Written by Ryan Cassata (http://www.ryancassata.com)

The groupies and parties rarely exist on an indie artists’ tour. Half-jokingly I always say, the only 5 minutes I get to myself are the 5 minutes it takes to go fill up the ice bucket at the hotel. Touring is usually a bunch of people packed in a car, in a hotel room, doing super hard work. It’s not what it seems like on TV. It’s far from glamorous. It’s not a never-ending party. It’s definitely not a vacation. It’s a string of nights, seeing a small part of each city from the car window, rushing to load in, lifting heavy equipment four times a day, and trying to sell as many t-shirts as I can. It’s an entire business operation where I am not only a musician, but I am also all of the other key players including; a manager, roadie, driver, accountant, promoter, marketing assistant, t-shirt boutique and salesman, booking agent, money collector and sometimes; the soundman too. It’s work. It’s a job. And it’s totally worth it. 

The reward, to play my songs on stage to a crowd that resonates with them, is completely worth it. 

There are a lot of misconceptions about being a touring musician. It really seems like people think that we just write a song and then play it on stage to an audience that sings along. They forget about the long hours of practicing that song. The days spent booking the actual tour and all of the labor that goes along with it. Touring takes a lot of work. I’m not going to talk about all of the work that it takes just to write, produce, record, and release a song in this article because that’s for a whole separate article, but I will talk about the work it takes to go on tour as an indie artist. Of course, to go on tour, you do need songs, preferably songs that are promoted well enough that your audience knows them. 

This is what touring as an indie artist has really looked like for me: 

For this article, I am writing from the perspective of a singer-songwriter, one-man show, featuring acoustic guitar, vocals, harmonica, and sometimes an electric guitar. Because I hate to break it to everyone, touring with a band is expensive. If you have three additional band members, your expenses are multiplied more than if you just go on tour as a solo artist. That’s three more mouths to feed, three more people to house, a bigger van, and more gas money, and the list goes on.

Let me bring you to January 2022. I’ve been writing songs, recording those songs, and sending out dozens of emails. Sometimes I take out this large poster of the United States Map from my closet so that I can make sure I’m routing the tour correctly. I also route things on Google Maps several times a day while I am booking. For me, it starts with one show. I got booked in Central California for one night in May, so it was safe to use that show as the foundation to structure a tour around. I’m sending out emails in January because venues book up pretty quickly. Also, I have to research a bunch to see what venues survived the pandemic. 

BOOKING PROCESS: (Estimated time: weeks of work, several hours per day)

I am sending dozens of emails. I explain who I am (send a bio), what I have done, and the date I am looking to perform. I send music links and a link to my website and then hope for the best! For most of the venues, I never get a response. For some of them I get responses like “Sorry, we’re all booked up.” “Sorry, that’s too far in advance; hit us back the month before.” “Sure, that night is available, but so that you know we can’t sell tickets, and we can’t pay you either.” 

No tickets? No pay? How are we supposed to fill the gas tank? I mean, we don’t sell that many t-shirts. This type of “deal” happens more than you would think…

I book as many great shows on the route as best as I can. When it gets closer to the show getting on the road, I just take what I can get. Hey, potentially making $30 selling a t-shirt will at least partially pay for a place to stay. It’s better than not playing a show at all. It’s April, and the tour is in May, so we need to act fast… Decisions, decisions, decisions. Let’s go! 

MAPPING & TRAVEL:  (Estimated time: a week of work)

So we route the shows as the booking requests come in. It’s best to make a loop to save money on gas, but sometimes it just doesn’t work out that way, so we are doing a zig-zag. 

My tour manager and I question flying, renting cars, or taking our own car. We spend several hours trying to figure out what our cheapest option is because an indie tour is definitely not going to make you rich; I mean, we consider ourselves very lucky if we break even. If we make a profit, it seems like a miracle. 

We decide to take my car. My manager needs a couple of plane tickets to be able to meet me where I am and assist with the driving. My car needs an oil change and tune-up before I drive thousands of miles. (FOR REAL!!! Go get your car taken care of before you’re on the road and in a dangerous situation miles away from a car shop.) 

CONTRACTS & BACKLINE (BORING!): (Estimated time: A week of work)

The tour is booked. Now each venue needs a contract, a rider, a backline, load in/load out/start time/set time, and opening acts. You also have to negotiate splits and percentages and hopefully get a guarantee from the venue. As an indie artist, it’s pretty rare to get a guaranteed amount for just showing up. Venues need to make money to stay open and rarely will give a guarantee without some sort of proof that you have a following in that city. This is hours of coordination for each venue. Plus, we spend loads of time trying to get back in touch with venues, trying to get them to send contracts so we can lock things in. 

