[Editor’s note: Candace Hansen is a drummer and a writer who has done a lot of small and medium DIY tours including punk legend Alice Bag and her own band, YAAWN.]
Now that we’re getting into late spring/early summer, tour season is just around the corner. Maybe you and your band have decided that you want to go on the road. You’ve been doing pretty well at back yard parties, DIY spots, and shitty bars in Southern California, and now y’all want to see the world, and you want the world to see you. You want to channel your inner Bessie Smith or Henry Rollins and you have visions of tumbleweeding your shit from Anaheim to Seattle to San Antonio and back, but now what? Here are 10 things to consider before you load up the van.
1. Consider why you want to go on tour
If done with good intentions, touring can be one of the best things a band can do. You can share your music with people you would have never encountered had you not left town, and meeting friends and like-minded musicians in different cities can be an extremely rewarding and inspiring experience, leading to lifelong friendships and broadening of musical networks. Touring is an important part of becoming a working band, and if that’s a goal of yours, you should definitely give it a shot. If it’s about fame and fortune for you, you may want to reconsider your life choices. Also, if wanting to tour has anything to do with “screwing chicks” in different cities, immediately stop tour plans and do everyone a favor and stop playing music while you’re at it. There are enough people trying their hand at some sloppy incarnation of the Jack-Keroac-inspired-rambling-douchebag; that’s literally the last thing any out of town music scene needs.
2. Gauge what is realistic and actually do it
Commit to it and get out of town. Maybe start small with a short time frame and distance. Your band members can only get 2 days off work? Great! Friday night play LA or the IE after work, Saturday play in the Bay Area, Sunday play Central CA and come home after the show. Maybe do 2 consecutive dates in Arizona? Know your scene, be reasonable and work with what you’ve got! If you have more time and some resources, map out a fantasy tour of where everyone wants to go and try to put together a practical plan. Five to ten days is a good amount of time for a first big tour.
3. Get a reliable vehicle AND a fucking tune up!
Your van will break down on tour. Your van will break down on tour. Let me repeat that in case you didn’t hear me the first two times, your van WILL break down on tour. Regardless if its your friends fucked up 95 Chevy G20 or a rented Kia Sedona, something is bound to happen. The road goddess may be kind to you and let you off light with a flat tire or weird fender thing flying off, or she may not be so kind and leave you popping a squat to piss in an old cup to pour in your radiator at 3AM under a freeway overpass in Washington. Save yourself the headache. Get an oil change. Know what you are potentially in for and get that shit looked at before you hit the road.
4. Be prepared and have merch!
Make sure you have all of your essentials in order: gear, merch, clothes, chargers, baby wipes (you can thank me later), a towel, a book to read during down time, printed maps (so you don’t drain all of your data), snacks and water, and most importantly: some money. Nobody makes money on their first few tours so you are going to have to bring some and have a budget, but there are ways to be smart about this reality. Make damn sure you have merch to sell. Records, tapes, (decently packaged) CDs, stickers, posters, t-shirts, pins, and patches are all great things to have, and it’s a good plan to let people know that you have merch for sale while you are playing your set. If possible, have at least one show where you can guarantee you will get a little bit of money to make some gas money back. Make sure you have an itinerary before you leave for tour, like, know what time you need to be at each club and how long each drive is, or you may risk missing a show! Try and line up some places to stay before hitting the road and don’t bank on sleeping in the van all the time because it will take a toll on you. Also, never leave visible gear in your van because it will get stolen.
5. Leave your friends at home.
For the love of God don’t bring every person in your crew. Nobody is going to put up your entire band, your partners, your merch dude, your roadie, and your fucking cousin. You’re not Van Halen, you’re the Descendents in the ‘80s at best, and even they slept in their van all the time. Let people miss you for a week, it’s really healthy! I promise!
6. Practice Self-Care!
This looks different for everyone, but is really important. Bring a notebook and write. Call your partner or your mom once in awhile. Drink coffee. Zone out on Instagram for a bit. Pet the random dog tied up in front of the gas station. Be a good hang, and communicate your needs and boundaries to people. Being in close quarters with the same people can be draining, even if you are buds. Let people know if you need down time, and don’t be scared to take it, or give it to others. Go to the bathroom every chance you get. Eat and sleep and get out and stretch. Don’t drive tired or drunk, even if you’re in a time crunch.
7. Rep your real hood.
If you’re from Orange County or the IE or SGV don’t lie and say you’re from LA for cool points. It is important for people to see that there are amazing bands from Santa Ana, Garden Grove, Mission Viejo, Anaheim, Whittier, and Fontana. There is nothing more annoying than when a band says they’re from Long Beach when everyone knows they are from OC. Southern California is acceptable if members live all over the place, but please don’t be scared to actually advertise where you are from. Representation is important and you’ll look like a poser when your new friends wanna come through, expecting DTLA and end up in Diamond Bar. Don’t live a lie. Unless that’s your thing, then you do you!
8. Respect Each Scene and Reciprocate the Love!
It takes a lot of work to put on a show with a touring band on the bill, make sure you show gratitude to the other bands, the locals, and people who set the show up. It’s important to drop unrealistic expectations. For real if you expect a sold out crowd at every show you will be sorely disappointed. Always promote your shows and don’t sweat attendance, some scenes are bigger than others and show up differently. Always stay for the whole show, and be ready and stoked to set up shows for people when they want to come through Southern California. Make friendships, not connections, and give a shit about the communities and scenes you are lucky enough to be a part of for the night. By traveling and playing music you have the chance to become part of a wider music community; don’t forget that’s a real privilege!
9. Enjoy it
If you are in a band then you love music, or else you wouldn’t do it. Being on tour can be a mixed bag of emotions and experiences, but it is so important to have fun, because really why the fuck are you doing this in the first place? Play every show like you give a shit, because it really may be the last time you ever play that town. Try to do stuff everyone wants to do. For many musicians this is the only thing we get that resembles a vacation. Swim in a river. Get regional donuts. Bring home gifts for loved ones. See cool shit. If time permits give yourself a day off if you’re going to be out more than 5 days, you will lose money but you won’t regret it.
10. Know that tour might break up your band
It’s ok! Don’t stress out! Just know it and be ready to deal with it. If you have communication issues they WILL come up. If two members secretly hate each other, they will get in a fight. If people aren’t into it, it will be really clear. It’s important to not read into stuff too much but to acknowledge that stuff tends to rise to the surface during tour, like Mercury Retrograde on wheels in the middle of the woods with booze and emotions running high. Practice self-care, good communication, and boundaries, or beware. And if it’s the end, embrace it, put that excess tour merch on Bandcamp, cherish the memories, and move on.