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A Tour Booking Strategy That Actually Works

Updated: Sep 18, 2023

As you probably know, starting to tour can be incredibly difficult. So difficult that most bands don't even know where to start. I've heard many artists say that they'll wait to tour until after they get signed so they can go out when there's *demand*. Or that they'll tour when they get asked to tour with a bigger band or when they can attract an agent. I'm sorry to say that I've worked with signed bands on reputable labels who had trouble attracting booking agents. Also, it's much easier to attract a label when you have some tour history. Finally, while I guess there are instances of demand existing for an artist pre-touring, it's kind of the exception. The best way to build demand for your band in different markets is (sorry) to tour.

For less established bands, simply booking a small string of shows down the coast can be prohibitively labor-intensive. Then there's the part of getting your whole band to take work off for a week or two or six and dragging yourselves out for many consecutive nights of what will probably be bad sleep, poor nutrition, and a fair amount of drinking. It'll be a blast, especially for younger bands, but it'll be exhausting and expensive, and the likelihood of you getting it all together to go back to play shows in those same towns in the next six months is pretty low.

This bit is important: when we talk about a band breaking into a market in a meaningful way, it's really making it back to play there 5-6 times. If you're only getting back to play the markets you tour in twice a year, it's going to take a pretty long time. Probably longer than you'd like. Also, it's even harder to build momentum with frequency that low.

Here at Little Red Radio Promotion, we love when our artist tour. Touring and radio promotion can work hand in hand to level up an artist's profile on air and on the ground. But because touring is so logistically treacherous, we encourage our clients to do something we call cyclical regional touring.

This method is easier and more effective than traditional touring models. It's also more carbon-friendly and it allows everyone in your band to keep some stability in their life, avoid burnout, and maintain a balanced life that includes relationships, work, and blessed, blessed sleep.

How does it work?

In the first phase, we encourage our bands to begin an 8-week show cycle. 8 weeks is key, because it's the frequency at which you can play a given market without competing with yourself for draw. We encourage our artists to play no more than once every 8 weeks in any given place, even their local market.

It begins with week 1. Week 1 is for hometown shows. At home, we encourage artists to play only the very best shows they can get, and to focus their efforts on getting added to bigger bills, rather than organizing their own shows with their friends' bands. A great way to do this is to keep tabs on local mid-sized venues and hit up the talent buyer as national bills with TBA openers get added to the calendar. Get in the habit of looking every week or two and don't be afraid of reaching out over and over again about specific bills - you're not being annoying, you're actually making the talent buyer's job easier. Getting in front of other artsits' fans is a great way to build your following and it's a lot less work than putting together bills with other local bands.

For week 2, you want to set up a show in a nearby market that's far enough away that it's outside of any radius clause you'll have around your local shows. Think 1.5-2.5 hours away, and ideally somewhere you can drive home from after your set, so you don't have to figure out a place to stay. Then, begin to treat that market like your second hometown market. Make it a priority to just get back there on a weekend night every couple of months, always focusing on increasing your connections and increasing your draw. More on how to do that below.

As soon as you play your week 2 market, shoot the talent buyer a thank you note and let them know you'd love to come back in another couple of months. Maybe you only drew 2 people this time, but tell them if you added 10 people to your email list and show that you're committed to growing in their market and basically becoming another reliable local-ish band that puts on good shows at their club. And before your next show, be sure to write a special email specifically to the people in that town inviting them out to the upcoming show. Make it extra personal and specific - even if the email only goes out to seven people, those early connections are worth their weight in gold over time if you nurture them.

I could write a whole post about collecting email addresses and keeping them organized by zip code. Maybe I will!

Once you have your second market locked in, repeat the process in other nearby towns for weeks 3, 4, 5 etc. or as many times as makes sense for you. The goal of this is to be playing once a week and growing in a handful of markets at the same time. The thing is to never invest resources in playing a market you won't be getting back to in 8-10 weeks.

After you've played all the markets in your rotation 5-6 times, you should be starting to meaningfully increase your draw and community in those nearby markets. Once you know you can rely on a good payout and maybe a friendly couch to sleep on in your chosen nearby markets, consider tacking on a market that's a couple hours further out and gradually increasing your radius with two day runs.

But really, if you're in the position where you're drawing 50-100 people in 8 markets, you're well on your way. That's definitely the kind of band booking agents like to add as regional support for legs of bigger tours. You're also probably in good shape to sell 500 or so records, an important marker indie labels look for when they're scouting developing artists.

Hope these ideas are helpful! If you love what you're reading and want to sign up to get notified when we post new helpful articles, sign up for our email list!

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