We just got home from GeekGirlCon, a wonderful convention in Seattle full of the most adorable child cosplay in the world. During that convention we sat on a panel called “Women in Nerd Music” with Molly Lewis, Sammus, Shubzilla and Minn from Thundering Asteroids. It was a really fun and productive hour, with some insights about band names, sexism and the new portmanteau “thermomenerd” (meaning the song used by a band to measure the nerdiness of an audience).The last question in the panel, right under the wire, was “how do you book a tour?” — and we didn’t really get to answer it. But guys, I just have SO MUCH TO SAY!
Collected below is basically every possible thing I thought of when I thought about tour planning. It may or may not help others, depending on what you want to know. Any advice is most likely to apply to bands with an existing online audience.
The post below is not very well organized, and it is not comprehensive, But I think it is a pretty clear reflection of our method for planning tours, with all its benefits and flaws.
WHY WE TOUR: There are lots of bands that don’t tour. There are lots of bands that tour more than we do. I think our reasoning for touring comes down to this: we write our music to be performed live. That’s where we started: not jamming in a garage, but writing for a weekly open mic. And I agree with many reviewers on the internet—the Doubleclicks are better live. So if we really want to serve our extremely supportive audience, I feel like we should play for them live at least once a year, as much as we can. This reasoning dictates how our venues are chosen: there’s a lot of singing along and participation, so we try to play only in places where acoustics allow for jokes and improvisation and talking, and disruptions are minimal (so, not a loud punk bar or outdoor festival). This also dictates which cities we go to: we don’t count on tour as our most reliable way of making money (that comes from the internet, crowd-funding and convention shows)—but we don’t tour to lose money either, so we keep things reasonable and play places where we know enough people will make it out to be worth our travel time.
Since our band started performing as “the Doubleclicks” in 2011, we have toured nationally three times with a sprinkling of additional regional tours (would you like to see our complete archive of show listings? It’s extensive!). I consider a “tour” to be a string of shows on consecutive days in different cities—we’ve done a lot of “appearances” and weekend trips for conventions… but those aren’t really “tours.” Tours are when we pile into a car, drive all day, play a show, sleep, wake up, and repeat. The longest tour we’ve done was the “Velociraptour” in 2013: that was 4 weeks and 8,000+ miles. Certainly not impressive by Katy Perry or Megaran standards, but still exhausting. And my voice was gone by the end!
We still have no idea what we are doing, but it keeps getting better, and we keep making mistakes to learn from.
A note before we begin with the advice: we owe a lot of our tour strategy to people with whom we have played in the past: Paul and Storm, Marian Call, Sarah Donner, and others (thanks, guys!) and we owe even more to the many mistakes and terrible shows we’ve planned out of our own ignorance. Mistakes! They are the worst!
Here we go: HOW THE DOUBLECLICKS PLAN THEIR TOURS
1. FIND THE PEOPLE, PART 1. We started touring because people, people who already knew our music, asked us to. Touring is certainly an important way to build a band’s audience, to play for new people in their very own cities. HOWEVER, our most successful shows on tours are planned with the help of people who already know who we are. So when we tour, we aren’t cold-calling. Before we started touring, we did this:
2. DRAW A PICTURE AND MAKE A PLAN. We remember those “COME TO CLEVELAND” tweets, and we have that big spreadsheet created by fans who fill out our form… and then it’s time to start planning the tour for real. For a while, we used a service called BatchGeo to actually map our FanBridge e-mail list and see where our fans lived based on zip code. We saw the big concentrations: Midwest, East Coast, Northwest: we could even see which cities and suburbs had the most Doubleclicks listeners (Toronto was a big surprise, and so was Chicago).
So once you have the fans, this is the part where you pull up the google maps and the google calendar and ask the questions. How long do you want to tour? What season makes sense for the region? Where do you have fans? Where can you afford to drive? Are you going to fly to the other coast and rent a car? Can you figure out how to borrow a car or make a round-trip rental? Can you bring your own sound setup, so you can play non-conventional venues that do not provide a PA system? Can you anchor your tour with a big corporate, convention or college show to cover some of those big costs? We started very very small with our first headlining tour, with a 5-date tour going from Portland to Vancouver, BC and back. Each time the tours get more ambitious.
The hardest part with the map and the calendar is starting. It feels like we have infinite cities and infinite days—with no structure, it’s impossible to start. It’s helpful to have an “anchor” show or date… for example, we know we need to be in DC when the big venue has a date available, we know we want to be in Boston for the big convention, or we know we want to visit Grandpa on a Sunday. The anchors are annoying because they conflict with the freedom of planning, but they are also necessary. They’re a lot like deadlines: nothing gets done without a little bit of structure.
