A Beginner’s Guide to Touring with *repeat repeat
Published in Blog Archive, Nashville Fringe Festival. Tags: Interviews, Lists, Music, Nashville.
This past March, Nashville trio *repeat repeat set out on the band’s first tour together, covering 14 dates in a month, with 11 of those shows packed into 18 days across eight states; simply explaining the itinerary is a mouthful. Comprised of Jared Corder, Kristyn Corder, and Andy Herrin, the trio paired with el el for much of the tour, sharing in both the experience of playing shows together as well as the responsibility of executing on plan for the betterment of all. Plenty of bands tour — that alone isn’t especially remarkable — but what makes this tour worth discussing is that when *repeat repeat returned home to Nashville, they did so in the black.
What follows is a series of insights provided by Jared and Kristyn, who each offer guidance for those looking to hit the road, themselves. And if there’s one constant that runs throughout the planning for the tour and stories from the road, it’s to “be organized.” “Being an artist, you’re not expected to be organized,” says Jared. “But I think it sets you apart if you can be.” “These are tips if you’re trying to be a professional working band,” adds Kristyn.
1) Find Sponsorship
Last September the band teamed with el el and Ponychase for an event at The Basement, offering the first 75 people through the door a free sampler featuring new music from each of the night’s acts. Grolsch fronted the bill to have the CDs made up, and in return, received placement on the slipcases that enveloped the discs. “When you come up with something cool or creative for a sponsor,” says Kristyn, “you don’t feel bad being sponsored.”
The distance between CD printing and gas money is huge though, so when looking for actual financial backing, Jared says you must “take ambiguity out of it.” “Itemize what you’re willing to deliver for their partnership.” Here, it’s extra-critical to be organized. “A sponsor wants to see that you’re professional […] You want the sponsor to feel like it’s a no-brainer.” This means itemizing costs to show exactly why the band needs financial support, and explaining specifically how you’re providing value for the sponsor. In the case of those CDs, that meant tangible placement of an advertisement in the hands of 75 fans. If you’re already creating event posters or promoting via social media, you’re already creating avenues for sponsorship exposure. “There’s a way to do it tastefully,” says Kristyn.
It’s a bold statement, but as Jared says, “assume you’re not going to make money on the road.” Using that as your starting point, don’t be afraid to reach out to businesses in your own community that might be able to support you beyond simply handing over cash. “Look to a printshop for posters or t-shirt support,” says Jared. “Maybe they’re providing $200 worth of posters that you don’t have to pay for.” Whatever you do, try to put yourself in a position to succeed. “Months before the trip started everything was taken care of,” continues Jared. “So at this point, if we made no money from any of the shows, everyone was taking a 15 day vacation.”
2) Watch What You Spend
Every dollar that goes out is one more dollar you need to earn just to break even. That’s as true on the road as it is in life, and continuing the theme here, financial responsibility comes back around to being organized. As Jared explains, the tour hit locations that allowed the bands to crash with friends and family, “I think even before we had venues booked, we had places to stay.” But even then, it’s hard to avoid hotels, especially when you’re looking for a good night of sleep (or at least a night of sleep on an actual bed). That’s where websites like Airbnb or Couchsurfing can be handy. Or, if you’ve got a large enough vehicle to accommodate sleeping, you can plan ahead to crash for the night on a campground or RV park. At the very least, you can drive 15 minutes outside of a town to find less expensive hotel rates. Where there’s a need to spend, there’s usually an alternative that helps you save a little along the way.
This goes for food and drink while on the road, too. “If you do stay in a hotel,” adds Jared, “take advantage of it. There’s a coffee maker in every hotel room.” Before leaving home the band stocked up with bulk snacks that were both relatively healthy and inexpensive, especially when compared to gas station alternatives. They also made food that they could eat after their shows, and purchased water bottles that had built-in filters, so they could refill wherever they were for free. They thought ahead, assessed their needs, and planned accordingly.
3) Book and Promote with Purpose
There is a basic consideration to remain mindful of when booking dates: As Jared says, you’ll want “a good draw at least every two days, where you’ve got a base, or friends, or press.” He continues, “You don’t want to be top or bottom heavy,” where either the start of the tour is great and the back-half is poorly attended, or vice-versa. This is meant to not only help reduce the chances of burnout, but to also keep some semblance of momentum in check.
For their tour, *repeat repeat had guidance from a booking agent friend, but they also relied on Indie on the Move to help them connect with suitable venues in unfamiliar cities. From there, they looked to friends, Craigslist, and Google to find local bands who might be interested in sharing the bill. Once they were booked (which Jared and Kristyn recommend having locked down at least a month in advance), that’s when they started promoting.