PROMOTION: (Estimated time: Weeks of work, hours a day)

Once the date, times, and openers are solidified and signed off on, it’s time to get the information on the internet so people can become aware that there is a show and buy tickets. This takes several more hours per show of making flyers, Facebook events, and updating BandsInTown, SongKick, and Eventbrite pages. It’s also hours of creating targeted social media ads (yes, you need to spend money to make money) so that the people in those cities actually know a show is going on. Plus, a whole lot of texting. I scan my brain and invite every single friend I know who lives in each of the cities I am going to. 

MERCHANDISE: (Estimated Time: A week of work)

Next, we have to commission an artist to make merch designs. If you’re an indie artist, you most likely have to give them a starting idea for your design. 

Then you have to hire another company to print the merch and make sure it gets delivered to you on time. I pay upfront per t-shirt and hope that I sell enough to make the money back. 

Get on this ASAP! Sometimes it could take months to get your merch printed and shipped to you.

Buy that t-shirt? https://ryancassatamusic.bigcartel.com  

PRACTICING: (Estimated Time: Weeks of work, several hours a day, not to mention the years of practicing from my whole life) Set lists, know all of the songs, run through all of the equipment, and make sure it all works, memorize the set up, and be comfortable enough with it. 


Now it’s just days leading up to the tour…sleep is essential because touring is a lot of hard work. Plus, Covid is still going around really bad, so I’ve spent the last couple of weeks avoiding most people and avoiding crowds. I can’t afford to let all the days and weeks of hard work preparing for the tour be wasted because I get sick and can’t go on the actual tour. More than half the work is done. Let’s get on the road and (hopefully) get paid! 

TRAVEL DAY: (Estimated Time: ALL DAY!)

Then when it’s time to go, I load up the car, moving heavy equipment in and out, trying to make everything fit, figuring out how to Tetris my way into making all of this work and still be able to see out of the window. I drive all day, stopping at In N’ Out and gassing up the tank two times. I get to my manager’s house which is about 3 hours from the first venue. The show is tomorrow. Then we have to unload everything because it’s too risky to leave any music equipment in the car. 

DAY 1 looks like this 

  • Wake up on the couch I’m sleeping on 
  • Walk to the grocery store and get some cheap but healthy-ish breakfast 
  • Load the car again…this takes about thirty minutes because we haven’t gotten a system down yet 
  • Drive 
  • Fill up the gas tank 
  • Drive 
  • Stop for lunch as quickly as possible and post a video on social media to remind everyone that the show is tonight! 
  • Load the equipment into the venue in 90-degree heat; I joke out loud saying “People always ask how I have muscles; this is how! I don’t lift weights. I lift amps!!” 
  • Answer back a few text messages 
  • Call my fiancé for 5 minutes (wishing I could talk for longer)
  • Set up the merch table 
  • Do a soundcheck 
  • Try to figure out why a guitar pedal isn’t working (there’s usually one tech problem to work through per show) 
  • Rewire my entire pedal board 
  • Watch the opening act 
  • PLAY THE SHOW!!!!!! YESSS!! FUN!!!! 
  • Take pictures with fans and sign autographs for about an hour while my tour manager sells merch, plus answer any questions people may have 
  • Accounting Part 1: Count the merch, count the money 
  • Repack the car 
  • Desperately try to find a place that is still open to eat 
  • Drive to the hotel/house we are crashing at 
  • Unload the car again WOWWWW we are really working out 
  • Shower all the sweat off 
  • Accounting Part 2: Do the accounting for the day (weigh expenses and income)
  • Try to sleep 6 hours (I am exhausted from all of this, sweating so much during the show, and also from the energy exchange that happens at every show)
  • Wake up…and do it all again… 

Sometimes these things happen on days off (if there are any) or in between all the hustle and bustle:

  • A quick lunch with friends 
  • An interview 
  • Writing some lyrics on my phone notes 
  • Doing any other work unrelated to touring (ex: school work/day job)
  • Answering an e-mail 
  • Meditating for 3 minutes in some random city on some random sidewalk 
  • Getting to play my guitar for 5 minutes outside of being at the venue 
  • FaceTiming with my fiancé 

But like I said, usually, the only “me time” I get is when I fill up the ice bucket at the hotel. Have fun on tour!!

Photo by G Caliolo

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