In this day and age everyone wants to go on tour. After all, it's one of those romantic things about heavy metal – the myth that you can hop into a van with some of your friends, play fifty shows all around the country, make hundreds of friends wand watch your band rocket to fame. And while it definitely can help to grow your band and is an essential part of expanding your bands fanbase, I wouldn't be so quick to romanticize it. Earlier this week, we saw just how much touring for a month costs, and how much it brings in. You can make a decent living on tour, but it can't be your only source of income. But this post isn't about money.
There's a lot of things you need to know before getting to hit the road, bitter truths that you'll hear, and probably ignore, which is fine. After all touring is still nothing but a good time.
8. Don't Expect Anyone To Care About Your Band
This is one of the most brutal realities about being in a band on the road that is far too easy to ignore. I get it, you're young and excited and the whole world is at your feet. Surely people are going to be coming out and jamming your latest material right? No, probably not. While there might be a good number of people at your shows, the odds are no one is going to care. The reason people care about your band in your local scene is that you've been able to establish yourselves, and show folks how good you are. On the road you're dealing with a fresh audience every night, and it might take more than just one show in Freddy's Bar and Grill to win over audiences in Reno. Get ready to be ignored and forgotten – that's just part of life on the road.
7. Your Van WILL Break Down
It happens to everyone – it's just a question of how badly. Will your van flip, or will a belt get burned out? It's going to happen – it's just a result of driving thousands of miles on roads you've never crossed before. Even experienced bands can find themselves suffering from major things. And yet still we press on. Of course, the day your van inevitably breaks down it will suck – it will probably be a day that had an important show and you probably will lose money and hate everyone. Again – such is the nature of being in a touring band. There's no way around it, you're just going to have to keep on keeping on until you not only have emptied your wallets, but you've also sold them.
6. You Don't Know Your Bandmates As Well As You Think You Do
No matter how many nights you've crashed at a bandmates house after a show, or how much you think you bonded on your eight-hour road trip to Canada, there is nothing quite like being locked in a metal box with your band for a month. You start to notice weird idiosyncrasies and habits that will eventually start to drive you insane. There's nothing wrong with it – just imagine suddenly being thrust into multiple marriages at the same time and having no escape. It can be scary. Of course it can also be a blessing – you get to know your friends better – and who doesn't want that? It can be a lot of fun to be able to bond for days on end, I've heard multiple touring musicians refer to it as their 'van time'. Who says metal dudes can't be adorable?
5. Sleeping On A Strangers Floor Is Terrifying
Have you ever offered to let a band sleep on your floor and had them gauge you with their wary eyes? There's a reason for that. Every band in the world has a nightmare story about sleeping on a stranger's floor, be it Windhand, who have a story about going into a strangers house to find the floor covered in dog poop, or Black Table who once got lice at a crust punk house, these things happen with frightening regularity. After a couple of tours, you start to figure out the best places to sleep and use those as the basis for your routing. You need to be careful when deciding whose floor you are going to sleep on because it could literally be the worst experience of your life – and given the state of the underground, it's going to stay this way for the foreseeable future.
4. You Are A Travelling Salesman
This is one of the most important things to realize when on tour. You're probably not really going to be profiting from guarantees (Assuming you even get any) because gas and van maintenance costs a lot. So where does the real money come from? Merch – selling anything and everything. While yes, in this day and age your primary revenue stream should probably be t-shirts that doesn't mean you shouldn't at least try and sell signed busted drum heads and other tour viscera. Metal has very much a collectors mentality, and you need to be aware that when you go around the country your music is essentially marketing your goods.
3. Promoters Are Hit And Miss
This is one of those general truisms of the music industry. I've seen icons who have played to arenas turn around and play to fifteen people a week later. Metal Injections very own Frank Godla tells the story of how he has played to 5 and 500 people on the same tour. Part of the struggle of the underground is that you really never know, and even though it sometimes may seem like a promoter was cool on Facebook, that by no means implies that they will end up even bothering to promote your show. You should go into every night of the tour with no expectations, people who did a great job last time might end up doing jack shit this time around, it's just how it goes, it's not necessarily anyone's fault – it's just the struggle of music industry life.
2. The Fatigue is Devastating
If you're going on tour be ready to be more tired than you've ever thought possible for weeks on end. Not only will you be getting six hours of sleep on a good night, you probably never will be comfortable in the van with all your gear in there, the shifting time zones mean it can feel like Daylight Savings Time happened every couple of days and, of course, you're doing all this while moving hundreds of pounds of gear every night. If you work on the road it's going to be even more challenging, a constant struggle to find the time to do everything and perpetually wondering if an important email just came in while you were in that dead zone. In other words – by the end of tour you'll be a sleep deprived, worn down ball of stress. But that doesn't matter because…
1. Touring Is Literally The Best
Like seriously. Anyone who has gone on tour will tell you this. You get to meet new people every night and see old friends with regularity. In a world as spread out as the underground metal community it's reassuring to get to see familiar faces and reminisce about old times. Beyond that – you get to spend every night playing the music you love to a fresh crowd. And yes – not a lot of people will care at first, but if your music is worth a damn, you're sure to be able to win over at least a few fans ever night – meaning that the next time around will be even better. You get to build up contacts and friendships, leading towards a brighter future for your music and you get to do it playing music which, as well all know, is literally the best. Sure tour sucks, but it sure is better than slaving away at your dead end job as you stare into the void.