For the tour Jared took the lead on promotion**, which he breaks down into four key segments: Print, Radio, Video, and Digital. For each city they were playing in, he reached out looking for advance coverage from local magazines, alt-weeklies, newspapers, college and larger radio stations, and local morning news programs. Beyond free promotion, however, both Jared and Kristyn espouse the need for social advertising. Through Facebook and Twitter, you can break down the demographics of your target audience so precisely that you’re only hitting people who are likely to care about your music. Because of this, they budgeted enough to promote a little on their own online in every city on the tour.
4) Make Health a Priority
It’s difficult to set yourself up for physical well-being while crammed into van with all your gear, but there are a few things that can be done along the way to help reduce the blow your body takes. That filtered water bottle from before, for example? “When you have the water bottle you end up drinking more water,” says Kristyn. Beyond saving money, being prepared with your own food also helps keep you away from seductive gas station indulgences. “Of course I’m gonna get breakfast tacos,” says Jared of the band’s date in his hometown of Phoenix. But indulgences aren’t the rule, they’re the exception: Eat as clean as you can and try to stay away from drinking too much after shows, if only to make your life easier the day after. There’s a roll-over effect, adds Kristyn, where impact of a few too many drinks or bad meals, a couple nights in a row, can really wear you down.
Health has as much to do with emotional as it does physical, and much of the emotional health of the group was aided by — again — being organized. The band made an agreement, says Jared, to split up what they earned after they returned home, drawing expenses from a collective pot along the way to avoid constantly asking everyone to kick-in financially. “One of the easiest way to burn out band members is to nickel and dime everything.” Taking a load off the mind comes in many forms on the road though. Jared and Kristyn picked up extra work before the tour, for example, to make sure they weren’t going to be tight for money when they returned home. They also packed emergency gear including a gas can, a spare tire, jumper cables, a funnel, and basic tools just in case they found themselves in a bind. Every morning Jared gave their van a complete once over to prepare for the day, “getting gas went from taking 15 to 20 minutes to taking 30 to 40 minutes because I would check everything every day.” If you can afford a tune-up for your vehicle in advance of the tour, they recommend that in addition to emergency roadside assistance. “Even if you get it for two months and cancel it,” says Kristyn, “get it!”
One of the most important pieces of advice came prior to the tour’s kick-off from el el’s Ben Elkins, says Kristyn. “Think about what you can do to make someone else’s experience, day, or situation better. Think about what you can do for others while we’re on this tour. It’s not all about you.” On some level you have to roll with the punches, says Jared. Everyone’s going to be tired and cranky and uncomfortable, but you have to “expect that and be mindful of it.”
5) Plan for What Comes Next
If you’re lucky enough to have the opportunity to go on tour, hopefully you’re organized enough to make it home in one piece. “Touring’s not the end-all,” says Kristyn. For the band, the return to reality meant not only going back to their day jobs, but finishing out their tour plans and looking ahead to what’s next for the band. They sent out follow-up emails to venues and sponsors, with links and screen shots documenting their promotional work, demonstrating the group’s hustle along the way to make sure that if there’s a next time, they’ll have working relationships in place to get them back out on the road.
The band is already looking ahead to their next album, which will likely be followed by another tour. They’ll play one-off dates along the way, and will keep finding ways to reach out to their fans to maintain interest. For Record Store Day, as an example, that meant unveiling a cover of “Carrie Anne” by the Hollies, in addition to releasing a previously unreleased track. “You can always do more,” says Jared, “[but] there’s no harm in stepping back for a second.”
Reflecting a little, one of the key changes Jared and Kristyn say they’ll make for their next tour is cutting down drive-time in between shows. They agree that eight hours or less in between destinations would be optimal. Their tour saw a few spurts which exceeded that, cutting into time to decompress off the road and unwind a little along the way. While they were prepared with plenty of copies of their new album, Bad Latitude, they also learned to take as much merch with them as they can fit in their van next time they tour. “If you’re in the city, that’s when they want to buy it,” says Kristyn. Learn from the missed opportunities, says Jared, “but don’t forget to know when you’ve done something great.” “Know what you want,” he continues, which is every bit as important as “being organized” in terms of touring rules. Because without that, you won’t know when you’ve succeeded.
**Kristyn works at Apple Road, which specializes in “creative publicity for the brands you shouldn’t live without.” “For the sake of my clients,” and to avoid any perceived conflict of interest, she doesn’t do publicity for *repeat repeat.
[This article was first published by the Nashville Fringe Festival.]