by Ryan Cassata
I booked my first tour, completely DIY style, when I was 15 years old. I wasn’t well-known at all in the music world and I didn’t have a big following, so there was no guarantee that I would pack out venues with screaming fans. All I had at the time were some videos of me performing live on YouTube. That was key, because venues could hear what I actually sounded like live without any vocal effects or edits.
HOW DID I BOOK THIS TOUR?
It’s important to note that I booked the tour months in advance, when venues still had tons of availability. Plan ahead because space fills up quickly!
The first thing I did was map out the distance from city to city of all the places I wanted to stop and perform in. I was doing an East Coast tour which makes things easier because major cities on the NorthEast Coast are much closer together then in the middle of the country or even in the West Coast. I made my tour map with specific dates that I wanted to play in each city, and saved it in a document on my computer so I could reference it.
I sent my short bio (you definitely don’t want to overwhelm booking agents/venues with a massive message so it’s important to keep it short and sweet), some live YouTube videos of me performing at venues and doing cover songs, a link to my music on a site that doesn’t require a download or subscription, and some press that I had gotten, to hundreds of venues, coffeeshops, community centers, across the East Coast. I copy and pasted a message to each place and changed the name of who it was addressed to and the venue name for each place. Make it personal. Look up the venue and think of why you want to play there. I also made sure to put my name, the city, and the venue and desired date, in the subject of the email. So it would look something like this:
Booking Ryan Cassata (Acoustic) @ Whisky A Go Go in LA on 10/13/2013
This makes it super clear for booking agents. If they don’t have availability or don’t want that genre on that specific night they can simply write back “That date is booked” just by looking at the subject line.
HOW DID I FIND VENUES?
I found these venues on sites like IndieOnTheMove.com and open mic websites. IndieOnTheMove is great because it gives information of each venue like the bookers name, the email address and phone number and if the venue is all ages or not.
Also, a lot of places that have open mics will have a “feature” or featured performer during the open mic. That person gets to play a short or full set before, after, or in the middle of the open mic. Those cafes and coffee shops that host open mics often have performers on weekend nights. It’s worth a shot to reach out to all of those places too because they often have a built-in crowd and can do a weekend show. For a first tour, when you’re not so well known, it’s a good idea to play places that have a built-in audience so you can grow your fan base.
House shows also have a built-in crowd, because the people throwing the house shows often invite all their friends and have a party. Pass a bucket for tips at coffee shops and house shows. You can even put a tip jar at your merch table. You’ll be surprised at how much money people will donate to touring acts. You can also charge a cover at a house show. Sliding scale, no one gets turned away, is a good idea. This way people give what they can, some give more than you’d expect or even ask for, some give nothing at all, but at least you have a full room! To me, it’s more worth it to have a ton of people to play to, then to play to the only person that could afford the cover charge.
I sent emails, I made phone calls, and I booked a mini tour at 15 years old with no manager or parental help. I did it all myself. Completely DIY.
When I was 20 years old, I booked another tour, this time a 30-day national tour DIY style. I played a lot of house shows during this tour, some venues (bars, cafes, etc…), and at high schools and colleges. I printed tons of merch, and my manager at the time, scheduled it so merch would be delivered to a venue mid-tour so we could have more shirts to sell after selling most during the first half of the tour. There is only so much car space! So planning re-ups of merch is SUPER important.
WHAT TO BRING IN THE VEHICLE AND TO VENUES?
You should definitely bring a case of water, some snacks that do not spoil (cliff bars, nuts, etc…), phone chargers, headphones (if you get sick of the music the driver is playing), warm clothes if it’s a winter tour, toiletries, advil and basic meds, etc…
To the venues, bring as many stickers that have your website on them, as possible. Give them for FREE. Pass them out after you perform. If you’re playing a festival, pass them out before you perform with your time slot and stage name, and pass them out afterwards as well to anyone that saw you play. Stickers are so important. This gives fans something that they will stick in their pocket and take out later when they are in their rooms surfing the web, and hey, maybe they will look you up and follow you and come to the next show you play in their city.
Bring merch to sell as well, I only survived tours by selling tons of t-shirts, and CD’s (not sure if people actually buy CD’s anymore). I sell vinyl records now sometimes too and people really seem to like them because they are considered a novelty item. Sometimes venues can’t pay if you don’t get enough people or if the bar doesn’t make enough money to pay their employees. Merch will help you stay afloat to be able to buy hotels and gas to get from city to city. Play venues that let you keep 100% of merch sales.
Bring a portable collapsible folding table for merch (some venues don’t have these), bring extra guitars pick and strings and any other equipment you may need (cables, drum sticks, etc.). It’s good to bring extra instruments if you have room as well.
ONLY A FEW PEOPLE CAME TO THE SHOW?
Play your heart out. You don’t know who those people are. You don’t know if they will turn into the most dedicated fans you’ll ever have, you don’t know if they are industry reps that came to see you play and might want to sign you or distribute you, so PLAY AS BEST YOU CAN. Play like you’re playing Madison Square Garden. Those people came to see your show…give them your best.
The last thing I have to say is…HAVE FUN. You’re on tour! Most artists dream of doing this and never make it this far. Anyone can tour, if they have the determination and drive to book a tour and get on the road. DO IT!
Give Ryan Cassata a follow on Twitter for his willingness to help fellow independent artists!