How to save money before (and when) you hit the road
Touring for the first time is an exciting experience, and something that not every band gets to do. If you and your band mates have pooled all your money together and you’re about to embark on your first tour, congratulations, you’ve just decided to make your life a whole lot more interesting for a few weeks. Be prepared for some of the best and worst times of your life. Flat tyres, almost-empty venues, warm beer, bad service station food, disappearing promoters, rubbish support bands, crazy fans and some of the best memories and biggest laughs with your band mates.
For unsigned bands – which is who we are talking to here (sorry Metallica) – touring can seem like the path to the “Promised Land”, full of crowded rooms, free-flowing alcohol and buckets of cash. In truth it’s a hard slog, there’s probably only going to be about 5 people there to watch you and it can get expensive. Very expensive. Therefore, it is worth trying to save every bit of money where you can.
Here are a few tips for those about to embark on their first tour on how to save money. This is just stuff from personal experience, so if you think I’ve left anything out or you have any other ideas on how to save money on tour, then feel free to pitch in.
Plan your tour appropriately
Don’t plan tours that start in Scotland when you live in London. Try your best to gig around the area you live in and start branching out slowly. That way you can drive home that night and not have to fork out for hotels. In addition, if you’re doing a tour of gigs across the country, don’t “yoyo” too much. Try and keep the travelling distance between each gig to a minimum. This will keep fuel costs down and hopefully the £50 you get per gig (if that!) will cover the fuel to the next venue.
Try not to stay in hotels
If you’re touring on a budget, Travelodges and the like can seem cheap enough, but they soon add up when you’ve got a 15-date tour ahead of you. If you can, sleep in the van. Make sure it’s in a safe place though! Alternatively, arrange to stay with friends or at the other bands’ houses. Play people’s living rooms, apartments, backyards and ask to crash on the couch. There are many closed groups on Facebook that you can join that will allow you to post requests for places to crash.
Mind your manners!
This should go without saying but always remember to be respectful of your hosts. As hilarious as it might be to try and re-enact any rock ‘n’ roll antics you’ve heard about – especially for those who’ve read or seen “The Dirt” – bad news travels at lightning speed in musicians’ circles, and you might find that the next place you were due to stay might suddenly be unavailable…
Buy reliable gear
This should be a given, but the amount of times I’ve seen bands turn up with broken amps and expect them to work would surprise you. You’re going to need industry-standard stuff if you want to perform well – this is not something you can get around. It’s just a fact. Now I’m not saying you need to go out and buy a full Marshall stack, but it might be time to get rid of those crackly leads and change them for some tour-ready cables, or swap that no-name Strat’ rip off for the real deal. You need reliable gear that is going to last years, not something that you have to lean at a certain angle for the reverb tank to work or the drum to sound right.
Buy soft cases
A hard case can be a good idea, but when you’re touring the country in your mum’s Corsa, a full flight case for your Gibson Les Paul is really not going to be practical. Soft cases protect your gear without taking up too much room and stop scratches and dents quite effectively.
Stock up on food
Eating at service stations can get expensive quickly, especially when you arrive at the Holy Grail of servos – Tebay. If you’ve been there, you know what I’m talking about. Live a little every now and then, but don’t eat out every night. Stock up on protein/cereal bars, bread and sandwich meats and you’ll find that you’ll spend less on tour. If there’s a curry night at the local Wetherspoons, or the crown carvery at your Travelodge is doing a 2-4-1 then go nuts – just keep an eye on what you’re spending.
Limit off days as much as possible
The less time you’re spending off, the less money you’re spending on food, beer or whatever it is you do to keep yourself occupied. A day off in a van is no fun, so try and book gigs one after the other. This means more money for fuel and free Wi-Fi/electricity/running water at a venue.
Get some merchandise together
This might sound counter-intuitive having to spend money on merchandise to save money, but just hear me out. If you have something cool to sell, you’ll invariably be able to shift it. Get your mate who’s good at drawing to design you a cool t shirt, get some printed up and take them out with you. Chances are if the design is good, no matter how good (or bad) your band is, someone will buy it based on the artwork alone thus putting an extra £10-£12 into the kitty to get you to the next venue.
Merch is important as it’s something tangible you can sell. Don’t give any away and always be prepared to set it up before and after the gig. Often people wait until the headliner act is finished before buying a shirt, so wait until the headliner has finished before you pack the van. You’ll be surprised how much stuff you’ll sell if it looks cool, so get some sorted.
Plus, depending upon how much you sell can sometimes be the difference between eating that night or just having enough to put fuel in the van to get to the next venue.
Buy spares in bulk
Buying separate sets of strings, drumsticks, drum skins or plectrums can become costly, so it’s best to buy in bulk. Multi packs save money in the long run, especially if you change strings regularly or go through drum sticks quickly. People will ask for sticks and plectrums after gigs, and you can’t really say no – so be prepared.
Confirm with the promoter
This is one of the most important rules to remember. If you’ve got a run of dates planned, make sure you confirm with the promoter that the gig is definitely still happening. You don’t want to travel half way across the country to find out the headliner band has pulled out or that there’s been a problem with the water and the venue has shut down.
Chances are if you’ve booked months in advance, the promoter might forget to call you. Just confirm your dates and make sure the gig has actually been promoted before you spend money on a full tank of fuel and use your last day off at work.
- Repair your amps before you hit the road – this will save you from having to hire gear.
- Don’t hire a van unless you absolutely have to! If you’re taking a trailer out with you due to all your gear, rethink the amount you’re taking. Do you really need a spare JCM800 stack when a Studio Classic SC20 Combo will fit easier?
- Take a good pillow and a warm coat. You might be sleeping in the car or van (if you absolutely have to hire one) or driving long distances. Neck supports are your friend.
- You don’t need a sound engineer or a roadie for your first tour. Unless they’re paying for themselves. If so, then don’t let them go as they are rarer than unicorns.
- Fix stuff yourself where possible.
- Bring spare patch leads, strings, drumskins etc.
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If you’re not quite going the whole hog and touring but are planning your first gig, then this checklist for guitarists will prove useful.
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Lee Glynn is a guitarist and multi-instrumentalist who lives in Liverpool, England. After moving to the UK from Perth, Australia, Lee enjoyed a successful career as guitarist in Liverpool based rock band Sound of Guns.
After releasing two albums, a myriad of EPs / singles and touring extensively around the world for 6 years including stops at Glastonbury, Latitude Festival, as well as the coveted Reading & Leeds Festivals, Lee decided it was a time for a change of scenery.
Utilising his experience in music journalism, Lee now works within the web team at Dawsons Music, where he can still relay his passion for music by producing great content for the Dawsons blog and social media. Lee is still an avid guitar player and writer.