9 Tricks For a Successful DIY Tour

Booking and executing a successful tour as a fresh or mid-level band can seem like voodoo, but whether you return home in good spirits or at your bandmates’ throats is too important to be left up to fate, even if you’ve been playing locally for years.

MAMA caught live Madison, WI

A do-it-yourself tour is a complex multi-headed beast with multiple moving parts; my rock 'n' roll band MAMA just got back from a simple eight show DIY tour that was by all accounts a total success. One of the reasons is that long before we left, I made a list of things we would do differently than on our last tour and shared it with the band. These are simple things that I had neglected before, but never again.

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a blueprint to set up a tour. These tricks are for making sure every show counts and everyone comes back in once piece, so doing them all made a big difference. Take a deep breath, and try these nine simple tricks on your next DIY tour. Your tour’s success depends on it!

1. Book shows with familiar bands.

If you often perform locally, your band should be opening for other bands of similar or greater stature from out of town. Admire them and keep in touch with them. When it comes time to book your tour, consider who you know in towns you might want to play and contact them first. They would probably love to play with you or help set up a show.

Our buds Platinum Boys in Beloit, WI

If you do play together, it will likely be at a reputable — to musicians anyway — venue, and their fans likely will come out and make the show a greater success than if you had shown up without proper local support. Our most successful shows on tour were with some of our favorite bands from past shows, and we can’t thank them enough for the support they gave us on the road.

2. Bring extra cables, straps, accessories, backup pedals.

You might remember to bring every color of your favorite guitar, but did you remember to bring extra cables and power supplies? As a matter of fact, did you bring an extra of your most-used pedals? You’d be surprised at how delicate effect pedals can be, and if your signature sounds relies heavily on them you can be in for a nasty surprise when you discover an issue right before a gig.

3. Hang out at coffee shops for a home base.

You never know who you might meet on the road

Not every location on tour will be full of familiar faces. If you have nowhere to go, take advantage of local coffee shops. They are often open as early or as late as you might need, there are bathrooms and running water, and they will let you hang out and use their Wi-Fi for cheap or free. If you can bring your laptop on the road, hang out at the coffee shop and catch up on emailing or social media activities. You might even make some interesting friends!

4. Get out in nature to break up the drive.

Even Milwaukee, WI has some killer nature

At some point along the way, there will be natural activities to take advantage of. State parks and landmarks are great for giving you and the band a break from the recycled van air, along with some much needed physical activity. Keeping your mind and body healthy will keep you playing your best and feeling alive, so a quick stop in the woods or nap by a lake can make all the difference.

5. Baby your vehicle.

This may seem like common sense, but rushing and poor time management can leave your band vehicle abused. Drive like Grandma, always. If it’s cold out, let your vehicle warm up every time. Before you leave town, check tire pressure and fluid levels. Keep your tank more than a ¼ full at all times. Get an oil change sooner than you think you need to. Spending ten extra minutes on routine inspection and maintenance will save time and money and you’ll never miss a gig.


6. Contact like-minded establishments before and after shows.

Contact any and every like-minded establishment around during downtime. This means bookstores, record shops, music stores, radio stations, and asking your online friends if they know anyone in town who would be worth inviting. It’s never too late to let someone know about your show.

Visiting local record stores is crucial. Pop into a record store and introduce yourself and your band and offer to sell them your recordings at wholesale price. It’s a great way to make some extra cash and get your music on the shelves of the town you’ve just rocked.

7. Play a killer show.

Playing your best won’t be enough on the road — you gotta to play like your life depends on it. You’re on tour because of the music, and people are at your show for the music. You can’t let any personal malaise or band dispute affect your performance. A poor performance will lead to groans and eye rolls from the crowd, just as an above-average performance is all it takes to get your merch table swarmed with new fans.

The fake beard guy was a big fan

8. Hang out before and after the shows.

Being in a band in 2015 on a DIY tour doesn’t mean retreating to the limo after the show. After you play and sell your fans some merch, make it a point to let your appreciation be known by hanging out. Treating your fans like humans, not just consumers, will make you easily remembered next time, and likely make you new friends and genuine supporters of your band.

9. Party wisely.

After making new fans and friends, it can be tempting to take things to the next level with some heavy celebrating. Be smart: choose your parties wisely. If you have a massive gig or you have to drive eight hours the next day, hold back on a few cold ones. If you feel sick, bow out to the van or some other private space for some rest and relaxation. Take care of yourself. Tour is long, and with successful show there will be many future opportunities to party.

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