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How to Book a Tour - The Comprehensive Guide to Booking Your Own DIY Tour as an Indie Artist

This article was adapted from the original written by Josiah Garrett. Visit the original article.

Here at the Indie Music Academy, we believe that there is a revolution happening in our midst: There has never been a more affordable time to record high-quality music at home. With the rise of social media and digital marketing, your music can reach the far corners of the Earth. And with amazing new websites like Soundbetter.com you can hire pro-level producers and instrumentalists to help you achieve the sound of your dreams.

One thing that hasn't necessarily gotten easier with time is booking physical tours. Yes, it goes without saying that Google Maps is a God-send for routing your destinations. And with hotels, restaurants, and venue information just being a search away on the world wide web, there are definitely some perks to living in this digital age.

But by and large, booking your own tour as an independent artist is still incredibly difficult and the process itself isn't talked about much and very mysterious. So in this article, we laid it all out for you in plain English so that in 12 simple steps (not necessarily in order) you can understand the full picture of everything that is required to book your own successful tour. Let's begin!

1. Book Your Show Using the "Hold, Challenge, and Confirm" Method

When looking to book a show or a run of shows, the process for confirming that show happens with a 3-Step Process, known as Hold, Challenge, & Confirm. This universal process for booking shows runs on a first-come, first-serve basis where the first artist to contractually commit to a date at a venue gets the show. Let's break down each of these steps, one at a time:

Hold

A “Hold” is a verbal confirmation that the band would like to perform on an available date. The venue promoter will distribute holds on a first-come-first-serve basis.

If an agent wants to book a date at a venue to perform, the agent emails the promoter and asks for a hold on an available date. If another Agent for another band wants the date, that agent asks for a “2nd Hold”, or a “3rd Hold”, and so on. This process continues until an artist or agent decides to confirm their Hold or is challenged by someone else for the show.

It is not uncommon for a perfect weekend run of 2nd or 3rd holds to be ruined by an early challenger. For this reason, agents often have several holds in different markets or venues to safeguard their existing routing and to make sure the band can hit crucial markets. Sometimes the booking agent will even ask to hold multiple dates at the same venue. This happens when a band knows they want to play in a certain market (let's say, Atlanta), but they are not sure which date will work better for their routing or turnout.

When a booking agent is ready to confirm a show, the Agent will confirm/challenge a run (shows in succession) of holds at once with the promoters.

Challenge

“Challenge” is the process of forcing the other holds on a date to confirm or back out within 24 or 48 hours of the challenge being issued.

For example, a booking agent with a 2nd Hold may Challenge an agent with a 1st hold for a date at a venue if they are ready to commit to a contract. Upon being issued a Challenge, the promoter of the show will give the agent with a 1st hold a 48-hour window of committing to the show or backing out.

If you have a 5th hold on the venues and you issue a challenge on the other holds, the promoter emails the other 4 holds and says “Your hold has been challenged, do you want to confirm?”

Confirm

A “Confirm” is the verbal agreement that you intend to sign a performance contract and commit to the performance date and deal with a venue promoter.

What happens if you back out of a Confirm?

Legally & financially, nothing happens. You have not signed a Performance Contract that would obligate the artist and promoter to certain terms if the show doesn’t happen. However, I highly advise to never back out of a confirm outside of an Act of God (known legally as a “force majeure”). The confirm is only a courtesy in legal terms, but it has a social weight — an obligation that you intend to sign a contract and bring legal and financial consequences to the performance.

The music industry is a small world, which means that word travels fast, especially among Promoters. So while you technically have not invoked the cancellation clause of a performance contract, that promoter might hold a grudge against you behind closed doors. A promoter will not go out of their way to bash the reputation of an artist that pulls out of a “confirm”, but as an agent, you are putting yourself into a serious disadvantage when trying to perform in that market again.