Once we have figured out our basics, I start marking my calendar with themaster schedule for tour planning: 4-6 months prior to the tour, we tell our fans to get their updated suggestions in via our form (often we do this by posting a map on twitter, maps get people very excited.). 3-4 months prior to to the tour, we’ll start booking. A month later we will confirm shows and start working on travel logistics. About 1-2 months out from the tour, promotion stars in earnest, including releasing new videos in which we can put ads for the tour, and printing and mailing posters. We schedule EVERYTHING. Planning! It looks so clean when it’s in the future.
I sort of love this phase of the tour: the IDEA phase. You put all those cities into a google map and you see what shape your tour’s going to take. You have great ideals in your head about how you won’t have to drive more than 5 hours a day. You have a perfect schedule for every step of the tour. And then you start booking shows, and everything is ruined.
3. FIND THE VENUES AND BOOK THE SHOWS. This is the part of the tour planning that is all about the DATA. We have our spreadsheets about our numbers of local fans, we have a bunch of suggestions, and we have a map. And then?
Game store in Sacramento (this is before we made our bios shorter):
On openers and sharing shows—our current mindset is this: definitely share shows when you can, with people you LOVE. We are fortunate that we are seldom slapped onto bills with openers we don’t know—a practice which can be super frustrating when the person is a sexist or terrible or something, especially when they’re taking the money from people YOU brought in. When we can bring in an opener that we know and whose music we love, it is always worth it for the increase in the quality of the show. We’ve made some mistakes with this in the past, though, particularly early on. Nowadays we will book a show with another act IF: we really like their music and think our audience will too; AND/OR they can help us book a show in a way that will take less work than us doing it ourselves; AND/OR they have a local draw. If none of those things are true, well then we’re just being nice to be walked all over… and that happens a surprising amount. These days, because of how much we’ve been burned, we usually ask openers or co-performers to sign an agreement stating that they will promote the show, in specific ways and a specific number of times. If we’re biting off a bigger venue than we can chew ourselves and we’re counting on someone else to help out, we need to make it clear to that person that we need their help. Making it part of the contract makes it simple and easy to discuss. We’d love to do more shared tours in the future, but those work best when both acts have their own separate audiences who both would enjoy the other’s music, so that the audience is bigger than it would be just for one. Playing shows with our friends is the very greatest thing ever in the world. We do it a lot in Portland and we’d love to do it more around the country, if we could do so while still paying everyone. SOON, I guess!
4. NAIL DOWN THE UNKNOWNS. Once the venues have replied (after some pestering, usually), that next step is important. You aren’t going to get a lot of back-and-forth with each show: everyone is busy. So it’s super important to nail down all the details, the promotion information, your needs and theirs, as early as possible. They may disappear later, when it’s two weeks out from the show and you need to know what time doors open. We create an inclusive “confirmation email” that includes (redundantly, sometimes) ALL of the details as we understand them.Every venue gets an “official promo blurb” that serves as an written-in-stone agreement with the final times for door and show, price, age restriction… so if we’re not on the same page, everyone knows.
Part of a doc containing final details for each show, in a format that can be pasted into a press release or facebook event.
5. FIND THE PEOPLE, PART 2. Press and promotion is something I have a complicated relationship with. Usually, it seems to not make a huge difference how many press releases I send out to the venue’s “required press list”… our fans aren’t reading newspapers, and most reporters have about 300 different concerts per week that they could be writing about, so it’s going to be hard for us to stand out. Below are the things we’ve learned from our past and from internet “indie musician” blogs (I have more to say on this, but I think things like “how to write a press release” and “how to make a poster” are pretty well covered on many of those indie musician blogs, so I’ll keep it to the important lessons).
But really, this is what works:
6. PUT ON A SHOW. Here are the things we’ve learned about the actual “tour” parts of tour:
7. REGROUP, LEARN, TAKE BREAKS, and DO IT ALL AGAIN.
Touring is the best. We genuinely love it. It’s full of logistical nightmares, but every one is worth it.
If you have any specific questions, please leave them in the comments or e-mail me at angela *at* thedoubleclicks.com, and I’ll answer as time permits.
EDIT: if you are a fan and want to offer a venue or a place to stay, please don’t e-mail us, gofill out our form! http://bit.ly/suggestacity
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