Joy Ike is rad. This is part two of our interview on touring and general musician-related business-life skills. Part one is over yonder. Here in Part 2 we talk about the importance of researching venues before getting booked, a variety of ways to make (and lose) money on tour, and why you need to focus on building your fan base.
Sage Harrington: On to so-called “alternative venues”! Since you’re not playing bars, where are you playing? Grower’s markets, libraries, coffee shops? Listening rooms, theaters, art spaces?
I looove house concerts. If I could just do them for a living…I think I would be happy.
Joy Ike: Yes, all of the above. And don’t forget house concerts! But I especially love playing alternative venues. I’ve found that the space has a lot to do with the success of a show. And even more importantly, it’s all about the atmosphere cultivated by the people running the show. I can’t tell you how important that is. When an event host puts a lot of love and care into making the event wonderful, EVERYONE leaves happy—the audience, the artist, and the hosts!
That reminds me of a Grassrootsy feature you did on a coffee house/music venue. I love that you mentioned house concerts! We did a feature on Shannon Curtis, who wrote a lovely little handbook on house concert touring. What’s your experience with house concerts?
I looove house concerts. If I could just do them for a living…I think I would be happy. They are so much more intimate and so much more meaningful than most of the public shows I do. I’ve had a few very, very crappy ones but 99% of them have been wonderful! Nothing like bringing people together for food and music. There’s a sort of warmth in the area that can’t be created but comes naturally simply because it’s in someone’s home.
Shannon Curtis is doing house concerts full-time! You totally need to read her book. How do you find traditional/alternative venues?
Research, research, research! I spend soooo much time online just researching venues. I check out their website, their Facebook pages, their images. My goal is to get an idea of how they book their artists, if the venue is a good fit for my sound, if it’s worth my time, how easy or hard it is to get booked at the venue, and the best way to approach them. I bookmark everything that looks worthwhile. I have tons of venues bookmarked and I organize them by city. So when I am planning a tour, I check out my Midwest bookmarked venues.
In a recent [tour] this past summer, about 40% of what I made went to music expenses.
Most venues I find through IOTM. Shout-out to Indie on the Move! Love those guys! I am on their website a couple times every week when I’m working on booking. I also find a lot of my venues through friends. If a friend sends out their newsletter and lists the venues they’re playing in, then I spend time looking into those same spots and seeing if any will work for my music as well. I subscribe to a lot of newsletters of singer/songwriter peers. It keeps me informed on what they’re doing, new places to play, and new ideas that I can consider for my own music.
I love that you mentioned Indie On The Move! Also, keeping an eye on where your friends are playing. Such a great idea. When you’re in the process of booking shows, how do you convince people to respond to your emails, for pete’s sake?
Some people will just never get back. It sucks. But you can increase the likelihood of getting a response by doing your research! Think of it this way—you got ONE SHOT! What do you need to put in this email to make sure the reader takes you seriously? If you want to know the answer, read these two Grassrootsy posts:
Do you make money on your tours? So often tours can be a money drain. Can you avoid that? Do you find that they become more profitable as you do them more and gain more of a following in a region?
It really depends on where I’m going. If I’m going to a region where I have fans, then I do better at the door. But I don’t always do well on CD sales if I don’t have new product and there aren’t a ton of new faces. In these cases I’m basically just bringing in devoted listeners, but not many new fans. And when you’re playing to people who already have the album, it’s hard to make money. This makes putting good bills together super important, because you want to do whatever you can to bring as many people as possible and get those ticket sales.
On the flip side, when I’m playing in new cities and spots where people don’t know my name, I tend to do better on merch. People aren’t willing to spend $10 on a ticket for someone they don’t know, but if it’s a free show (or a $5 gig) they’ll take a chance, hopefully be pleasantly surprised, and give me $10-20 in merch sales. So these are the types of things I factor in when I’m working on a tour.
I think you should be touring as consistently as possible because there is always potential to make new fans.
So to answer your question: Yes and No. I do and I don’t make money. House concerts and art festivals are my ideal situations. In the case of a house concert, your fan is exposing you to their community of friends, you’re charging a cover, and also making bank on CDs. In the case of art festivals, you’re playing for literally hundreds or thousands of people who are just provided to you! Often times there’s a guarantee, but not always. But at the very least you’re able to make bank on merch because there are so many people in the crowd. If even 2% of them get your album, you’ve made enough to cover rent for the month.
On the downside, expenses suck. In a recent month this past summer, about 40% of what I made went to music expenses—car rental, gas, tolls, food, college booking company and management. It’s extremely painful when that happens because you’re the one on the road busting your butt to bring all of that in, and it goes out the door just as quickly as it comes.
Is there a pattern in how often/how long you tour? About how many times do you tour per year? Do you cover the same route?
I think everyone is different, but I tend to do 2-week tours at the longest. I don’t think I would survive on month-long tours like some of my peers. I like being home with friends and connecting with my family and church community. My route always changes but I always book my anchor dates first. Book the cities with the biggest draw first (or the good paying ones first), then fill in the gaps. I tend to return to a region every 3 months. I’m currently working on a Midwest tour. I’m booking this particular trip around college shows that my college booking agency is securing. And I’m also booking around Chicago because that is where the bulk of my Midwest fans are.
Do you have any specific motivation in mind when you book a tour? Promoting a new release, wanting to visit fans in their hometown, etc?
In my mind I’m always touring for a reason: fan-building. Fan-building is the key to getting a CD out there, getting your name out there, making an income, and doing absolutely anything else. If you’re making fans you’re building a sustainable career. You might not be famous but your career will have longevity.
I don’t get when people tour just in support of an album release. I think you should be touring as consistently as possible because there is always potential to make new fans. OK, realistically I realize not everyone can be on the road, so I don’t mean to be a jerk. I just mean that I think people should make fan-building their primary goal because that will govern the types of shows they pick, their goals for their music, etc. It will make the difference between a 3-year and a 10-year career.
Read more about touring on Pyragraph
Do It Anyway, on playing those soul-sucking dive bars, by Rennie Sparks
Tour Brain, on how the human brain works on tour, by Rennie Sparks
Merch Table Basics, by Rennie Sparks
8 Things That Will Probably Happen To You On Tour, by Shenandoah Davis
How To Book a Tour: A Timeline, by Shenandoah Davis