Trying something new and different on I Enjoy Music today. In addition to the regular style of music blogging I have been doing on the site (you know...watching old Netflix movies that have Mitski and Lorde on the soundtrack...talking to an emo band in Denver about hearing their song played at an NHL game...gushing about the IMAX theme music, for some reason...), I would like I Enjoy Music to include some service journalism as well. How-to guides, tutorials, posts of that nature.
And in the house of I Enjoy Music, we very much stan Max Narotzky. Max plays in the NYC-based electro-punk band Ultra Deluxe and helps book shows through Friendship Quest; I first met them at a house show they had booked, and then I ended up filming another big Friendship Quest show (where Ultra Deluxe also played) for The Alternative. Max is a tireless advocate of all things DIY and an all-around real one, and I thought their expertise in the field of do-it-yourself show booking would make a great guide for the blog.
So whether you're in a band and looking to book your first-ever tour, or you, like me, are just plain interested in how the DIY tour booking process actually works .....read on...
How The Heck Do I Book a DIY Tour?!
By Max Narotzky
Hello everyone! My name is Max Narotzky, I play in the band Ultra Deluxe and we have been touring and playing shows since 2015. I’ve been personally booking shows since 2011 when I was 18 years old and here are my tips on booking shows! I have booked all of our tours including two tours of Japan and Europe with this method, and while booking a tour is not an exact science, this is how I do it!
First! You should have TWO prerequisites.
1. Have at least one release out on Bandcamp, Spotify, Apple Music, etc. It doesn’t need to be an LP per se, but I’d recommend at least an EP and hopefully more than just one single.
2. Make sure you give yourself 4-6 or more months of booking time. For me, this is a non-negotiable. It IS possible to book shows 2-3 months in advance but it makes things much much harder and I can’t recommend that at all.
Let’s get started.
1: Choose where to go
Ideally you should have a little bit of a following, or bands that you are friends with in a destination city that can help you with a faraway show. I’m from New York City, and Columbus, OH is an amazing scene that is a good distance, so we will use this as an example.
If you’re having trouble knowing where to go then let your fans decide! Ask a question on social media like “Where should we tour in 2024?” And then try to hit as many cities as you can if they are close*.
2: Make a route
This will be subject to change, depending on if you can get the shows booked.
March 1 New Jersey
March 2 Baltimore, MD
March 3 Richmond, VA
March 4 Charlotte, NC
March 5 Huntington, WV
March 6 Columbus, OH
March 7 Pittsburgh, PA
March 8 Philadelphia, PA
March 9 NYC
Notice how you make a loop back home! Use Google Maps to find the best route to circle around.
*A note about tour length — the length of your tour is completely up to you and your band based on when you can all get time off. If you’ve done a couple of weekenders, my recommendation is to do a nine-day tour centered around two weekends. Start on a Friday and end the following Saturday. In my opinion, bands should not try to tour longer than two weeks without having a large following or at least one full length record out.
3: Book the shows by contacting venues, promoters or bookers
Now is the hard part of actually getting the shows! If you made a social media post as mentioned earlier, ask the people who responded with cities if they know someone who can help book you.
There are two ways to get a show:
One way is to message a promoter or booker directly which usually means the promoter will handle everything for you including securing the venue, confirming local bands, creating a flier, etc. This method requires A LOT less work from the band but does require you to kinda be ‘in the know’ with a local scene that you're not from.
The other method is more work, but is also much more direct: book the show, find local bands, make the flier, etc. yourself. This method is much more work but is also much more straightforward and actually not that difficult if you are having trouble finding a promoter. Both methods require you to reach out via email or direct message.
How do you find a venue, promoter or booker??
If you don’t know where to start, my biggest suggestion is to look at a tour flier of a band a similar size as you! If a band you like is mostly playing houses on their tour, house venues these days usually have Instagram pages you can DM. If they are mostly playing DIY spaces or venues/ bars, those usually have Instagram pages as well. For bars/ venues/ DIY spaces, it’s usually better to send an email, and their email is usually linked somewhere on their social media page.
What to write in your message or email to a promoter or venue
You need to make sure you keep your message short and informative. The email should look something like this (note that if you are emailing a promoter, you don't need to include the message about providing locals and a flier):
Subject line: Booking DATE CITY for THE NAME OF YOUR BAND
My name is ___________________. I play in the band _______________ [include short genre description and what city you are from]. We are looking to play your venue on [date]. We would be happy to provide locals and a flier as well. Thank you so much for your time!