Now, if the show is 4 months away and you pull out of a confirm because of some foreseeable event (wedding, the birth of a child, double booking, etc), there is a reasonable amount of time for the promoter to find a new artist that night. But obviously, this is an inconvenience that everyone wants to avoid.

2. Know the Types of Tour Deals (So You Don't Look Clueless)

Guarantee

This is a Flat Fee that is guaranteed to the artist no matter the venue income (tickets sold) or expenses (production, marketing, security) related to the show.

Door Deal

This is a % of the money made at the door via Ticket Sales. If you have an 80% Door Deal and sell $150 worth of tickets, you will walk out with $120.

Versus Deal

This is a Guarantee VS Door Deal, whichever one is higher in favor of the artist. This is in situations where the band wants a guaranteed amount of money to cover expenses and secure their tour budget, but in the event that the ticket sales are high, the band will make more money.

Split Point Deal

Which is a deal where the artist has a guarantee but in addition has the opportunity to make more money based ticket revenue (venue expenses subtracted). Let's say you are signing a Performance Contract for an 80% Split Point Deal after $500. The first thing to do is to calculate the dollar amount of the Split Point itself.

The Split Point =(Box Office Revenue)-(Expenses)-(Tax)-(Artist Guarantee). You sell 100 tickets at $10 each, so the Box Office revenue is $1,000. The venue expenses, including audio engineers, security for your show, marketing expenses, and overhead, total $250. The sales tax on tickets sold is 5%, or $50.

The Split Point = ($1,000)-($250)-($50)-($500) = $200

When you reach the Split Point, that is called “Going into Points”. Any overage past the Split point is then split per the previously negotiated Percentage. (which in this scenario, is 80%). You will be walking home with $160 from going into points plus your guarantee of $500 for a total of $660. 

The Versus Deal differs from the Split Point because, in a Split Point, the Artist gets their guarantee AND some, while in a Versus Deal the Artist gets their guarantee OR some.

Learn more about Negotiating your Deal in the free Music Industry Success eBook, by Josiah Garrett!

3. Know the Right Way to Interact With the Promoter

How often do you follow up with a Promoter if they don’t respond to your email?

We asked Erwin Schemankewitz, owner of Ever Upward Entertainment Agency in Denver, CO to answer:

“For a cold lead, You can start reaching out to promoters as early as 6 months in advance of the show or hold requested. When sending cold emails, you should email a ton of venues all at once, like throwing darts at a dartboard. Most will be misses, but some will stick. And you can lock those in to build your route. Focus on regional batches. For Example, ask for holds during a 2 week period in Northern California/West Coast, and then the following 2 week period in Southern California/SouthWest.”

“After about a month of tricking emails and correspondence, you can send you follow ups to all the cold leads who did not respond (which will be most of them). Make sure before you follow up that you check the event calendars for these venues. Do your due diligence to make sure that date is publicly available on their end. Once you are in the 2-month time frame, you can begin sending follow ups once a week until a route is locked in.”

“90% of the time, promoters are appreciative that the booking agent is staying on top of the show with weekly follow up. They may have read you initial email, made a mental note of the show, but forgotten to write back. You never know if your emails are going into a spam folder or how busy the promoters are. Most likely, you will receive curt emails like “not available”, “no”, or “OK”, from promoters when trying to book a show. These people are very busy! But or the most part, a promoter will not be annoyed with follow ups about a show, as long as the show is publicly available, because that’s how the business works.” (Erwin Schemankewitz)

Keep your emails short and sweet

When emailing a promoter or venue, keep your emails short and sweet: Include pertinent information only! They don’t need your bio or a persuasive argument about why your band should receive priority on the show. Do not send any attachments in the email. Instead, format the body of the email with hyperlinks, such as to the band's website, social media, or a spreadsheet of their history in that market. Lastly, do not inflate your numbers! If you can only draw 50 people, that’s fine. There is room for you in the market to grow and promoters understand this. The deal structure will reflect those numbers, of course. But at the end of the day, the market decides. And if you tell the promoter you can bring 200 people and sell 40 tickets… you won’t be invited back.

