How to Get From “Local Artist” to “Touring Musician”
STEP 1: Perfect your performance
Play as many open stages as you can to network with others and solidify your stage presence. Become a familiar face and make sure you get to really know the people. Give this a 6-month time period.
STEP 2: Book shows in your community
Build your following little by little in the areas where your people already are. When you first begin, you will be playing for your friends. Eventually over time your friends will bring their friends to your shows. Those friends will bring more friends…and after some time you won’t recognize even half your audience. This is a good thing. If you are still playing just for your friends in 3 years, then you will know you haven’t accomplished anything. Give this 1-2 years…until you feel like you are very connected and rooted in your city.
STEP 3: Evaluate
At this point, you should begin to drastically limit the number of shows you are playing in your hometown (+Don't Kill Your Hometown Crowd). In fact, you should expect that all the work you have done in Step 2 will begin to pay off. You shouldn’t have to actively book your own hometown. People will begin to reach out to you to ask you to co-bill, play a private gig, headline an event…etc. If you’ve spent the last 1-2 years wisely, then you’ve become a staple in your city’s music scene and your job has paid off.
STEP 4: Begin touring
Pick 2 or 3 nearby cities that you want to break into. Going the open mic route isn’t necessarily easy when you’re not living in these cities. So, do some research into each city’s staple event – i.e. Gallery crawls, monthly community events…etc. Read “FIRST FRIDAYS, SECOND SATURDAYS, THIRD THURSDAYS“. When you’re breaking into a new city, it makes much more sense to jump into events where you don’t have to work for a draw. After all…you don’t have one! Take advantage of the fact that events like these pull out a lot of people. Playing in an art gallery crawl as hundreds of people walk through during the course of 3 hours, is much more exposure than you can get at a podunk pub that you could have played.
Also make sure to visit cities that you want to visit repeatedly. Don’t pick 3 different cities each time you want to hit the road. You could go everywhere and not really accomplish anything. Work in the same 3 cities each time. Build your audience over time until you have a strong following.
Also, find people who are willing and interested in hosting house shows in these respective cities. This is another great, no pressure way of building your fanbase while also playing a show that really matters. Give this 1 year.
STEP 5: Begin booking venues
Now that you’ve got a handle on your 3 cities and also have a fanbase to work with, begin reaching out to local venues in those cities. Book good shows and co-bill with comparable artists. Give this 1.5 years.How to Make Sure You're Booking a Good Venue
STEP 6: Begin booking other cities
You can begin working on this 1 year into Step 5. Start off with a 5-7 day tour. Your 3 core cities are fair game for your “anchors”. They are the cities worth playing on a Friday or Saturday b/c they are the cities where you have actually built your fanbase…which means people will (hopefully) come out to your show…which means you have fans in those cities who will support and buy tickets to the show…which means those particular shows will be your money gigs and help to fund the rest of your travels.
In other words, book Friday/Saturday gigs in the cities where you have strong fan support and leave new cities to other days of the week. Read: “THE BEST WAY TO BOOK A TOUR“. Anchor dates are incredibly important because you can realistically expect to go into the negative when playing new cities. Sometimes you’ll only make enough to cover your gas. Sometimes you won't even make that. Give this 1.5 years.
STEP 7: Expand
After you’ve spent time playing in new cities while still playing your original anchor cities, you can begin to expand. Play your strongest cities less frequently and begin to focus on new cities. Continue to expand in your particular region. Then start working on another region. This process can literally go on forever…and it does.
Does this plan suck because it's essentially a 6+ year plan? Sorry, it's gonna take some time and you’re going to have to work hard at this. So if you're in it for the long haul, then I wish you the very best of luck in your endeavors!
- These time frames are just suggestions. Impact in/on a city will ultimately depend on how frequently you play in that city.
- None of the above matters if you’re not capitalizing on each show - i.e. Building your following via your Newsletter, Facebook, Twitter, and all other marketing efforts.
- And like we already said: Expect to go into the negative when first playing new cities. That’s just the way it is.
Related Blog Posts:Building a Touring Strategy with Tom Windish
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