For independent bands without booking agents, booking tours is a challenging and lengthy process. Even booking one show can involve a saga of research finding venues, trying to get contact info for bookers, reaching out, following up, and hopefully hearing back from one. From the other end, many venues are hesitant to take a gamble on out-of-towners when they could book dependable local acts instead and incur less risk. Because of this, it is helpful for touring bands to reach out to venues along with a local act that would like to play on the same night. In view of how important connecting similar bands is to the process of booking shows, I decided to build a system that would recommend bands to each other so that they could play awesome shows together. Here’s how I built this system using album purchase data scraped from Bandcamp.
These two bands should play together. Skip to my Process Overview and Results section to find out why.
In the first week of April, I got to go on my first tour with my Oakland-based band, Paper Void. It was a humble operation compared to a professional tour: two nights in Los Angeles, one in San Diego, one in Portland, and a last show at Bottom of The Hill back in San Francisco. We were able to crash with our families the entire time and roll down highway 5 in a bus that our friends happened to own. We all have day jobs back here, so we didn't need to keep to a super tight budget. We did alright for our first tour - we didn’t even lose that much money!
Our trusty tour vessel, The Squidship. Painted by Lauren YS. It broke down right when we got back to Oakland. RIP.
Real tours in industry, I am told, are much more challenging than ours for everyone but the most popular acts. I’ve heard war stories from friends about hitting 42 cities in 45 days with 7 people and their gear crammed into one van, getting one motel room for the entire band each night, $10 per diems that had them eating potato chips for lunch, or getting all their gear stolen. To quote my friend Kyle, "You come back from tour completely drained and demoralized, and yet somehow excited to do the whole thing again the next day." With this little taste of the "road life" and booking our mini-tour, I noticed how important networking is to the whole process:
When independent bands are trying to get booked at venues, especially away from home, it helps to have friends who are a local band and know the scene. It helps even more if those friends mesh with you musically, and you can approach the venue with a cohesive ticket for the night you are asking about.
Take our show in Portland, for example. Instead of diving into the lengthy research process described above, one of our singers Hannah, who is from Oregon, reached out to a childhood friend in a local band called Space Shark, and we were able to book our gig at Kelly's Olmpian faster than you could say polymetre.
By contrast, even reaching out with friends in a local LA band, we indeed did have to go through the email saga (partially since there are so many bands in LA and getting gigs is very competitive) and we ended up having to plan a house party with them instead. That party was really great too, but likely resulted in less revenue and less exposure than a venue show would have. The economics of it all need to add up a bit better when you are planning a real professional tour. As you can imagine, the sheer difficulty of planning a good tour is why there are professionals who often manage bands' tours for them, and their services can really be worth it even at smaller scales.
When they don't have friends in the area where they want to play, how should bands figure out who to play with or where to play? Or perhaps an even better question, how should smaller bands figure out what cities to play in in the first place? If there are no bands like you in the area in terms of sound and size of following, and no venues that tend to host music like yours, does it make sense to skip a city entirely? No one wants drive out to a faraway college town just to play for 5 people and get little exposure or money for their efforts.