4. Route Your Tour so Your Tour Doesn't Route You Back

Google Maps is your best friend when routing a tour. Route your shows so that you don’t have to drive more than 8 hours at a time, preferably 4 hours (with a 2-hour grace period) if its the same day as a show. Your region will affect this — The NorthEast has markets less than an hour apart, while the SouthEast has a market at least 3 or 4 hours apart. The MidWest has even further markets, with some drives hitting 6 or 7 hours. Time zones will also affect your DOS (Day Of Show) arrival, so keep them in mind when driving East or West. In some cases, the load in times may be absurdly early — For example a 3 pm Soundcheck for an 11 pm show, which will affect your routing. Lastly, always assume that there is going to be traffic, so give yourself a generous grace period when driving through any major city.

“When sending out holds to promoters, group them together by region as to avoid backtracking. Sometimes its too early to have an idea of your competition, but do your best to avoid markets that would be big competition unless you can leverage your way into that competition. For example, I wouldn’t book a show in Atlanta during the weekend of Sweetwater’s 420 Festival unless you are able to secure an Official After Party or Pre-Party show.” (Erwin Schemankewitz)

Lets Breakdown an Example of Some Bad Routing

This is a real tour route that I saw a musical contemporary of mine post on their social media. Without lambasting anyone, I would like to break down the good and bad qualities of this route.

First of all, this routing is not all bad. If you were touring in a bus or had a dedicated driver, this route makes a lot of sense. All of these 5+ hour drives can be done at night while the artist is asleep on the bus. But if you are driving a van (which you definitely are if you are reading this), this cramped route will leave you exhausted by the end. 

My biggest complaint is that with only a single day-off sandwiched inside 16 gigs, the feasibility of this route is ambitious. Adding driving times into the mix, and it becomes absurd. If the cities were closer together, or you played multiple nights in the same city, that would be different. But there is little breathing room in this tour to break the monotony of driving, loading in, performing, and loading out (which can drive you insane after a while). A more reasonable tour schedule would grant the artist 2 days-off for every 5 shows on (typically on the Sunday & Monday since it's hard to book shows on those days anyway). So a 16-show route like this would ideally have 3 or 4 days-off sprinkled in between, or to help connect a long drive. 

Other than days-off, this route fails to account for travel delays in a few major areas: Big Cities (+ 1 hour), Border crossings (+ 1 hour), and Traffic. These 3-hour drives turn into 4, and the 5-hour drives turn into 7. Even if everything went 100% according to plan, and you are the most timely band in the world, there is so much uncertainty on the road that this routing would make me anxious about arriving at our venues on-time. Not to mention that the long drives would assuredly take a toll on the quality of the performances, night after night. 

5. Build a Tour Budget

Before you leave for a tour, the TM should make a list of expected income and expenses while on the road. Don’t forget to include a safety net for things like the van breaking down or a medical emergency. When making a tour budget, remember that fewer expenses is better than greater income. Download Gas apps for finding cheap gas, sleep on cots in a friend’s house instead of buying a hotel (“Friends who live in X Location” as a Facebook search parameter is a great way to find people that can house you in between shows). Eat as much free food as you can find, and bring a cooler with you for storing leftovers and snacks. Gas Station food is incredibly overpriced, so hit a grocery store instead, it will save you and your band hundreds of dollars. If you are a coffee drinker, I recommend taking caffeine pills instead. Try and save money everywhere you can.

6. Sign The Performance Contracts to Confirm Your Show

The Performance Contract outlines the details, finances and deal structure of your performance. Attached to the Performance Contract are additional specifics on behalf of the artist for the venue that “ride” on top of the contract. These are called riders. At the Club level and above, your performance contract will include a Hospitality Rider and Technical Rider.

