If you’re an unsigned, upcoming musician, touring overseas takes hard-work, money and, more often than not, the art of persuasion. It’s going to require real endurance and passion, especially if you’re inexperienced and low on funds. But most importantly, it’s an adventure and could well end up being the best trip of your life.
Some bands choose to focus on gaining momentum and popularity in their own country before touring abroad, but that isn’t always the case. So whatever your band’s current situation, here’s some advice for playing live overseas.
Tips for bands touring abroad
1 - Tour with a bigger artist
Heading out on an international tour with a bigger artist is a great way to gain experience playing overseas. It also makes things a lot easier when it comes to planning, as all your venues have likely already been booked.
After building up enough notoriety, try approaching more established bands for a support slot. Keep your ear to the ground for chances to supports artists within your local scene, check online for new opportunities for bands and forge relationships with other musicians to make sure your name is on people’s mind when they’re looking for support acts.
For example, upcoming Liverpool band The Night Cafe recently announced that they’ll be touring the world with The Wombats – also from Liverpool! This shows the importance of being plugged into your local scene. You never know when opportunities will arise because of who you know.
2 - Plan your route
Firstly, make sure everyone in the band has up-to-date passports and the appropriate VISAs. Seriously. Mistakes like this can end a tour before it’s even started.
Ideally, you’ll want on book venues based on the easiest and most economical route to save on time and travel expenses. There’s no point zig-zagging across a continent when you can travel in a smooth loop and reduce the miles you cover.
You’ll also need to get yourself a mode of transportation. A tour bus or van is the most obvious choice, giving you the freedom to travel on your own schedule. Just make sure it’s big enough to fit all your gear and reliable enough to go the distance. Some artists choose to travel by train, especially if they don’t drive. Interrailing across Europe is surprisingly easy and affordable, and it’s well worth considering if you don’t have too much gear in tow.
Do your research before renting a tour bus or van overseas
Don’t forget to figure out your budget for food, drink and accommodation too. Unless you’re planning to live out of a tour bus – which can be brutal – plan for where you’re going to stay in each new stop on your tour.
When it comes to funding these essentials, you could use the fees you receive for the shows you play or even head out onto the streets of each city to busk. Just make sure you’re aware of the busking laws and check with the local authorities to avoid any trouble.
If there’s not too many of you, you could also consider using a couch surfing app, a concept that allows travellers to meet with hosts who have a spare couch to sleep on. They might even feed you if you’re lucky.
3- Book the events
If you’re looking to get gigs in unfamiliar locations, do some research into the local scene, find promoters, venues and other bands in the region, and contact them to see if there are any slots for you to fill.
Whether you simply send across links to your track, or connect and network with other bands via social media to see if they need any support acts, they are plenty of ways to infiltrate a new music scene.
Remember to personalize your proposal for each promoter or venue. Make the case for your act’s unique selling point and make a convincing argument for why they should book you. You could even use Google translate to pitch in their native tongue.
4 – Consider venues outside the city
Why not think outside the box when picking locations for your overseas tour? Landing a gig in a lesser known destination can be a lot easier than trying to get a gig in a busy capital city.
Also, the locals will probably be more excited about a new band coming to town in a less populated region. More so than the natives of a big city who see new bands pass through every day. On the other hand, you need to make sure there is a genuine music scene in the places you’re planning to play. You don’t want to end up playing to three people in a dodgy pub.
Bigger cities don't always mean bigger crowds for upcoming bands
5 – Use social media to connect & promote
You'll need to create some promotional graphics for your social media channels and set up individual event pages for each tour date and invite people from that area. But how do you find people in that area?
One way to do this is to find bands and music venues from that region and see who has been liking their posts and events. You could also boost a Facebook post advertising the gig and use Facebooks boosting tools to target a specific region.
Don't be afraid to be creative. You need to give people a reason to come see you, especially if you're an unknown act in a new city. The venue will do their bit to promote the event, but don't let that hold your own promotional efforts back.
6 – Tracks & merchandise
It’s always best if your music is available to buy and stream before you head out on tour. New fans will want to hear more of your music after seeing you live, and if they can’t get hold of it straight away, they may simply forget about you and move on to the next band.
Remember, you don’t need a label to release your tracks. You can get music on Spotify and iTunes via independent music distributors like Ditto Music.
If you’ve got the room in your bag or tour bus, bring some merchandise along with you. Whether its t-shirts, vinyl, stickers are anything else, flogging merch at a gig is great for brand recognition and earning a bit of extra cash on the road.
Record and release at least some music before touring
7 – Think about the money
If you’re setting out on your first international tour, don’t be disheartened if you don’t break even. You might even end up losing money - but that’s ok. You’re gaining experience on the road, learning from your mistakes, making new connections and creating lifelong memories.
In terms of spending money, traveller's cheques may come in useful as you navigate a number of different country and currencies. You could bring some cash with you in different forms of currency for emergencies, but don’t carry too much around with you. If you're bringing a credit card along, check beforehand to make sure you can actually use it where you're going.
8 - Stay healthy
Unhappy and unhealthy bands and musicians don’t play good shows, so don’t underestimate how important it is to look after yourself on the road and keep yourself in good condition.
I'm about to start sounding like your mum, but try to eat well, keep the fast food to a minimum, drink plenty of water, get good sleep every night and don't party too hard!