Deciding to as a band tour overseas can be a pretty scary prospect, there’s a lot of money, time, energy and trust involved in deciding to take your music international. From the boring paperwork of organising visas, booking flights and getting passports sorted, to preparing media, booking shows, building connections with international fan bases- it’s always guaranteed to become a much bigger project than originally assumed.
On the other side of the coin however, touring overseas can be a hugely succesful way to see the world, gain fan bases and build a career out of music. With the sheer amount of Aussie acts killing it overseas at the moment *cough cough, Tame Impala, Vance Joy, Courtney Barnett* we thought it’d be a great opportunity to gather some insight into when is the right time for a band to tour overseas.
We caught up with Brissy/ Melb duo Holy Holy who just wrapped up a European tour, and Adam Kelly the manager of Melbourne band Jakubi who are currently on their second US tour. The guys kindly imparted wisdom on what they’re learnt from a multitude of experiences (so you don’t have to).
Holy Holy The Brisbane/ Melbourne indie rockers are no strangers to touring. One month out from their anticipated debut album release, the guys just wrapped up a huge European tour which saw them visit the UK, Berlin, Amsterdam, as well as perform as part of the annual Great Escape festival. The guys shared some insight into what they’re learnt over the past few months.
Adam Kelly is the manager of Aussie band Jakubi. The Melbourne based five piece have recently amassed a huge online following worldwide. The band’s last three tracks released on Soundcloud currently clocking in at a quarter of a million streams each. Thanks to the online support the band just wrapped up their second US tour in less than 12 months! Adam shared his unique take on touring as a band manager rather than performer.
Make Sure You’re Practised
Holy Holy: Have you toured within Australia? This helps as a start. Touring in Australia tends to take place on weekends, which means often you can come home mid-week. Overseas, it’s likely to be a more immersive experience.
You’ll be living out of each others pockets for a few weeks, at least. Getting to know each others habits and boundaries is important because you can’t be happy and social 24 hours a day, especially when tired. Having that practice back in Aus helps a lot.
Plan, Plan, Plaaaaan
Adam: Touring overseas isn’t as simple as just buying a plane ticket or emailing an agent hoping they’ll book a tour and fill rooms for you. It’s a big decision, one that shouldn’t be taken lightly or made in haste.
For Jakubi, we made a decision at the start of 2014 that we wanted to make touring the US a priority… But there was plenty of things that needed to happen before we made that decision. Even more again between idea and experience. I’ve outlined the three biggest things to consider when asking yourself the question about overseas touring…
Holy Holy: Do you have road cases? Do you know your luggage weight-limit? Do you have any merch? Do you have visas? Do you have passports? Get this stuff down pat.Know your limits, because they do make a difference. Even just walking from terminal to terminal in a big airport, if you have more than 30kg worth of stuff and no trolley, can be a nightmare.
Visas are interesting… it’s amazing how many people think you can enter the US on a tourist visa, if you have a guitar, a beard, and a bunch of pedals. They do notice this stuff. You might get through, but you might not. Make sure you are ready to answer questions.
Passports… we met someone on a recent tour who wasn’t allowed to board his flight out of Australia because his passport was too tattered. I’d never heard of that happening before, but clearly it does. And it’ll put a spanner in the works if you aren’t sorted. So just having these basics down-pat will be a big help and make your life much less stressful.
Make Sure You Have An Audience
Adam: If you don’t have a REAL and tangible audience wanting you to play then you should immediately rule it out. Everyone has an audience of some kind. For some acts it will be limited to Wednesday night open mic at the local and that is okay, play your heart out to that audience at EVERY opportunity.
You’ll know pretty quickly if you have an audience overseas. You’ll see comments from people asking you to play in Brazil or France or The US. You’ll start to see trends on the back end of your social media pages.
Lots of plays from new markets on your SoundCloud or likes on Facebook… To be really clear though; 1, 10, 100 these numbers are great but they don’t justify the time, effort or expenses that go into an overseas tour – it’s thousands, for us it was 6,000,000 online plays and knowing the US made up a quarter of our total Facebook likes at the time before we we’re confident we’d be playing to actual people.
Make Sure You Have The Finances
Adam: It’s going to cost you and for most people the first tour, maybe even the first few, won’t cover your costs. I’d love to tell you otherwise but it’s better to be realistic. Flights, visa’s, hotels, food, marketing, merch, transport, back line, tour manager; all these things cost money.
Our first tour we managed without a tour manager, renovated an old RV that we literally ate, slept, crapped and drove in and it still cost us $60,000. If you make a fifth of that back on your first tour and play to some decent crowds along the way you should count it a success.
I know it sounds like hard work, well, that’s because it is. There is no shortcut to success, write good music, build a strong team around you and be smart about the opportunities you accept.
We just landed a few days ago from our second tour of the US in under a year, we played sold out headline shows in places like New York and major festivals like Electric Forest and Wakarusa, we also have a song on commercial radio in over 20 markets, promoters putting offers in for us to tour there again before the end of the year and this time we even made (a little) money, as cliche as it sounds; when you’re ready you will know.
Ensure The Infrastructure Is In Place
Adam: The music industry isn’t slow on the uptake either, if people start asking for you to come to their country the emails from industry folk are never far behind. I could write another article about the importance of taking your time in deciding who to work with but for the sake of word count lets just agree that it’s important.
For a tour you’ll need an agent, promoters, a publicist, an immigration lawyer and maybe a tour manager. Honestly, the easiest way to know when you’re ready to start building your team overseas is when they let you know you’re ready. Having agents start asking you if you’ve considered touring in their market is a REALLY good gauge. However it happens, though, touring without these people is a sure fire way to ensure you lose a LOT of money and play to very few people.
Be Ready To Have No Personal Space
Holy Holy: Are you relaxed and is your band egalitarian? You’ll be sitting in a van together for a while. Enjoying each others simple company and sharing the experience, without any further thought, is important. You have to have an essential experience – travelling around and playing shows as a band is one of the great experiences you’ll have as a musician. Enjoy it and enjoy each other.