Posted: Sep 20, 2023
Category: Live Performance
**Guest post written by Adam Percy of Bandzoogle.
"No matter your genre or style, if you’re a musician, chances are you’ll be looking at playing shows on a tour. For a lot of musicians, crossing the country and playing in other parts of the world is the dream - and it can be a huge component for your success as you reach outside of your core local fans.
If you’ve ever booked local shows, you know it can be tough to land a gig even where people know you well. If you’ve never toured before, getting gigs lined up outside of your show circle can seem like an even more daunting task.
One of the best ways to set up a tour and hit the road effectively is to network and plan gig swaps. It’s a helpful way to find suitable venues as well as broaden your audience reach. Here we’ll look at figuring out if gig swapping is a good fit for your band, and how to get started with it.
Working together with other artists to gig swap is a lot of fun, but deciding if you should gig swap is a bit more situational and there can be pitfalls.
For example, putting more people on the road can increase costs in some areas, with potentially less earnings for everyone at the door. So don’t think doing this is always the right choice - much of this can depend on the stage you’re at as a band or artist, and what kind of resources you have on hand.
But hear me out: it can be a good idea for a few solid reasons.
Ultimately gig swapping across more than one region can mean audiences opening up for everybody in more places a lot faster than if you all go it alone. So it’s likely worth exploring if you plan to tour, and going through the process once will help you figure out if it’s profitable enough, both financially and in terms of extending your audience.
Stick with bands you personally like or gel with - don’t try to gig swap with bands just because they’re popular, they’re old friends on the east coast, or it’s your cousin's uncle’s bar band.
I’m not even talking about sticking to the same genre either - that’s actually not that important in this day of streaming and mashups. It’s about matching level, energy, and show.
You only have to like what they do and think their band would complement yours at an event and vice versa - it’s really about making a better show, and giving that to your fans. We all want to help our buddies, but the goal should be about putting on a great gig - don’t compromise that if the talent isn’t there yet with another artist or outfit.
1. Get prepared
Networking to plan a tour might seem a bit like cold calling. It’s a bit of a sales pitch, so before you start, be sure to prepare. Gig swapping can range from local shows to a cross-country tour, so define your goals first. Make a list of local artists you know and would love to potentially share a stage with.
Then, look at your data. in your Reports tab. Check the ‘reports’ tab in your Bandzoogle account, your Google analytics, your Facebook data - and start looking at fan location information. Can you draw in a certain town where you know someone, or have been to before? Maybe we have a lot of listeners concentrated in an area. Choose a few locations that you’d like to head out to, maybe close to home, maybe farther out but close in proximity.
You can even make a spreadsheet to keep locations and artists in order, noting how you know them and who you contacted when.
2. Attend local shows
Know any other great bands who’ve toured outside of your town? A first place to start networking is to reach out and talk to local bands first. Regularly attend shows of other touring bands you think would be a good fit, and look at their tour schedule - do you think you could pull off something similar?
Introduce yourself to the artists at their gigs - compliment their show, and ask them about other places they’ve played or where they’re going to. Just be pro, polite and introduce yourself - show interest in what they do as fellow musicians, tell them how you’re totally gagging over their customized Les Paul, and then ask a few questions.
Have a download code or card with a link to your band website on hand to give them. If a swap is in the future, they want to know what you sound like. Oh, and don’t forget to add them to the door of one of your shows if they happen to be around for that.
You’d be surprised how forthcoming a lot of artists can be when they’re not playing on the stage (FYI only talk to them when they’re not playing or otherwise occupied). And starting local means possible access to more venues, more information on locations they’ve played outside of town, local bookers, and more, and see if they’d be interested in some gig tradeoffs.
3. Use those platforms you spend all your time on
You think all that social media currency you’ve built up is just for fan engagement? Think again - use Instagram, Facebook, or any other social media to reach out to artists you like or admire in an area you’re looking at playing in future.
Don’t be shy, musicians will get it - we all largely have the same dreams, and they can be a fantastic resource when it comes to booking shows outside of your current fan zone.
Musicians can tell you the right venue to play in their town, the best indie booker to contact, and the cheapest but cleanest motel to stay at, or even offer a place to crash.
Speaking of social media, there’s a lot of local musicians groups on various platforms - these groups often show band posts for their own shows at local venues. These are a great way to get a ‘read’ on what venues are in that location, and if that venue is the right place for you to play. So search those out and join those groups!
Heck I once did a short and sweet tour out east by posting some regional ads in Craigslist - ‘Band looking to tour in your area’. This was an awesome way to actually tap into the local scene with artists who we vibed with, who knew all the cool underground venues to play.
It was one of the fastest put together tours I’ve ever done, and we got to play with loads of great local talent.
4. Radio is your friend
Another great place to reach out to is local college radio - program directors, DJs who match your musical style, are already heavily invested in their local music scene. The industry professionals can also not only be a great resource for your tour planning, but can also help with your local promo when the time comes.
5. Attend conferences
Festival and conference season is a great place to connect with touring artists and find some like-minded musicians who may be down to gig swap. Attend showcases, be sure to mingle after hours, and listen to as much music as you can.
Some conferences will even feature panels with info on touring - check these out to find bands with similar goals, and be sure to collect business cards or download codes to keep in touch for future opportunities together.
6. Ask the venue
If you’ve got a location and venue in mind, it can’t hurt to reach out to the owner directly. Send over your EPK with videos and music, and ask about a few dates (make sure to check their website beforehand). Keep in mind that venues often book a minimum of 3 months out, while some need more like 6 months runway.
The venue may able to suggest a local opener, or offer to find one that’s a good fit. This increases their draw overall, so it's win-win for you getting to know a local band and their fans, and for the venue to increase attendance. There is also the chance that they’re trying to put together shows with other artists asking the same thing, and pairing two similar out of town acts might create a special night for the venue.
At last, you’re home from tour playing to new audiences, it was a great success, you and your swapping artists were really happy, and they’re all revved up to come out and do it again in your neck of the woods.
If you played a gig in someone else's home town for a gig swap, make sure you work to book equivalent gigs where you are when the time comes. Remember it’s all about benefiting everyone who participates, and having everyone benefit from each other's audiences in different areas.
Just put the same work in your locale when the time comes for your swap to come out to your home town - remember it’s about the show you put on collectively, and benefiting from each other's audiences while putting on a great show - it’s only fair.
Don’t forget the swap promises you made - if you promised gigs in your area, make sure it happens, don’t let that slide. Even if it takes longer to make it all happen, make a point of trying to hold up your end of the deal - not doing so is amazingly rude, and it’s a great way to burn bridges.
A lot of doing a tour is fan / audience building - and that can take years, not just with one tour (another reason to gig swap). There may very well be a huge audience out there that hasn’t met you yet, and other good reasons to keep playing, like a really excited promoter you talked to, or other bands similar to yours who had success in that town or region - the extended reach of gig swapping can help with that."
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