My First Tour: Call It Fiction
We were all there once. Fifteen years old, full of youthful idealism and joining our first band. Soaking up every sound possible and hoping to change the world, you watched every live DVD from your favorite bands and created grandiose plans with friends to tour and take over the world before you’re even out of high school. It’s gonna be the coolest thing ever. You know—sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, every night. What could go wrong?
Fast forward six years, and I have a very different story to share.
From May 19 to May 30, I embarked on my first tour with my band, Call it Fiction, and A Hero’s Fate. Completely self-booked, this was the textbook definition of DIY, and I couldn’t have been more stoked. The best way to sum up the tour is “the time of my life,” but the lessons I’ve learned as a now-touring musician were the most priceless aspect of the experience. Touring makes you three professions simultaneously: musician, mechanic and businessperson. As expected, we were underprepared in all three categories--which is why I hope the following chronicle of our experiences will leave you better prepared for your first tour.
Knowing your set and bringing your gear isn’t enough anymore. Picks, strings, sticks, cables and every other accessory need to be bought in bulk before tour. Fall out of tune? Drop a pick? Break a string? You will need a quick remedy to all of these at any time while on stage. These are easy fixes at hometown shows, but going through the same pick loss night after night will deplete your supply faster than you can imagine. (And dropping the only pick you have on stage is inexcusable.) Opening for Transit, our lead guitarist broke a string and we choked; he didn’t have another guitar or set of strings. It’s embarrassing. Bring extra equipment over extra clothes–I promise you’re going to smell anyways.
Accept that your van will break down, it will eat at your soul and everyone will be frustrated. In our 11 days on the road, our van broke down twice. We brought almost nothing with us, tool-wise, and this was our worst decision. Make sure to have jumper cables, a full set of wrenches and a few different screwdrivers, along with any fluids you may need for starters. A lot of the issues you’ll run into can be fairly common and fixed on the spot. Luckily for us, our vocalist Elliott is fairly car-savvy and my father has been a mechanic for over 25 years. Befriending someone who knows a lot about cars will be your best option besides knowing it yourself.
In many of the vans you’ll be driving (like our Dodge Ram Van 1500), the cigarette/power plugs will work even if the car is off. Be careful with these, because if you leave them plugged in, your battery will die and you’ll need a jump. Your van is now your home, so treat it like one. Regular cleaning will stop the smell and bring Febreeze or car air fresheners for extra help. It’s a battle you’ll want to win.
Loving to play music is great, but remember you’re a business venture now. You need to get to the next city, which means you need gas money, which means you need to get paid. As it was our first completely self-booked tour, we were not requesting guarantees from the bars we played, so we were never sure if we would make a dime. Keep your ego down and realize that your draw for the night might not turn into as much money as you want. Be polite and work with the person running the show, but don’t let yourself be taken advantage of. This is still something we are very much learning.
If it weren’t for A Hero’s Fate, who brought a tour manager, I’m sure we would have sunk pretty fast in this boat. Each night, he helped us find the person to settle with, and often did it for both bands while showing us how to handle those situations. I’m sure of at least one date where we probably wouldn’t have got paid if it weren’t for him. Have someone in the band be in charge of this and learn the trade, or bring a business-savvy friend willing to work for free/cheap due to interest. This could be the difference between scraping by and being sure you can make it to your next show, so don’t take it lightly.
As aforementioned, your van is now home, which means you live with 3-5 other people in a space smaller than a jail cell. My bandmates are my best friends, but living together in that cramped space is mentally exhausting. It’s like having four boyfriends simultaneously. Like any relationship, communication is key; talk about things that bug you and don’t bitch behind each other’s back. You have to be in it together and work as a unit. We had disagreements, but now we’re off for the week and I miss them already. Follow basic respect principles and be open with each other, and you’ll make it through the personal problems.
Maybe the coolest thing we learned was that a large number of Chipotles will feed touring bands if you give them a call and ask. Introduce yourself and your band and explain your situation. Politeness and gratitude go a long way. We gave the manager our CD to show our thanks, which I would suggest doing. A Hero’s Fate ate there frequently and we will be taking this advice often on our next tour leg. Food can be expensive, so take free food when you can!
A DIY tour isn’t easy, but it’s an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything. Each day’s problems will dissolve when you hit the stage that night. So go forth, be smelly and play music!