Tips to Tour Europe Like Tour Gods!
So you’ve been cracking the flags of the UK and with the success that’s brought, you’re thinking about traveling further afield. The band is sounding tight, and the songs are on-point. So naturally you want to grow your audience-base beyond the bright lights of Blighty, and why not? There’s a whole continent on our doorstep.
We’re fortunate that the UK is viewed as a cultural hub, and that gives musicians from England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales a great opportunity to raise their profile. But the thing is, how do you go about it? In principle, it seems quite easy. But the reality is something quite different. It’s for that reason we’ve enlisted some help from a pro.
Jamie Smith, of the Mighty Vipers, worked with us to create this handy guide to help increase the success of your tour of Europe.
Find out which European countries are into your genre
Maybe there’s a country you’ve always wanted to visit and think that you could plan a tour out there. It sounds like a great idea, but it might not work out like you planned. That’s because some countries have really strong roots in particular genres, the Netherlands love their rock and hardcore, metal is popular in Scandinavia, and ska in Poland. For a fledgling band out in Europe, you’re not going to get your pick of venues. So do some research, look at booking agents for bands you like and you’ll begin to see trends where your band will work best.
Identify where other bands from the UK are touring
As well as considering genre, look at where other bands from the UK are touring. There are lots of musicians playing out in Europe. There’s a couple of reasons that you’ll benefit here. The first is to do with routing. Now we don’t have the big drives like they have in the USA, but you’ll soon feel worn out if you’ve made bad routing decisions. So by tracking where other UK bands are playing, you’ll soon get a good idea of what works and what doesn’t. For instance, if you’re travelling to Dunkirk or Calais, maybe you want to look at towns or cities close to the ferry port or at least on your way back.
Pick your exit
In line with point two, it might make sense to do some analysis of travel options. For instance, if you’re heading out to Germany or the Netherlands and you’re not from the South of England, then getting the ferry Dover might not be the best option. There are ferries that go from Felixstowe or Hull though they might seem more expensive, getting a good night’s rest can do wonders. Being tired causes lots of problems. The last thing you want is all out war with your own band mates.
Get a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)
It’s free to register for one of these cards, and it gives you access to state-funded healthcare. That said, this is not a substitute for Health Insurance. It’s better to pay a small fee for travel insurance and be covered for all eventualities, you just don’t know what might happen. One friend paid £100 for a single asthma inhaler, luckily he had cover, which means he claimed most of that money back.
Build up your network
This is probably the most important point on this list. Quite simply, you can save yourself a hell of a lot of hard work if you make connections with bands/booking agents/promoters beforehand. And it’s quite an easy thing to do, because just like you, other artists want to tour. Lots of musicians want to travel and play England, if you help them, they’re likely to help you too.
One of the best things you can do is start looking for bands around your size, and help them by booking a few shows with you. If you look at a lot of the most successful artists, they grew from building a community of likeminded people. Also, it will mean you get to play with other bands, instead of playing mega sets (see point 9).
Use your networks to find a good booking agent
Now booking shows for yourself is all well and good if you have time to spare. But it’s tough going. If you book shows in the UK, amplify the difficulty by tenfold. That’s because people don’t like risk. Promoters and venues especially don’t like losing money. A good booking agent knows it’s all about long-term relationships. So if they like your stuff, and your buddies from another band vouch for you, booking shows becomes much easier.
Check out the technical specs
For your first tour, it’s likely you’ll be playing cafes, which are really cool, but the in-house rigs are often quite small. Best to check first. This point is especially true for bands with lots of players, because there’s nothing worse than sacrificing your sound because you didn’t ask a simple question.
Tour for at least a week
If you play your cards right, you’ll have some good paid gigs at the weekend. Make sure you have accommodation and food included too. That way you’ll get rest and a hearty meal per day. Don’t be afraid though to play shows in student towns for free mid-week, as long as they give you somewhere to stay. Firstly, you’ll have an awesome crowd and secondly, it will open to the door for new opportunities in a future.
Learn two or three 45 minute sets
Yeah, I know right. That’s a lot of playing. But the thing is, in Europe you’ll often get booked on your own. Plus if you can provide hours of entertainment you’re likely to get paid more. Remember, most people don’t book artists solely for the fun of it.
Once you’ve made friends with promoters, keep them
After your tour, make sure you keep in touch and arrange for another show 6-9 month in the future. If you’ve been out for a more than a week, it’s now time to speak with those mid-week promoters and ask for a weekend show. They’ll appreciate your commitment to building an audience in their area, and hopefully they’ll pay you more. In reality, mid-week shows in Europe are more of a showcase to build relationships with promoters, at least until you get a good name for yourself. As you know, more people are likely to turn out at the weekend. That’s where you’ll gain the most success.
Take a lot of merch
Finally, don’t forget the merchandise. Even if you’ve got a stock of black and white T-shirts, consider other options too. Like mugs, ironing board covers, slip mats for record players, get creative on it. Not only does it look impressive, people love buying merch out in Europe. It supplements your payment and is a great way to get your name out there.
Touring Europe is such an amazing experience. And the options for visiting new towns are endless, but try to concentrate on building your audience base, and keep at it. Visiting at least once a year is a must. Most of all, have fun. Touring is tough, but it’s a massively rewarding experience when you get to see the world and don’t have to pay for it.
Journalist, PR and multimedia specialist. Write professionally on subjects ranging from musical instruments to industrial technology.