Guide to Booking Your Own Concerts and Tours

When a band or artist is starting out, all of the management responsibilities such as booking performances often fall on the shoulders of the artist. This is an important responsibility because it can set the path for the band and ultimately determine your success and profitability.

Tips on booking local performances:

1. Create a strong visual promotional pack and website including a biography and pictures of the band as well as any positive press clippings. Always include links to streaming versions of your songs & links to high quality performance videos, so that club owners and booking agents can hear exactly what they are getting.

2. Locate online each town's weekly arts and entertainment publication. Use their club listings as a guide to cold-calling venues that host the type of music you play. Always call ahead to confirm the club's information before you send your promotional pack.

3. Talk with local musicians about the clubs they like to play regularly. They may also be able to help you get your foot in the door by putting in a good word with the club or selecting you as an opening act for one of their concerts.

4. Make sure to discuss and agree on payment terms upfront. When starting out, most acts receive a percentage of the cover charged by the venue. More established acts often negotiate guaranteed amounts and may receive bonuses for exceeding attendance expectations. Ask how you can best partner with the venue to publicize your appearance to local print and electronic media. See if it is appropriate to send your press packet to local media outlets. Find out if the venue wants to be sent posters announcing the event (they usually do). Ask about the venue's policy on selling CDs, t-shirts and any other merchandise (some venues will request a percentage of your merch sales).

5. Once you have successfully booked a performance, contact area record stores and other businesses frequented by music fans at least 2-3 weeks before your concert to see if they will hang a poster. Several weeks prior to your performance, hand out fliers at concerts by artists who play similar music styles.

6. When you arrive at the venue on the date of the performance set up a booth to sell t-shirts, CDs, vinyl records, or any other merchandise you may have for sale. Offer a list where people can leave their email address to receive more information about your band. This is an important part of gaining new fans and an efficient way to promote upcoming performances to an audience that is already familiar and interested in your music.

7. Have someone take a head count during the concert using a ticker. This way, when settling up financially after the performance you can be sure that you are being paid fairly.

8. Use a gig recap spreadsheet to keep accurate track of your merchandise sales and your nightly performance fees. TMO legal fellowship interns Austin Hegarty and Emily Burrows have created a spreadsheet that you may use and alter according to your needs. An Excel version is included for bands that travel with a laptop:

9. After your first performance at a venue, call the talent buyer the following day to get his or her thoughts on the performance. You can quote any positive feedback in your promo pack with their permission. This also helps build relationships so you can perform at the venue again in the future.

Booking your own tour:

1. The first step to planning a tour on your own is securing reliable transportation. The most efficient method is often buying or renting a van. To give yourself a little extra room you may also want to purchase or rent a trailer to carry all of your equipment and merchandise. If you do rent a van make sure that you are covered for out-of-state travel. Always have a spare tire. And always carry a spare tire for your trailer (trust us on this don't want to learn this lesson the hard way).

If you don't have a van, here are some suggestions for securing one:

  • Take out a loan; you may need collateral and/or a co-signer to qualify;
  • Hold benefit concerts to help raise money to buy a van;
  • Rent a van from a rental car company;
  • Send an email to your fan/contact list asking for help finding a van; fans or friends of the band might be able to help;
  • Borrow/rent a van from friends, other bands or label mates;
  • Tour by car; borrow gear from other bands on the road; bring guitars, heads and cymbals only; make sure to arrange this before leaving on tour.

2. Begin mapping out your ideal itinerary. To make sure your tour is profitable try to minimize long drives and schedule performances in larger cities on weekends.

3. Develop a budget before you hit the road. You can estimate average gas prices and figure out roughly how many miles you will travel using the atlas. You should also decide how much you are willing to spend on lodging and food per day and try to stick with it. Self-imposed per diems are effective at keeping costs down and you should keep track of all expenditures.

4. Once you decide on dates and cities where you would like to perform, begin researching bands and venues in that area that host the same type of music that you play.

5. If you find bands that are established and have a good local draw, try calling them or contacting them via email. Let them know that you are in a band from Texas, booking a tour through their area and are looking for some help booking a show. It is also good to offer to host their band the next time they come to Texas. If they can not help you set up a show they can at least point you to the best clubs in town and may also provide you with a place to stay. You should also look at Couchsurfing, a website that matches you with free or inexpensive places to stay.

6. Send promo packs to venues at least three months in advance. This way, if the venue you really want to play is already booked you will have enough time to schedule a performance somewhere else. It also allows enough time for the club to promote the show.

7. Try to get some kind of financial guarantee from the club, since you are on the road and have significant operating costs. Often you can negotiate a reasonable guarantee to cover minor travel costs and a percentage of the door after a certain number of paid attendees. Additionally, try to negotiate for food and/or a per diem for all band members and crew, especially if the venue sells food or is attached to a restaurant. It is preferable to have a contract, so the terms are agreed upon by both parties.

8. Once tour dates are set, send promo packs and a copy of your latest CD to college radio stations, record stores and press contacts in each city you will play.

9. Before you hit the road prepare a binder with the following information for each performance: maps and directions to the club, list of contacts in that city, and copies of each performance contract if you have one.

10. When on tour, it is important to "advance" your shows. You "advance" your shows by calling your contact at the venue (the show producer or the talent buyer who booked the show) one or two days before you arrive in the city to confirm your load-in time, show time and your rider provisions. Advancing shows is important because of the fluid and finicky nature of the music business; it is not unusual for clubs (especially in smaller towns or at small colleges) to forget they've booked a show or to have suddenly gone out of business. Advancing your shows can save you and your band a long and expensive drive should you discover that your show has been canceled.

11. Take advantage of your time on the road and make calls to record stores, college radio stations, and press contacts to see if there are any additional opportunities to promote your band and your performance dates.

12. Just like local shows, when you arrive at the venue on the date of the performance, make sure to have someone set up a booth to sell t-shirts, vinyl records, CDs or any other merchandise you may have for sale. Some clubs demand a percentage of your merchandise sales so make sure this is negotiated or discussed before the performance. As always, offer a list where people can sign up to receive more information about your band. Make it easy for your audience to leave their name and email address. Consider offering to write it down for them; offer incentives such as stickers, pins, etc., in exchange for their email.

13. Keep track of all contacts you make on the road by keeping them in your tour binder. You can add them to your digital contact and email list when you get home, if you didn't bring a laptop on the road. You never know when these contacts may be able to help you out, plus it is always good to keep in touch with like-minded artists and business people.

Additional information on booking your own tour is available on the following web sites:

Read the following books for additional information:

  • Goldstein, Jeri. How to Be Your Own Booking Agent and Save Thousands of Dollars: A Performing Artist's Guide to a Successful Touring Career (Charlottesville, VA: The New Music Times, Inc., 1998)
  • Galper, Hal. The Touring Musician: A Small-Business Approach to Booking Your Band on the Road (New York: Billboard Books, 2000)
  • Owsinski, Bobby. The Touring Musician's Handbook (Montclair, NJ : Hal Leonard, 2011)

Search the Library of Congress' card catalog by author or title.

If your library does not have the book you need, you may request it through "interlibrary loan" (ILL),a national system of book exchange between libraries.