Performance Contract Details

The Performance Contract will, most importantly, contractually obligate the venue/promoter to pay the artist some amount of money for a performance. Your Booking Agent will negotiate the performance fee (more on that in a later section) with the Talent Buyer. The Performance Contract also includes details such as Ticket Price, Name and Address of Venue, Parking for Load In / During the Show, Load In Time, Sound Check Time, Doors Opening Time, Show Time, Set Length, and if there is there a Hall Fee (A % of the Merch sales paid to the venue).

Hospitality Rider

The Hospitality Rider includes details about hospitality, such as Accommodations for special hospitality needs, Green Room access, and accommodations, hotel/sleeping arrangements (if any), food/meals provided to the artist such as a Buy Out (Instead of providing food to the Artist, the venue pays out a flat fee to each member of the tour), if there is a Runner (A person or persons hired to act as personal shopper or driver for the band and crew), security personnel, access to private bathrooms, shower, or dressing room, & the number of Comps (complimentary tickets) or guestlist spots.

Technical Rider

The technical rider includes details about the artist’s Stage Plot, Input/Output list, technical specifics for the stage and performance, lighting needs and availability, backline availability, crew members available on site for assisting the band, and accommodations for any special technical needs. The Technical Rider will be spearheaded by the Venue’s Production Manager and should be thoroughly reviewed by the band’s management. 

7. Know What A Settlement Is (And Get A Settlement Sheet)

A Settlement is when the Promoter of the show/Venue Owner goes through an itemized list of income and expenses with the Artist and then pays out the remaining balance. Lets break down a settlement sheet together:

This is a hypothetical settlement sheet, re-created using data from an actual performance. This is a 90% of Door Deal, with a $300 Guarantee for the supporting artist. This settlement sheet is broken into 3 sections: Ticket Sales, Expenses, and Split of Total Net

For this show, tickets were priced at 3 tiers: Advance ($12), Day of Show ($15), and VIP ($50). Note that the Sales Tax (8.9%) is taken directly out of the Ticket Sales Gross before any expenses are factored in.

Expenses generally include Overhead and Production fees (included in Room Rental), as well as marketing, hospitality, and police expenses. In this hypothetical example, the Direct Support has been chosen by the venue. If the Headlining Artist brings their own support, the $300 guarantee would be taken out of the Artist’s 90% Net instead of listed as a venue expense.

For the Total Net, the deal is divided up 90% to the Headliner and 10% to the Promoter. If this show did not sell any tickets, the Promoter would be on the hook for covering all venue expenses, including the Direct Support Guarantee and Room Rental. Luckily for this show, everyone walked away with a little bit of money!

8. Keep Detailed & Organized Stats On Your Performances

Collect Data from your Shows

Your TM or Manager should be up keeping a Google Sheet to reflect your business expenses and incomes on the road. The example below is hypothetical, but the more data you are able to collect, the easier it will be to see your progress and (hopefully) growth as a band and as a business.

In the Show Data example above, I have collected data from each date on the tour and included information about the venue, the city, the performance fee & type of Deal, the # of Tickets Sold and the ticket price, as well as general notes. When collecting your own Show Data, you could also keep track of things such as:

  • Where you are sleeping that night + Contact Info

  • Expected attendance vs Actual Attendance

  • Notes about the Performance

  • Notes about the Hospitality

  • Merchandise Sales

  • All other Band Expenses

9. Create a Detailed Day Of Show Itinerary

The Tour manager should make a DOS Itinerary for each show. This is the time to double-check concerns like parking and any last-minute hospitality needs. A Day Of Show Itinerary will keep your ship sailing as smoothly as possible and keep everyone on the same page about things like load-in times & location, parking, doors & soundcheck, set time & length, hospitality such as wi-fi & dinner options, and venue contacts:

Inventory List

An Inventory List may also be helpful so that you don’t accidentally leave your gear or merchandise at the venue. This is especially helpful at soft-ticket events, like music festivals with quick changeovers and stagehands potentially misplacing your gear. It’s no one’s fault in particular, and it happens all the time.

