So two days ago I’m leaning over my laptop in the bar of the Monte Vista Hotel in Flagstaff, Arizona. It’s paper work day. The bar in front of me is scattered with receipts from the past two weeks: Cortez, Mancos, Telluride, Dolores, Mancos again, Mesa Verde State Park, and several receipts from the dusty, windblown villages of the Hopi reservation to the west of Four Corners.
Thankfully there is beer here, and so I’m chipping away happily at my accounting work, when to my right there appears what appears to be a true blue rockstar.
From tip-to-tail this guy’s look screams rock-and-roll: big ole western hat with shiny metallic band; haunted poet eyes with dark circles around them; a snugly fit blazer over a vest (no shirt underneath, just chest hair and tattoos), dusted and stained to taste; knuckle tats reading: LONE WOLF; and slim fit jeans leading down to a shiny black pair of Chelsea boots.
(First rule of rock-and-roll, kids: wear what you want, but your shoes better be on point).
Naturally I said nothing at first. I was swimming in the numbers. But eventually the booze got the better of me and a chance comment from the mysterious rock-and-roller to the bartender about the highly volatile price of Guinness beer from state-to-state (obnoxious) lead me to introduce myself.
He reciprocated, introducing himself as Garry Black Child, a #rebelfolk artist from Santa Fe, and we proceeded to chat over beers for the next two hours, swapping road stories (mostly unfit for civilized audiences) and exchanging bits of advice (good for any and all aspiring indie artists, AKA road dogs).
Garry is every bit the rockstar I initially thought he was, and I’m pleased to say that we intend to put together a run together later this year. If you’d like to learn more about him, I recommend you start with this video and his Instagram page.
And now, here are the highlights from my illuminating conversation with Garry Black Child about life as up-and-coming indie artists living full-time on the road:
Instagram is king.
Forgot what you’ve heard about Snapchat and leave Twitter to the birds— Facebook is over and Instagram has risen to take it’s place (hence Zuckerberg’s $1b buyout in April 2012).
My number-one takeway from our conversation was that I need to get my Instagram on point. Garry said that he is booking most of his gigs through Instagram these days, and I can see why: at the time of this writing, Garry has 6,712 followers on the service. I can only imagine how that must affect the way that venues perceive his status as an artist when he DMs them*.
(Contrast this with his number of Facebook fans, which stands at 495. Like I said— Facebook is dead.)
*Spoiler alert: 6,712 followers looks really good to a talent buyer who’s trying to assess your status/talent.
An updated calendar and proper organization is paramount.
At one point in the conversation, Garry noted my scattered receipts across the table.
“I like to watch the numbers,” I said, showing him my (highly OCD) spreadsheet where I track all my touring income and expenses. Categories include Car, Dining, Drinking, Gas, etc.
“Damn man, I need something like that.”
“It’s a headache, but it’s totally worth it.”
(I would give more detail here, but I intend to write another post about my spreadsheets in the future, so we’ll just put a pin in it for now.)
Our conversation turned to calendars.
I personally maintain four calendars— my Google Calendar, which is my private calendar for coordinating with my management team; and then my public calendars where I post upcoming gigs: Bandsintown, Songkick, and the Events Calendar on my Facebook Page.
In contrast, and no dig at him, but Garry has no gig calendar.
I was amazed to hear this, given that I rely heavily on my calendars as not only an organization tool but also as a way of demonstrating my status to venues (ie, look how many gigs I have, I must be goood), but I suppose that his Instagram following makes up for that. It’s incredible all the different ways there are to demonstrate status and book gigs and make money as an indie artist.
Speaking of which…
Look for non-musical opportunities to make money.
Another thing I learned from Gary is that working as a photographic model for art schools is a good way to 1) make money; and 2) get free, awesome photos for your Instagram page.
“You mean they pay you to take pictures of you?”
“Yep. And they don’t even get copyright because they’re students.”
Tinder is a great place to find spots to couch surf.
Now, I’ve had mixed success with this already, but what Gary emphasized was to take a non-sexual approach:
“Just tell it like it is, man. Say you’re a touring musician, you live on the road, you’re looking for cool people to hang out with and places to crash. Just make sure you put NOT LOOKING FOR HOOK-UPS in all caps, and then keep the conversation friendly and PG. Works like a charm.”
In contrast, I told him that I’d been having a fair measure of success with the hook-up side of things during the last couple months of touring this year, but that I had grown tired of sorting the wheat from the chaff and deleted the app out of frustration about two weeks ago.
“It’s not for hook-ups, man. It’s for making friends.”
You’re not allowed to have a real relationship while you’re on tour.
At this point we commenced with some bawdy stories not fit for human consumption. They will not be printed here in public— if you want the R-rated stuff, you’ll just have to figure out where I publish it pseudonymously.
Suffice to say, we concluded that it is impossible to tour full-time and keep a proper romantic relationship together. The combination of all the nights away from home + jealousy of fan attention at gigs can be extremely difficult for your partner to handle. We commiserated about various relationships lost to the road.
“I know; but when we get to the next level and we can afford to take a couple months off, then maybe it will be possible.”
“The sailor schedule, huh?”
“Yep. And if you set it up right, you can still probably have a girl in every port.”
It’s best to keep a bottle of whiskey in the van.
As it turns out, we both still spend most of our nights boondocking in our vans.
Don’t act like you’re surprised— do you know how much money we make (or don’t)?
It’s not for the faint of heart, but once you get used to it’s not bad at all.
The important thing is to find quiet, dark places where you won’t be disturbed (Gary likes lumberyards; I prefer office parks).
And finally, you have to make sure that you’re comfortable in the van, so be sure to keep whatever you need on hand to make sure that once you settle in for the night you’re good to go.
Gary mentioned that he always keeps a bottle of good whiskey around (I do too), and that he’s got a good bedroll with comfy pillows and blankets.
Personally I just use a sleeping bag; it’s easier to keep neat, but I always have my book of sudoku puzzles and a fully-charged phone loaded with podcasts to keep me entertained (the whiskey helps with that too).
Now, I’m sure there was more to our conversation, but that’s what I remember now so I’m going to end it here. If you enjoyed this article, please be sure to leave a comment below and subscribe to my mailing list for future updates.
Cheers from Flagstaff,