How to Plan Your First Tour as a DJ/Producer
The craziest thing about organizing a tour is that nobody necessarily needs to know who you are. You just need to convince promoters that you're worth booking.
You'd think that with no following, nobody would bother to book you. If you're trying to organize a hard ticket sales tour, in which you're the main attraction, then you're right; promoters won't make any money off the event if nobody shows up.
The other option you have is to organize a soft ticket sales tour; this is where you open for other artists that are going to sell out venues or play club nights that people are attending anyways. The promoters running these events don't need to worry about the following you're going to bring out, and are much more likely to book you.
Unlike a band that requires substantial means of transportation to drag all their gear around, most music producers only need access to a pair of CDJ and a mixer. If the venue you're playing can provide these for you, all you need is a USB stick with your music on it.
For this reason, it's possible to organize a tour all by yourself. You don't need a crew to travel around with you. Your primary expenses are going to be travel and lodge related. You're not going to make a lot of money from your first tour, so your primary goal should be to break even.
Going on tour provides excellent exposure, and acts as a significant means to market yourself. Any time an artist from out of town visits a city, especially smaller towns, residents pay special attention to them. If you live in a music capital like Los Angeles or New York, you may not realize this, but it's a big deal when out-of-town artists visit your city.
1. Put Together a Set List
Unless you're a turntablist, it's pretty hard to make it as a DJ who doesn't produce music. Many DJs realize that they're able to get booked at bigger and better venues if they have a catalog of original music. Instead of being perceived as a glorified iPod, they're recognized as an artist.
As a DJ/producer, you aren't expected to fill an entire set with your original music, but you should have at least 10+ original songs that you can play. Feel free also to include custom edits and remixes you've made of other tracks.
2. Hire a VFX Artist to Create a Video Loop with Your Logo
It's a good idea to hire a VFX artist to create a video loop containing your logo; this can be projected on a screen behind you while you perform, and it's much flashier than a banner with your artist name on it.
INF1N1TE uses a VFX loop that incorporates his logo, and some of his album artwork. It looks cool and makes it clear to the audience that INF1N1TE is on-stage. In larger venues, it's not always that easy to see who's playing when you're in the back row.
If you have $100,000 laying around, you may be able to afford your very own Paradox-style video show. You can expect to pay anywhere between $500-1,000 for one minute of custom video animation work, so an hour and a half set of original animation work is going to be expensive.
3. Create a Rider and Gear List
A rider is a list of items you can request to be present in the venue's green room when you arrive. Promoters won't necessarily be able to fulfill all your requests; it depends on how absurd they are. Some common rider requests include:
- Bottled water
On the more extreme end of the spectrum, you have riders like that of Skrillex and Diplo (Jack U):
You can also request a gear list. Most venues catering to DJs/producers should own, or be able to rent the following items, but it's best to check ahead of time:
- 2 x CDJ 2000s
- Pioneer DJ DJM-900 Mixer
- Backdrop and projector
4. Create a Merch Line
People love buying your merch, especially if you're a fresh new artist they just discovered. T-shirts are a great way to advertise your brand; they're basically like walking billboards.
Whatever you do, don't skimp out on the quality of the merch you have made. Nobody wants a shirt that's going to deteriorate the first time they send it through their washing machine. Spend a little bit of extra cash on quality merch, and people will be more inclined to buy your products.
- Branded USBs containing your music
Keep in mind that merch doesn't really expire, so even it's not the end of the world if you don't sell all of your merch while on tour. What would be worse is if you ran out of merch and missed out on potential sales.
5. Prepare Your Sales Pitch
The first step in planning your tour is creating a sales package that you can use to convince event promoters to book you. To do this effectively, you're going to need to have the following:
- An electronic press kit (EPK)
- A promo video
- A portfolio of your work (Soundcloud/Spotify links)
- A sales email template
In "5 Tips to Build a Better Brand as an Artist," everything you need to create an electronic press kit is covered, and the importance of branding is discussed in detail. Make sure all the items listed are accessible online. Nobody wants to download content from a random email onto their phone or computer.
When pitching yourself to venues, you don't need to create an elaborate email outlining your life story. Your email should get straight to the point. Feel free to use this sales email template and fill it in with your information.
When you present yourself as a professional artist with a put together brand, you should have no problem beating out the local hack job DJs and producers for a time slot at the event you have your eyes on.
If you're opening for a big name, this might mean you're acting as direct support, and if you're applying to be featured at a weekly club event, you could very well end up headlining the evening.
6. Research Venues That Host the Type of Music You Produce
Researching the venues that host the type of music you produce isn't much fun, but it has to be done. You're going to create a giant list of all the venues that may potentially book you to play a show. The list should include the venue's:
- Street address
- Contact phone number
- Contact email address
This is perhaps the most tedious part of organizing a tour. Googling "EDM Venues in Miami" isn't hard, but it's a pain in the butt. There's no guarantee that these venues will respond to you, or be willing to allow you to play a soft ticket show, but you only need to create this contact list once.
