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Tour Essentials for Local Bands

By:  Gillian McGhee

After Riot Fest marked the end of Chicago’s summer festival season, big name and local bands are gearing up for fall tours across the country.

Madonna recently stopped in Chicago with her ‘MDNA Tour,’ which analysts expect to gross $450 million. But according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the lowest 10 percent of musicians make under minimum wage. Without lavish tour busses and high paying gigs, the local do-it-yourselfers (DIY) face many challenges on the road.  Here are some tips from local Chicagoans in the bizz to make your DIY tour feel a little more sophisticated.

Keep up with personal health and hygiene

Be courteous to your band mates and don’t stink up the car.

“Everybody must have deodorant,” says Nick O’Connor Sintos, the singer and lead guitarist of The Flips, an alt-indie rock band.

Touring can be tough on your body, as it affects your sleep cycle, diet and the like. Mike Carlson, The Flips’ drummer, suggests bringing vitamins and cold remedies for sickness, and making an effort to eat as best you can.

Storing healthy snacks like fresh fruit, yogurt and bottled water in a cooler is one way to combat the tempting fast food diet on the road.

“Do your yoga,” Carlson jokes. He recently pulled a muscle on the last day of The Flips’ weekend tour, which made drumming more challenging.

Stretching before a performance, depending on how intense a band’s live show is, can help keep your body loose and make for a better performance.

Save up for a van or trailer, if possible

Going on tour with multiple vehicles can complicate the touring experience very quickly, says Sam Edgin, bassist of An Aesthetic Anaesthetic (A!A!A!) and a Chicago promoter. It can cause communication issues between band members, negatively affect a planned route, and burn a hole in your pocket—with high gas prices, the fewer tanks to fill, the better.

The more spacious the vehicle is, the easier traveling will be for the band.

Know where you are going and travel safely

A GPS is crucial for bands these days. A clear route and estimated time of arrival help bands reach the venue on time and remove undue stress.

A!A!A! uses the buddy system for nighttime driving.

“Whoever is copilot must stay awake to keep the driver awake,” he says. This helps ensure everyone’s safety on the road.

Keep your gear safe and bring back-ups

Edgin suggests double and triple-checking the practice space before hitting the road. It can be frustrating when you realize at your first show that you left something important back home.

Also, never leave your gear out in the open. Make sure it’s in a safe place or locked up when not in use.

Bring comforts from home to keep you sane

Because most cars aren’t designed to double as a mobile home, packing comfortable clothes, pillows and blankets can make travelling a little bit less straining.

“Bring something to keep yourself occupied, there’s a lot of downtime,” says Edgin. Diving into a good book or listening to your iPod can create pseudo alone time that bands don’t really get on tour.

Carlson, a self-proclaimed “soccer dork,” brings his Chicago Fire scarf along. “It connects me back to reality,” he says.

Network, network, network!

Increasingly, local bands are having to book their own tours when they head out to new cities.

“Plan on booking your own shows, because promoters don’t do it,” says Edgin, who disagrees with this tactic. Leaving the booking up to the band is a riskier financial endeavor for the venue than the promoter piecing together a cohesive show that will draw in the local crowd.

Building ties with musicians from these cities is crucial, because they are the ones who will fill a room. The more people they bring, the more new fans you can potentially earn. They can also feed you or give you a place to stay the night.

Embrace the unexpected and be realistic

It is safe to say that you should not go on tour expecting to make money.

“Expect the worst,” says Edgin.   For local bands, Edgins says breaking even is a major success. “On our two week tour, we came out ahead 50 bucks!” he says of his most recent tour with A!A!A!.

“We almost broke even, which I consider a win,” says Sintos.

Perhaps most importantly, Carlson reminds bands to always remember to have fun.

He says Monday morning, back at his day job, is when he really appreciates how lucky he is to go on tour with his best friends.

Photo by: Jon Penick

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The Hub Bub is a collection of articles, videos, audio, photo slideshows, interactive maps and other media produced by students enrolled in journalism courses at Loyola University Chicago's School of Communication. For more about the School of Communication, our award winning faculty, and our state of the art facilities located in the heart of Chicago, visit our website.