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OT: Tour wrap-up
The Boston show on Saturday with Dennis, Jim, & Tim was the 33rd and
final date of my tour, and I'm now flying back home to southern Mexico.
I thought I'd share a bit about the experience, since so many people
here helped me out, from venue suggestions to booking shows to playing
with me and hanging out at my gigs. Cara, Dennis, Michael, Jim, Tim,
Ted, Matt, great to hook up in one way or another with all of you!
All in all, I'm calling it a success, in spite of four cancellations and
a weird venue war in Oxnard, CA. My worst experience is probably a
tossup between a dismal show at a Budweiser n' wings pub in Delaware (a
complete mismatch...nuff said), and the flat tire I got in Montreal. The
flat happened, naturally, on the one night of my entire one-month East
Coast leg when I wasn't staying with friends and had nobody to ask for
help (note, too, it was the one Francophone city of the tour...not to
mention a different country). I had neglected to inform Alamo that I
planned to take my tiny Toyota across the border, so I couldn't ask for
roadside assistance to switch my car. Hence, I put on the low-pressure
donut tire in downtown Montreal at midnight after the gig (a very fun
looping show also featuring a fellow playing processed viola di gamba),
and the next morning drove four white-knuckled hours at 45 mph to my
brother's place in Vermont, constantly harassed by gun-racked pickups
whizzing by at 80.
At the outset of booking for this tour, I had inadvertently helped to
launch a very large-scale discussion here about playing for money - or
not. Now having a bit more of an informed opinion about income on a
no-profile tour, I can share that, perhaps shockingly, it proved
possible to cover most of my expenses with what I made, even though I
booked my shows without the money being a factor in accepting a show.
The most lucrative situation is, without question, playing for tips. I
did a fair amount of coffeehouses where I was somewhat background
entertainment, and often felt ignored, but with the proper placement of
a tip jar (with a friendly and very visible sign, just to the right of
the exit door, is the way to do it) many people feel moved to donate two
or three or more dollars on the way out. Playing for a couple of hours,
in a reasonably active joint, usually would yield enough for a full tank
of gas at 2008 prices. Since I had planned the tour around staying with
people that I knew, I'd break even or come out ahead for the day in
these situations. Charging a cover at the door generally didn't end up
yielding so much.
Of course, playing really noisy atonal stuff probably won't generate
results as "lucrative" (haha), as playing reasonably melodic music. But
one doesn't need to depend on covers - the looping shows were improv,
and the composed music gigs were all original, with the occasional
exception of two or three instrumental Beatles covers if I had to fill
two hours or more. It seems that many people enjoy hearing well-played
live music, even if it is completely unfamiliar, and aren't unwilling to
throw a little cash in a basket of their own volition for the privilege.
And the venues that I played at more often than not made an effort to
have people show their appreciation, from simply seeding a standard tip
jar with a few dollars, to sending their staff out among the tables
during a set to ask for donations.
It's key to have CD's to sell. Believe it or not, even in the age of
iTunes people do still buy discs, and if your record looks good and is
reasonably priced (I usually do $10), as often as not there can be a
sale or two at each show, even with the smallest crowd. For the looping
shows, perhaps unsurprisingly where the crowds were much smaller, yet
more interested in the music, the CD sales would always earn more than
the split of the door.
The main thing is to avoid spending money on hotels, to find a cheap
rental (if you have your own fuel-efficient car already, you'll be well
ahead of the game), and of course to try to be playing most nights.
A few notes on gear: I came to love my Traveler Escape guitar (thanks to
Mech especially for his personal review), I ended up using it for all
the looping shows. It looks great, has excellent intonation and a nice
tight sound, and is incredibly portable. The Yamaha Stagepas 300 system
I bought, based on much discussion here, turned out to be a great
investment, exactly what I needed. I used it in rooms up to 20' x 60' or
so (and even in the enormous church sanctuary Saturday night) as a main
and in many situations as a monitor and it always sounded good, even one
night when a co-performer ran her 88-key Roland with a pipe organ patch
through it, and with Chinapainting, involving two of us sending all
kinds of sounds into it. The reverb is a joke, and the EQ not especially
useful, but I was never wishing for more headroom or volume, and the
convenience factor is superb. I left both speakers in the States and am
flying with the powered mixer in my laptop bag; sweet.
thanks again to everyone for their help, hospitality and companionship
on and off the road. I'm slowly bringing the tour diaries up to date so
if anyone wants the gory details, have a look at my site. I'm also more
than willing to answer any more specific questions or share contact info
on venues, just drop a line offlist.