October 12, 2012 | 7:00am
By: Daniel Hopkins
[Editor's Note: Ask a Failed Musician is a new column from our sister music blog at Dallas Observer, in which Daniel Hopkins helps struggling musicians make sense of their careers and offers advice. Whether or not it will work, who knows? It obviously didn't work for him. But then again, he was on Kimmel once, so there's that.]
Dear Failed, My band just got back from month-long tour of the U.S. and it was largely unsuccessful. By unsuccessful, I mean nobody came to the shows and we lost money. We expected a better turnout because of songs that were placed in prominent scenes on Grey's Anatomy and Vampire Diaries. But despite them being shared over a million times on the web, the tour pretty much bombed. What went wrong?
Demoralized in Dallas,
You know, Demoralized, you're not alone. Too many new bands think they're ready to go on tour before they actually are. In fact, I'd be willing to guess that of all the live performances that happened in the U.S. last weekend, most of them were poorly attended. I can see why a band would talk itself into going on a tour. The thought of fun on the road, big crowds, lots of money and all the glamour of a successful tour is exciting. But, if you're lucky enough to get to the point at which that stuff is actually happening, you'll probably be too jaded to care. Either that or you're Foster the People.
Here's how to know if your band is ready to go on tour: How many people are coming to shows in your hometown? If you answered "not many," then you should work on building up a local following before you ever cross your county line. Maybe you need to play less often and make your shows more of an event. Maybe your band needs to rehearse more and improve the show.
Once your local show improves, do the same in a neighboring city. Work out a show trade with a band that's doing well there. When you gain a following there, do the same in the next city, and so on, until you have a solid regional following, playing once every two months in each city. Unless you have the financial backing of a major label and can buy onto major tours, the best way to tour is, basically, by not touring. Start small and build your way to the next city.
How do I know this works? Because I've played to less than eight people in almost every major city in the U.S.
Write in to Ask a Failed Musician here. Ask anything you like. I will do my best to help you not fail also.