Here are links to our social media and music:
[provide at least 2 links—one to your Instagram, Twitter or Facebook, and one to either Bandcamp or Spotify]
Here's an example:
Using Facebook Groups
You can post in Facebook groups asking for help with a show in a specific city. The best Facebook group for this is DIY Tour Postings.
A post on a Facebook group should look like this:
MAKE SURE to post in links to your music or social media or it will be very unlikely that someone will be able to help you.
Getting Help From Other Bands
Finally there is one other way—and this truly depends on the situation—but you can hit up other bands to help book the show. Typically when booking a show you need to find local bands to play with you, so if you have played with a band in another city before, you can ask them to help you book a show or for recommendations of promoters and venues to contact.
I would only recommend doing this with bands you have played with or worked with before, just because it's good to establish relationships in DIY as that makes everything and everyone more connected!
The Art of the Show Swap
Another reliable way to get shows is from other bands through a show swap!
In my opinion, the best thing about the DIY music scene is the great community it comes with. This is upheld by friends and bands helping each other succeed rather than being in competition with each other. Community should be at the forefront of what we do. Therefore show swaps are one of the best and mutually beneficial things we can do for fellow bands.
Basically, you can offer to get a band a show in your city for a show in their city in return. This isn’t a binding contract and no one should be penalized for not being able to carry through—it's more like an offer for help in the future. You can send a message like this:
Hello! I play in the NYC band Ultra Deluxe, we are looking for a show in Charlotte, NC on March 4. I was wondering if your band could play and maybe help us set up the show! We would be happy to return the favor in NYC. Thank you so much for your time!
Make sure to include links to your music as well.
Having trouble booking the tour?
If you haven't been able to confirm a show in a particular city after sending roughly 3-7 emails/ messages, then it might be worthwhile to look into another nearby city. This is why giving yourself at least 4 months is vital!
If you are hitting a roadblock, there are a couple suggestions:
- Have an off day. If you have a nine day tour, it should be fine to have 3-4 off days, especially if it's your first time booking a tour that long. Take time to explore the city, go to museums, eat good food or visit friends!
- Also, you can cut the tour short. Narrow it down to less days and re-route.
- Go to other shows on your route! Sometimes if you struggle to find shows, you can go to a show in the city you couldn’t get booked in as an audience member. Then you can talk to the bands when you're at the show and see if you can come back there in a couple of months!
Some other tips
Do not get discouraged if people do not get back or are unable to help! Most people in DIY music have other jobs and are extremely busy, just because someone can’t or is unable to book your band doesn’t mean your band sucks or that you did anything wrong. Most promoters get a lot more messages than they can handle.
One of the best ways to make booking tours easier is to book local shows in your own city. Many bands will come to your city on tour and it is a great way to build community in a similar way to how show swaps work. If you are just starting out the best way to network is to help your friends and fellow community members!
For example, in 2022 the German band H.C. BEHRENDTSEN messaged me asking for help booking shows in the United States. I happily booked a short tour for them and did not charge them any money because I know how hard it is for out-of-town and especially foreign bands to tour the United States. I asked for nothing in return and instead just mentioned how I’d love to tour Europe one day and they said they would be more than happy to help me. Fast forward one year later and when I hit them up for help booking a European tour, they happily returned the favor. They booked a number of shows for us and it was amazing.
Again, they did not ask me for any money. Instead, what we basically did was a giant international show swap. This required absolutely no booking agents or payment and instead existed solely through the mutually beneficial community we created. That is what DIY and DIT (do it together) is all about! Making music in community with our fellow humans!
I hope this helps! My greatest piece of advice is to go to shows, support touring bands when they come to your city, talk to people and make friends! Music is best when shared <3
Thank you Max! Speaking of tours, Ultra Deluxe is on tour this month, check 'em out if they're coming to your city:
2/16 Lake Como, NJ at Salty's
2/17 Columbus, OH at Dirty Dungarees
2/18 Huntington, WV at Ur Mom’s House
2/19 Charlotte, NC at The Milestone
2/20 Atlanta, GA at Mom Said It’s Fine
2/21 Asheville, NC at The Odd
2/22 Richmond, VA at Bandito's
2/23 Baltimore, MD at The Undercroft
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