Recent events have me meditating on how best to be a successful independent artist who books, promotes, and performs all his own shows. I’m in Arizona this month, expenses are a bit high, my gig schedule is a bit thin… it’s not game over, but as I reflect on how I got to this point, I see consistent patterns of small mistakes made consistently over time… adding up to larger problems.
Thus recognizing this, I set out to compose a set of rules for myself to prevent making these mistakes in the future. Hopefully you will find it useful as well.
(note: this is a living document and I plan to update it and reissue it in the future.)
1. Business comes first.
Every goddamn minute of every goddamn day: business comes first.
Maintain a morning routine. Get up early every day, find (cheap) coffee and WiFi, and take care of business:
• Log yesterday’s expenses and notes from last nights’ show;
• Update your contacts list with new fans & business contacts;
• Check and respond to email and social media;
• Send out at least ten new booking requests;
• Advance next week’s shows;
• Schedule your social media posts for the day;
Until you have built yourself into an artist worth managing, you cannot depend on any one else to do these things for you. Do it your fucking self, do it every day, and do it right, and maybe someday you won’t have to anymore. Until then: take care of business.
2. Don’t waste money.
I’ve burned a lot of cash on tour over the years— mostly due to eating in restaurants, drinking in trendy bars, and my smoking habit.
Don’t get me wrong, these things are great if you have the cash. But if you don’t, don’t blow it. Fill your cooler with cheap, healthy food from the grocery store. Carry a flask or keep a six-pack on hand for after the show. Buy your smokes at Indian reservations or roll your own. I don’t care what your vices are. Just see them for what they are and minimize the costs as best you can.
The money you save by being frugal with your day-to-day expenses can be rolled back into your business (see rule 1).
3. Don’t chase pussy.
When you’re on tour, you need to be focused on the task at hand: getting to the gig, putting on a great show, keeping up with booking, promo, and social media, and getting good sleep so that you can wake up and do it all over again.
It might feel good to bang that babe you picked up at Friday’s show, but when you wake up hungover and worn-out and now she wants to go to brunch at a trendy joint and talk about girl stuff and drink bottomless mimosas all morning, you’ll realize how much a chick costs you in time, energy, and money.
Furthermore—and this is a tough pill to swallow, but—no matter how attracted she is to you, no matter how good the sex was, the fact you’re on tour means you’ll probably never see her again. If she’s hot enough to bother sleeping with, by the time you make it back to her city, she’ll have a new boyfriend— one who’s around to feed her, exercise her regularly, and buy her stuff; not one who is out on tour banging randos. Game over, rockstar.
Of course I’m not saying don’t take advantage of the pleasures the road has to offer. You’re a musician. Girls will make themselves available to you. Enjoy it. I’m just saying don’t chase. Don’t waste your valuable time, energy, or money chasing half-interested girls around. The interested ones are always ready to roll.
Final caveat: Never pick up groupies. They are always hot, always crazy, and never worth the hassle.
4. Be self-sufficient.
Do not expect anything from anyone. Do not expect people to keep their word. Do not ever forget that the world expects you to provide for yourself and has zero intention of providing for you.
No one is ever going to care for you the way that you do. Not your mom. Not your brother. Not your bandmate. Not your girlfriend. Not that groupie over there. Or that one over there. No one.
Always look out for number one. Secure your own oxygen mask before you take care of others. Ensure that your physical needs are met (good food, clean clothing, showers, sleep) before you start chasing your desires (booze, chicks, marijuana, tobacco, etc. See rules 2 & 3).
As far as intoxicants are concerned, enjoy, but keep your wits about you. Getting wasted isn’t just uncool—especially in an unfamiliar place around unfamiliar people—it’s a security issue. You have to protect yourself, your body, your mind, and your gear. Getting drunk or high and winding up arrested or beat up or robbed or some combination thereof is bad news. Never let this happen.
Final caveat: Never beg. Never ask anyone to do something for you out of pity— it makes you look weak. I don’t give a fuck if you have to sleep in your van for the next two years; never ask your fans for a shower, a hot meal, or a place to crash. If they offer, you can accept. But remember, fans are not friends. And you should never look weak in front of your fans.
