So my April west coast run has been completed. Our Mini Van Brett Michaels performed remarkably well again, and both Gray Robertson and Javier Torres proved themselves to be top quality musicians and allies.
Once again I learned many lessons regarding touring - maybe not enough to warrant another installment in my Keys to Failure series, but certainly some applicable knowledge. Here are the highlights:
- We managed to cut our overhead down quite a bit by using a cooler and making the effort to go grocery shopping for the whole group.
- We learned that "Gavin Castleton" can pack out a club in Santa Monica with people that live in Hollywood and surrounding towns (and not in Santa Monica). Perhaps it was just good timing, or perhaps some of the venues we did in the past weren't ideal for my particular demographic. Keep trying venues until you find the right fit.
- We learned (once again) that you really should think about where you set up your merch. If it's an area too high-traffic or too low-traffic, you will lose.
- Working with an actual professional promoting Promoter is the best possible way to break a new town. When you do find one, respect and thank them profusely.
- If you need DIs, carry DIs.
- "Artist-Friendly" venues that want you to sign a paper saying that you won't play covers so that they don't have to pay Performing Rights Organizations are not "artist-friendly."
- Really really really really think about the money deal you're agreeing on when you're booking the show. Yes, you're desperate to confirm a date. Yes, you feel as if you don't have a leg to stand on because you have no draw in that town. But calculate how much money you will leave with if 10 people pay, 15, 25, 30, 50, 75... Does it sound painfully low? Is it even enough for gas to the next town? If the club insists on taking a huge chunk of the money to cover their costs before you see anything, then a) you are going to leave empty-handed, and b) they are asking you take on all the risk. Since a show is a joint venture, the risk should be shared. You're better off playing in someone's basement for free or going to the park - at least your dignity will be intact and you'll probably save money.
- If the venue considers itself "DIY" (i.e. the band is responsible for their own sound, setup, door, etc.), then you should be getting 100% of the door (while the venue gets 100% of their alcohol sales).
- Don't drive 24 hours to Denver and back for one show at a coffeeshop. GEEZ. Just cancel the show. If you burned a bridge with a coffeeshop in Arvada (which, it turns out, is NOT Denver), big deal. 1/2 off on a $30 pizza will not even come close to covering your expenses.
- Don't play with locals that over-saturate their market. Better to play alone and get all the door money, even if they're awesome and fun to be around.
- Have a "Gas Money" tip jar. Always.
And the BIGGEST lesson:
- it is entirely possible that you can make more money playing less shows.
All said and done, the three of us made $72.21 each (for 13 days of work). I probably could've made more holding a cardboard sign and a tin cup by the freeway. And had anything horrible happened with Brett Michaels, we would've been in a real bad spot. But interestingly enough, when you truncate the tour to exclude Seattle, Spokane, Boise, SLC, Denver, and Portland--- so that it's just a five-day run starting in Phoenix and ending in Reno, the numbers get a lot less pathetic. Had we only booked a five-day tour, we would each have made $200.88. So we learned that we can't really take any more risks on those eastern towns without very good reason - not if I want to pay my musicians (and Lumas) what they deserve and somehow cover my rent. Less is apparently more, in this regard.
So Denver, Seattle, Spokane, Boise, SLC: we'll try again in a year or two and see if you are more interested in supporting us then.