Even though your contact list may need some updating over time, it's going to make scheduling your next tour much more manageable. Creating this venue contact list is a long-term investment, so it's a good idea to spend time populating with an abundance of accurate information.
7. Create a Promoter Contact List
In many situations, the person who owns the music venue you want to play isn't the same person who organizes the events and brings in fresh talent; this is the job of an event promoter.
An event promoter doesn't usually work directly for a venue. Instead, they front cash to bring in artists to an event at the venue on their own and hope to make a profit off of ticket sales.
You should add the contact information of the promoter running the event you want to play at to your venue contact list. This information is something the venue should be able to provide you with.
8. Plan Your Travel Route
Let's assume that you've managed to get in contact with the promoter of an event and they're happy to have you on board. This first contact is meant as a way to gauge interest so that you can plan out a travel route.
Since you may very likely be a one-person show, you don't need to travel around on a tour bus. If you own a car, you can consider driving yourself from city to city or purchasing plane tickets.
When you start to negotiate how much you'll get paid, you can ask promoters if they'll cover travel expenses; this is also something you'll want to work into your performance contract.
9. Calculate How Much You Need to Charge
The amount you need to charge to perform depends on the sum of your tour expenses, and how much you’re expecting to profit off of the tour.
$500 for one evening may seem pretty good, but once you factor in a plane ticket, a crappy hotel room, and a few meals, you’re not left over with very much money.
One of the downsides to doing a soft ticket sales tour is that you don’t have as much bargaining power as you would if you were doing a hard ticket sales tour.
10. Provide Promoters with a Performance Contract and Sales Receipt
The best way to deal with performance contracts, and bookings in general, is to use a booking management platform like Gigwell. It’s an end-to-end solution for booking agencies and artists.
Gigwell allows you to search through an international database of venues and talent buyers, which are displayed on an interactive map. Each venue has a venue profile that includes contact information, photos, and a calendar of announced shows.
Using Gigwell, you can significantly reduce the time spent researching venues and dealing with promoters; it's used by booking agencies like CG Agency whose roster includes artists like Architekt, BLVK SHEEP, INF1N1TE, Jaguar Skills, KJ Sawka, Notixx, and Reid Speed.
Gigwell is available in a few different tiers. There's the Gigwell Tour IQ version which costs $33/month and allows you to search for venues with a capacity of up to 500 people. Additionally, there's the Agency version, which costs $99/month and allows you to search for venues with a capacity of up to 1,500 people. For an added $100, you can altogether remove the venue capacity limit.
11. Keep Track of Your Expenses
Once you've spoken to promoters, gauged interest, and decided whether or not a tour is viable, you need to start thinking about taxes. If you’ve registered your artist project as a business, you’re going to have to pay taxes on the money you’ve made through your business throughout the year.
In her article “Small Business Tax Rate: 2019 Guide for Business Owners,” Heather D Satterley states that "On average, the effective small business tax rate is 19.8%. However, businesses pay different amounts in taxes based on their entities. Sole proprietorships pay a 13.3% tax rate, small partnerships pay a 23.6% tax rate, and small S corporations face 26.9% tax rate.
Taxes can be confusing, so you should hire an account; they exist to make filing your taxes easier. A good accountant will save you from paying more money on taxes than is necessary.
You can reduce the amount of money you pay in taxes by "writing off" business expenses. When you write off an expense, you can deduct the expense from your taxable income on your tax return and potentially save thousands of dollars.
Examples of expenses that you can write off while on tour include meals, plane tickets, a bus rental, gas, and more. You must keep receipts for all your business expenses in case you get audited. Receipts act as proof that your expenses are legitimate.
I recommend using an accounting software like QuickBooks (save 50% for the first 6 months using this link) to track your business income/expenses, and send out invoices to promoters if necessary. Instead of keeping paper copies of receipts, you can take pictures of them and upload them to an app like Expensify, which you can then sync with QuickBooks.
12. Contact Local Radio Stations, Blogs, and Podcasters for Interviews
In the weeks leading up to your tour, contact local radio stations, blogs, and podcasters to see if they're interested in interviewing you. These types of media outlets are always looking for content and will very likely be willing to chat with you.
The only thing to be wary of is the amount of time you have in the cities you're touring through, and how far your interview is from the venue you're playing. An interview that goes live the day of your show can help promote the venue and fill the space.
Some people may be willing to interview you via Skype or over the phone, so if you're not going to be able to make it to their studio, ask them if this is an option instead.
Planning a tour is a lot of work. It requires you to reach out to a lot of people, and the reality is that you're probably not going to make very much money from a soft ticket sales tour. However, touring is a great way to find new fans, promote your brand, and get your name out there.
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