Touring tips from the Musicians at Work Forum

I’m beginning to really love the Chicago Artists Resource & Chicago Music Commission’s Musicians at Work Forums (yes, that was a mouthfull). This month’s panel discussion covered touring. The panel was made up of diverse experts, offering a nice and well-rounded point of view from bookers, managers, labels and artists:

From what makes a good show to when to tour to the importance of live performances, the panelists shared some really good advice.

The cost of touring: don’t forget to think about how much touring costs. It’s a lot cheaper for a one-man singer/songwriter to tour than a five-person band with a full set-up. Great point from Brian M.

Know how many people you can bring in: all that a venue cares about is how many beer drinkers you can bring in and how much they’ll pay to see you. 

Leverage online fans: ask your fans to be your ambassadors. Ask them where they want you to play. Then ask them to bring a bunch of friends to see you there. It worked for Mo B as he was promoting Hollywood Holt.

It’s called Google. If you want to play in a new market, look up your  favorite band or one whose sound is similar to yours then look up their booking agent and try to get a gig at those venues.

Moving beyond the usual suspects. Look beyond booking agents, a lot of times venues will rely on promoters  to book acts. Also look beyond the typical venues (bars, clubs & coffee shops) because there are a lot of places that look for acts to perform live. I Fight Dragons played conventions that booked bands and whose attendees fit their fanbase.

Playing live may be the most important thing you do. It’s how you build up fans. Bruce from Alligator Records has signed a band based on their kick-ass live show. It’s how you sell records – Bruce also has his artists tell the crowd that the performance may be the only time to buy their CD in town. Best Buy and Borders aren’t carrying that wide a variety of music. It’s also how you get reviews, mentions Scott – media will be more likely to review your music if you’re coming into town (if you’re not a local band).

Friends vs Fans. A friend base is different from a fan base. Be sure to build up a real fan base. Great advice from Brian M.

Say Thank You! Apparently the two rarest words heard from artists. A small gesture will go a long way to set you apart.

Give away free music, but don’t throw it away. At least get an email address  in return. And keep sending fresh content that your fans will appreciate. I Fight Dragons gave away free songs for months to build up some momentum at the grassroots level. Bruce from Alligator mentions that the label usually offers a free song on the website, and that’s the track that ends up getting purchased the most on iTunes. A great resource for musicians, via Brian at the DCA.

This is only taste of some of the great advice offered by the panelists. If you missed this month’s event, check out #MAWF on Twitter, or you can subscribe to a recording of the session (and all  MAWF panels) via iTunes or RSS.

Next month’s panel discussion will take place on March 15 and focus on when to get a manager. Hope to see you there!

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