5. Ritualize pre- and post-show routines.
Pre-show: Review notes on venue. Make sure you know how much you’re supposed to get paid; when you’re supposed to be there for soundcheck, etc. If you’ve played there before, make sure you remember the bartender’s name (you noted this after your last show, right?).
Load-in as early as possible. Sound-check as early as possible. Set up merch as early as possible. Note the staffs’ names in your handy-dandy notebook. Maybe have a quick drink if it’s covered by the venue (see rule #2). Then get outta there (see rule 5). Go for a walk. Go take a nap. Go to dinner. Go to another bar. Do whatever you need to do to get into the right headspace for the show.
Post-show: Breakdown gear and clear the stage ASAP, then hit the merch table (if you’re solo or the last act of the night, you may want to hit the merch table first) and sell that shit. Sign the autographs. Pass the hat around for tips. Get your handy-dandy notebook out and collect names, emails, and phone numbers. Then get outta there.
6. Get in & get out.
Much of your power as an artist depends on your visibility. It’s a simple equation: the more visible/accessible you are, the less powerful you are.
Therefore: do not ever hang out in the venue that you are playing at (caveat: unless there is a green room) before the show, and do not linger too long after the show. Show up, set up, get played, get paid, and get outta there.
The more time you spend in a venue, the more likely it is that the staff will resent you. Be a rockstar on-stage, and off-the-clock in another joint down the street during the post-show hang. At all other times be professional and courteous and stay the fuck out of the staff’s hair.
This rule applies to cities as well: don’t hang around the city that you played in for more than one night before or after the show (unless you have a residency).
You gain power by being on the move, by being a busy, successful artist who doesn’t have time to waste. You lose power by being spotted and re-spotted by your fans— it makes you seem pedestrian, rather than larger-than-life.
7. Eliminate liabilities.
There’s two types of liabilities that you have to account for as a touring musician: material liabilities and personal liabilities.
Regarding material liabilities: Keep your music gear in good working order. Humidify your guitar. Keep extra strings, picks, sticks, cigarettes, beef jerky, and anything you may need at the gig on hand. Etc.
Keep your van running properly. Change your oil regularly. Get regular tuneups. Keep a spare tire and jack on hand. Keep a jerry can in the back of the van. Etc.
Address any and all issues regarding the functionality of your equipment immediately as they arise— remember: a man is only as good as his tools.
Regarding personal liabilities: Like Roosh V says: everyone is hoping you’ll fail. His perspective on this is a bit hyperbolic, but worth considering. What I would say is that you need to be aware of who is on your team and who is not, and be ruthless when considering who makes the cut.
Cut the haters. Cut the negative Nancies. Cut the jealous Joes. Cut your old bros that don’t understand your new game. Cut your bitchy girlfriend who wants you to “get a real job”. Cut the venues & audiences that don’t treat you respectfully. Cut the ineffective. Cut the weak.
Your success as a musician will come at the cost of many of your old relationships. Think of building your team as cultivating a garden: pull out the weeds to make room for the blossoms.
8. Be present in the moment.
Always be here now. Ground yourself in the present. Watch as moments arise and fall, and take graceful, measured action. Even in the most difficult situations, there is no need to stress and strain as long as you respond to each moment with proper diligence and then let it go as it passes to the next.
9. Prepare for the future.
Now is always passing. It is here and then gone, replaced by another now. In each moment, always consider the chain of moments that are manifesting. Like Sun Tzu says: always seek high ground and act on opportunities as they arise.
10. Know yourself.
A little old-school advice from Aristotle, as interpreted by yours truly:
Shark’s gotta swim. Wolf’s gotta hunt. Rabbit’s gotta run. Know who you are, know what you do, know how you do it, and make no apologies for it.
If you seek to become a successful touring artist (or anything else) you must maximize your strengths, minimize your weaknesses, and balance them against each other, like the way a sailboat uses positive and negative pressure on its sails to move upwind.
You’re the captain of your ship, and whether you sink in a storm or make it safely to the port of your choosing depends on whether or not you have the discipline and knowledge to make correct decisions.
That’s it for today’s article. As always, if you learned something or have another point to add, please leave a comment below, and if you’d like to read more articles like this one, please subscribe to my mailing list for future updates.
Cheers from Prescott, Arizona,