How to manage a band's tour on a budget

Written by jeff o'kelley
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While a small portion of touring bands or artists enjoy private jets, custom buses and lavish hotels, most bands are hitting the road in a used van with little to no extras. This issue has been further complicated by the rising cost of gasoline, which is forcing the cost of many aspects of travel to skyrocket. In this article, I've pulled together some tips and advice that I've gathered in my many years on the road. I hope that they will help you survive your next road trip.

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    The first area to consider before hitting the road is how you will travel. For most indie bands this will mean long hours in a van of some type. Before you set out, have the vehicle serviced at your local shop. Have your mechanic change the oil, check the spark plugs and wires, air filters, radiator fluid, washer fluid, tire pressure, A/C operation and anything else that you can afford. This will help to uncover any issues before you find yourself on the side of the road outside Podunk, Iowa. Repairs on the road can be costly and interrupt your schedule. This can also help improve your gas mileage.

  2. 2

    Consider how many people will be travelling in this vehicle and decide if you have room for both luggage and gear. If you are going to be spending lots of time on the road, comfort will become an issue. If necessary, consider renting a trailer for your gear, to allow more legroom and comfort.

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    Hotels are one of the most costly parts of travel. Prior to leaving, determine how many rooms that you'll need and any special requirements (i.e., smoking rooms, bed preference). Do some homework and know how far you will travel each day and where you plan to spend the night. Check the Internet for hotels in the area and for special deals. Some of the discount websites can offer great savings, but be sure to read the fine print. Sometimes calling the local hotels directly will actually get you a better deal. Ask to speak with the general manager or reservations manager and explain your situation. If they can rent several rooms together, they might offer a lower price. As I always say, it doesn't hurt to ask. Also, consider joining a hotel preferred customer program. If you're renting several rooms a night, this could lead to free rooms or upgrades in the future.

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    Food can also be a major expense if not handled correctly. Over the years I have established a standard operating procedure that limits my out of pocket costs on the road. In the Van - Bring along a large cooler and purchase drinks at the grocery store prior to departure. These are cheaper than in a petrol station and will prevent some unnecessary stops. Breakfast - I always book hotels that provide a complimentary hot breakfast. Everyone eats for free! Be sure to grab some fruit and dry cereal for the road. These make great, free snacks. Lunch - I provide a daily per diem of £13 to cover lunch and snacks. We typically make a group decision on where to stop. This limits my costs. Dinner - Most of the time we have food provided by the venue, before the show. Always ask the venue owner about this possibility and you can even use it as a negotiation point. Some will offer dinner from their menu or will order pizza. Either way, this works out well for me. On occasions when this is not included, I typically try to order pizza or other take out to limit my cost.

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    Payments for gigs should be immediately deposited into a bank account. This can be done via an ATM or bank drive through. Before you leave, check your bank for locations in the area of your gigs. This will prevent you from spending this money and limit you to the budget that you have prepared before departure.

Tips and warnings

  • Be sure to write out a budget before you depart and stick to it.
  • Check some of the lower grade hotel chains for great deals on clean rooms.
  • Carry a cell phone to confirm reservations.
  • Consider joining a travel club such as AAA, which can help with vehicle issues and can offer many discounts.
  • Never use hotel phones for long distance calls! Also, some hotels charge for local calls. Use your cell phone.
  • Room service it typically extremely expensive and can ruin a budget. I only use it in an emergency.
  • Be careful about bar tabs during your gigs. Make sure you understand the venue rules.

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