Should You Book Your Own Concert Tour?

Musician reaching out to fans
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In a perfect world, every concert tour would be put together by a booking agent with an overflowing little black book of contacts and a world of bargaining power. In reality, it can take a long time for a band to attract an agent - even when their shows have been growing and they're ready to move past their local live circuit.

Faced with this scenario - the need to tour and the lack of an agent - musicians have two choices.

They can do nothing, keep on playing the shows they're playing now, and wait for an agent to take notice. Or they can decide to take the bull by the horn and book their own gigs. 

Book One Show, Then Repeat

If you've booked a show for yourself locally, then essentially you know how to book a tour. All you do is repeat that process in every city you hope to play. Of course, booking a tour for the first time is much more like booking your very first gig. No matter how popular you are on your local circuit, a promoter or venue 400 miles away may never have heard your name. You're going to have to sell yourself to someone new all over again. It can feel a little disconcerting, and you may be tempted to hang it up when your first round of emails out to venues and promoters doesn't result in an instant, worry-free tour coming together.

There are ways around cold-calling a lot of venues and hoping they listen.

Sites like Sonicbids allow promoters and venues to check out your music with ease, plus, they give you a list of viable booking contacts.

Investing the Time

Booking a tour takes an incredible amount of time - more time than you might think. You have to wait for people to get back to you, follow-up, wait for replies to your follow-ups, and so on and so forth.

There are also a ton of moving parts to manage, so it's not something you can do half-heartedly in your spare time. Booking a tour is like taking on another job. So before you start making calls, just be sure you can block off the time you need to confirm all of those dates. And be aware that increasingly even smaller clubs book weeks and often several months in advance. 

Don't Get Stiffed

One of the things an agent can usually do for you more easily than you can do for yourself is get you paid. An agent with a track record with a venue/promoter can often convince them that you're a good bet, and get you a decent deal. You walking into a place cold - you can expect to have to prove yourself before you pull the cash. There's nothing wrong with going that route; if you do prove yourself, then you will get better deals next time. But before you start booking, just be sure you're financially ready to take on the obligation of a tour. Check the venue's reputation with other musicians who've played there to find out if you're going to have trouble getting paid. 

If you're working through a third party for any portion of your bookings, make sure they're reputable. Stories abound of musicians who had a great tour until their manager or booker took off with all the tour money.

The Bottom Line

It is entirely possible to book your own tour, so if you're willing to put in the work, get to making those calls. In the long run, you may be glad you learned the ropes by getting your hands dirty - and of course, every show you play brings you one step closer to getting the attention of an agent who will be all too happy to take the job over for you. If you're ready to start getting your tour put together, visit Playing Live 101.