Touring on the Cheap

Hey all. I was invited to write an article about crossing the border to play music, but I am insanely paranoid about who (CIA? CSIS? SHIELD?) might read this, and don’t consider myself a legal authority by any means, so I have written about something I know way better: touring on the cheap. I don’t have to tell you that devoting yourself to making music often involves giving up luxury. So here are some ways I’ve found to give up even more luxury (or to just spend less moolah):

* Make friends. Many of you cynical folks believe humans are intrinsically bad natured. Not at indie shows! Not in my experience anyway, and especially not in Canada. By maintaining a positive attitude around show goers (shouldn’t be hard to do, they are the reason we do this in the first place) and other bands, and by just putting on a good show, doors get opened to places to stay, breakfast recommendations, future gigs and sometimes even a free meal.

* Know where gas prices fluctuate wildly. Always fill up in Ontario before entering Quebec, and in Saskatchewan before entering Alberta. A little research should give similar hints in the USA, Europe, or wherever else you drive.

* Crash on kind folks’ couches and floors when you can, take a free room when offered, and camp when weather and geography permit, but if you have to stay at a hotel there are still ways to save. Rest stops in the States always have coupon books with big savings at hotels in the area (one book usually covers about 5 states). There are digital coupons available online for Motel 6 locations. Hotels are often cheaper on the outskirts or about half an hour outside of cities. Leaving town tonight in the direction of tomorrow’s show can also help avoid daytime traffic in bigger cities.

* Eat as healthily as possible. Empty calories and sugar will not fill you up for long, in my experience. So, a dollar extra spent to make sure there are some nutrients in your food can save you more down the road, as your body will crave less. Avoid Tim’s and gas station snacks as much as possible (these are also overpriced), and try to stock up at grocery stores.

* Every town (except maybe Calgary? That place is a money pit…) has at least one great, cheap breakfast place. Eggs replenish the protein you burned at last night’s show, and coffee refills replace the money you’d spend to wake up for the drive anyway.

* When convenient, stops at local music stores everywhere can save in the long run. Many stores have great deals on discount sticks (I’m gonna break sticks anyway, might as well not be stuck buying $10 pairs of Vic Firth when it happens). Pawn shops and thrift stores are also worth checking out. I lucked into finding my future floor tom at a Value Village in Everett.

* Last tip isn’t a way to save, but it amounts to the same thing. Make selling merch a priority! There are all kinds of creative ways to do this, but the most obvious way is just to have a band member present at the table immediately after the show. Pick the most charming or willing of the group, her/his new responsibility immediately after getting off stage is to meet folks and sell stuff, while the lovely show goers still remember why they like your music (and you’ll get to meet some amazing people!). The rest of the band can take care of taking down the gear. A penny earned is a penny saved.

Nightwood is a heavy, dark but totally fun rock trio from Montreal. The band has recently released their first full-length album, Carta Marina, entirely independently and has been touring in Eastern Canada to support the record. The band, comprised of Amber Goodwyn, Jeremy Mac Cuish and Erin Ross, have been knee-deep in many aspects of the band including filming their upcoming music video themselves on Super 8, silk screening band T-shirts and managing an art-and-style blog on their website. Outside of the band, Amber is part of the experimental film collective Double Negative and founded Lickety Split smut zine and Jeremy also plays in the bands Parlovr and Cotton Mouth. Caravan is the band’s zine and guide to touring independently.

Excerpted from Caravan: a zine about indie touring