  • Drums (Hardware, cymbals)

  • Merchandise Boxes

  • Guitar cases, pedalboards, and amps

  • Cables and accessories

  • Personal belongings

Prepare a Stage Plot

A Stage Plot is a list of Inputs, Outputs, and Stage directions for the venue production staff. Your stage plot should include your stage placement, instruments, amp type, the power needed, microphone placement, and a complete and accurate I/O list (Input/Output). Check out this link for an example of a Stage Plot, courtesy of the Disc Makers Blog

10. Don't Wreck All Your Hard Work..The Deal is The Deal

You can assume that the venue is lowballing on their first offer, but generally, there is very little room for negotiation on a Performance Contract. Especially in the areas of hospitality, the venue will offer what they are capable of upfront. In the case of a larger food buyout or a paid-for hotel room, this isn’t something that can be leveraged against the promoter. If the venue has a runner, they will be upfront about it. If the venue has a loft for the band to sleep in, they will be upfront about it.

For negotiating the Artist’s Performance Fee, the market will decide. If you can sell 50 tickets vs 500, your payment will accurately reflect that. Some venues have successful weekday show series, like a Monday Funk Night that will generate more revenue than normal. However, you should consider Sunday through Tuesday to be off days or bad deals. For example, a door deal at a bar in an unfamiliar market might not even be worth the trip out there, unless it routes you to a better market later in the week.

Pay Attention to the Radius Clause

A Radius Clause is a time frame or geographic restriction that prevents an artist from playing a competing show. Standard radius Clause is 60 Days and 60 Miles and can be found in the Performance Contract. It gives the promoter a form of territorial exclusivity over the performance. If you get caught breaking a radius clause, that is legal justification for the promoter to remove you from the show. Radius Clauses are almost always found in contracts for soft-ticket events, so an event where you are not the main attraction such as a music festival. Make sure you or your manager is reviewing every performance contracts just in case. Failing to uphold your Radius Clause looks really bad on the artist and the management.

Consider the Underplay

It is easy to get caught up in the numbers game. And that’s because the most important component of social marketing is non-quantifiable. You can’t turn it into numbers. You can’t measure it, you can only measure the results. That thing is HYPE. An Underplay is a show that is guaranteed to sell-out because the venue capacity is so much smaller than the expected attendance.

While this strategy might not work for you financially, a close-to-home and stripped-down version of your set can be great for building a community.

Pay Attention to Local Support

Paying attention to which local band is going to support your headlining bill is a hidden gem that many club level bands completely ignore. You can essentially co-opt the entire fanbase of a well picked local support act. This is not only a good strategy for long-term market growth but is also a healthy tit-for-tat in the concert industry. You provide an event just out of reach of the local act to do by themselves, and in turn, they offer you the chance to impress their audience.

If you are a small local band looking to be booked onto a larger show this way, you need to starve your home market and build as much hype as you can. I know that this sounds paradoxical, but it’s simple Supply and Demand. The goal here is to create as much demand as possible (creating and distributing high-quality content, gathering press) while limiting the opportunity for people to pay to see you play at a venue. Doing this correctly will give you leverage over other bands that the Promoter may be considering.

If you are a Touring band, do some research into the scene as to what bands have hype in that city and reach out to them directly. Be prepared to sacrifice some of the financial security of the show in exchange for them pulling a large crowd. You can offer to split a % of the back end or even a % of the door. If you have a band in mind, reach out to the Promoter about what kind of deal can be offered.

Leverage Social Media accounts as Digital Credibility

Social Media is the first place a promoter will look first to discover information about the band. You should have amazing socials, with high-quality content that lets the promoter know you are a responsible business, and that you have the capacity to promote the show well and make the Promoter some money.

A small, organic and engaged audience is more valuable than a large, non-engaging audience. The questions that the Promoter needs answers to are: Will this band sell tickets? Show promotion is a risk, and aside from seeing you in concert, social media is the medium for measuring an Artist’s success. If a promoter can see that you have a devoted, organic, and engaged audience, you’re more likely to be placed on the bill.

