter if it’s something simple like an Excel workbook, or a full-fledged tour management software like Master Tour. What’s important is that you can keep track of important details like:

  • Equipment
  • Mileage
  • Gas Expenses
  • Hotel Expenses
  • Food Expenses
  • Ticket Sales
  • Merch Sales
  • Addresses and Contact Info
  • Itineraries
  • Guest Lists

Prepare for Murphy’s Law

“Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.”

Hope for the best and plan for the worst. Be prepared for anything. No tour goes perfectly according to plan. Just remember to roll with the punches, and make the best of it. Good luck out there, road warriors!

Brad Pack

Brad Pack is an award-winning audio engineer and writer based in Chicago, IL. He currently owns and operates Punchy Kick, a professional mixing and mastering studio that specializes in pop punk, emo, punk, grunge, and alternative music. He has been helping artists connect with fans through emotionally resonant mixes, cohesive masters, and insightful guidance for over 10 years. Check out his website or say hi on Instagram @PunchyKick