The day after I graduated high school my friends and I rode out of our hometown, Ithaca, NY, in a piece of shit ‘79 Toyota RV. Even as we sat in the flea-ridden seats with the wind whipping through our hair, it didn’t seem real: our crappy little band, Fight A Scary Dog, was going on tour. Luckily for us, we had a mentor along for the ride. Ryan, an anarcho-punk activist banjo king with a big heart and inexhaustible patience, toured with us and did the majority of the booking and logistics for those three weeks. That tour was one of the best experiences of my life, and so with another summer upon us, my band set out to do it again. This time, we were booking it ourselves. At first the idea of doing it ourselves was pretty intimidating: Ryan is an established musician, has an incredible number of contacts, and just generally knows how to get things done. But as it turns out, there was no reason to be worried. Anyone can book a DIY tour! Here’s how:
1. Secure a vehicle in reasonable working condition. If you don’t have one, ask around and see if someone will let you borrow theirs or wants to come with. Someone was actually living out of the RV we took on the first tour, Ryan let him stay in his house for three weeks while we were away!
2. Have some kind of recording available, even if you make it in your basement. No one’s going to take your word that your band is good.
3. Make a route, but keep it vague. Once you know roughly where you want to go, book in geographical chunks and just see what you get. It’s pretty difficult to be sure of getting shows with people you don’t know, so keep your options open. Once you have one leg of your trip planned, move on to another. Go in small increments. This method ensures you get shows that make sense with each other, but it also means you have to start booking months in advance. I recommend trying to keep the driving increments around 3-4 hours. That way you can cover gas from show to show and you don’t murder your band mates.
4. Email EVERYONE. We used the websites Do DIY and Book Your Own Fuckin’ Life and essentially emailed every single place that lined up with our possible routes. Give them a few dates to work with. Don’t bother contacting venues that look inactive (if they haven’t logged into their myspace in two years, for instance). Do some legwork too, research the places you are trying to play and look around for venues and DIY websites from those areas. Contact bands you like or bands you’ve played with in the past and see if they can help you out. A lot of people are surprisingly accommodating. Don’t be too picky about the places you play, and make sure to ask them if they will give you a place to stay!
5. Save some money. It is safe to say you will probably make enough money for gas at each show. If you play DIY houses, particularly collectives, there is a good chance they will feed you, too. However, you’ve got to be prepared that everything will go wrong! You will probably not make money on tour, and you’ll be lucky to break even. On the bright side, it’s like a cheap vacation! Don’t buy beer with your band money! Bring merch to sell to help you cover gas. Figure out roughly what gas is going to cost you, and bring as much extra as you can. We started our tour with about $500 saved up for 3 weeks of travel.
6. Bring a tent and relinquish any delusions of maintaining personal hygiene.
7. Get AAA if possible. Get your car checked before you leave.
8. Just book it. Don’t worry about getting all of your ducks in a row before you start to get shows. It takes months to get a tour together and if you wait around to be sure of every detail you probably won’t get off the ground. A cautionary side note: This was our guiding philosophy in booking the tour this year. We got 12 really great shows. Unfortunately we had to cancel the bulk of them because we were banking on our banjo player being able to get out of something that, in the end, he couldn’t. Even though it didn’t completely pan out this time, I still think it’s important to jump into booking. The pressure of obligation will really push you to get things done.
9. When you are finally on your way, be nice. I was surprised over and over by how kind and generous people actually are. So do the dishes, clean up after yourselves, and make sure people don’t regret putting you up and helping you out. Touring is an eerily karmic experience.
Keep in mind the booking experience will vary depending on the kind of music you play, but pretty much any DIY friendly band can follow these guidelines and get on the road. On the way home from the first tour, my feeling that the whole thing was held together by a thread was confirmed when the back tire fell off of our RV in the middle of the highway. We still made it home. When organizing something as complex as a tour, it is easy to get overwhelmed by the inevitable hazards of traveling and innumerable what-ifs, but don’t be daunted. Touring is probably the most fun you will ever have and it is entirely doable.