Certainly, on your Social Media, you should have high-quality examples of your music and of your live show. How you choose to build your digital community is up to you, but know that every promoter considering adding you to a show, whether its a soft-ticket festival or a headlining spot at a club, will investigate your social media as digital credibility to your market history.

11. Know the Lingo (So You Don't Say the Wrong Thing)

Hard Ticket

It is an event where the main attraction is a specific artist. People in attendance are only paying to see a specific artist(s). Example: Headlining or Support artist in a club or theater.

Soft Ticket

An event where the event itself is the main attraction and ticket seller and the artists are apart of the event. Example: City Music and Arts Festival

The Advance

Confirming in advance the details surrounding your show with the venue or promoter. Most of the details about the show will be confirmed when the performance contract is signed, but it is courteous to reach out to the venue a few days before your show to confirm any last-minute details, such as backline availability, parking, and hospitality.

Backline

Musical gear, such as drum hardware, guitar amps, or a bass guitar cabinet, that is provided by the venue for the band. This is common on Festival sets when there are multiple bands performing with tight changeovers. This is also common when touring internationally, as it is both expensive and very difficult to bring gear with you into other countries.

Buy-Out

This is when, in lieu of providing a meal to the band, the venue will just pay a flat sum to the band to purchase food.

Buy On

Is when a smaller artist pays to be the supporting act for a larger artist

Hall Fee

The hall fee is a percentage (20–25%) of the total merch sales taken by the venue in exchange for allowing merchandise to be sold. Generally, only larger rooms will ask for a Hall Fee, like Theaters or Outdoor Festivals. A Hall Fee may sometimes be negotiated out of a contract in exchange for a smaller Guarantee.

Load-In/Soundcheck

Load-In is the time where the venue will be open and your band is expected to arrive. Soundcheck means the stage is built, all technical processes are ready, and all band and crew members are on site. The reason I bring this up is to pay special attention to your routing. If your band has a 6-hour drive to the venue, it’s unlikely you will make a 3 pm soundcheck.

As an audio engineer, I don’t mind line-checking a group 30 minutes before doors open. But I do mind showing up to the venue to work and waiting around for 3 hours for the band to show up because they have poor communication skills.

Performance Contract

When the show is confirmed, the band will be asked by the promoter to send and sign a performance contract that finalizes details about the show, such as details regarding settlement, set times, load in and load out times, the radius clause, and more.

Rider

This is a document attached to the performance contract that addresses the artist’s hospitality or technical needs. This document “rides” on top of the performance contract.

Comp

abbreviation of complimentary. Such as: “Comped tickets” or a “meal comp”.

The Nut

Expenses on the Venue side. This includes things like Production, Security, Taxes, Cleaning Staff, Marketing Expenses, Insurance, and other overhead costs.

Deadwood

Unsold Tickets

Papering the House

It is when a venue gives away tickets, or let’s people into the venue for free to put more bodies in the room.

Check out these 75 Terms to Know in the Music Industry in the free Music Industry Success eBook, by Josiah Garrett! 

12. Don’t Take Anything Personally

Whatever happens, and only as long as you have done your due diligence, problems with routing and getting shows probably has nothing to do with you. The Music Business is a whirlwind of chaos, email threads, lost communication, and alcoholism. Sometimes things that seemed perfect on paper don’t work out. Sometimes responsible people make mistakes. Sometimes the show gets double-booked, or the headliner gets stuck in traffic. Bands are a business, and business should never be taken personally. You just have to roll with the punches.

If You Want to Hire a Booking Agent to Take Care of All of This for You...

Then check out my friend, Josiah Garrett's article: How To Attract a Booking Agent, where he breaks down everything you will need to do to be prepared to work with your first Booking Agent! This article is an extension of his interview with Erwin Schemankewitz, so you can be sure that you are getting advice straight from a pro.

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