Touring and What to Expect
The title says it all, and everyone will have their own unique experience depending on the number of people going on tour, the financial support available, the dynamic of the relationships between members, the emotional stability of the individuals, the climate, the condition of your vehicle. Let's start with that.
When I began touring in the 90’s it was semi-local based around London Ontario which gave my band access to a fairly populated corridor between Kingston and Windsor. We started small, sometimes playing two or three days per week after giving up our full-time jobs settling for more flexible income streams (lessons, retail, whatever brought in extra money) and we would drive to shows in multiple vehicles stuffing our equipment into the trunks and backseats of whatever cars we had. Over time we’d either rent or borrow, and finally bought a van that the band funding paid for. We wouldn’t necessarily pocket any earnings at the beginning, rather reinvest into more merchandise and a vehicle. Sponsorships are also good to look into; at one point we had the name of a London based tanning salon stickered across both sides of our van and trailer in trade for a cash advance. Start with whatever you’ve got, capitalize, build.
Next most important thing that comes to mind is emotional health which is tied very closely to physical health, but I’ll address these as two separate ideas. The idea of touring can seem exciting and adventurous, and it is! But be prepared for vehicle breakdowns, make sure you have CAA or some sort of roadside assistance insurance. Be prepared for loneliness if you have family and spouses you plan on leaving for extended periods of time. The thrill of being on an adventure with band mates can wear out after a couple of weeks staring out of the window of a vehicle for hours and hours, the conversations have deteriorated to observations of bodily functions, and the toll of rest station fast food begins to affect the spirit and lower intestines. I have an incredible gratitude now for a full fridge that I can simply walk to whenever I like. Try to stay as healthy as possible, eat as well as you can, make healthy snacks that will fit into a cooler, drink as much water as you can, call home to stay connected and grounded while being mindful of the people in close proximity.
That’s another thing, if you are somewhat introverted like me and need quiet time to recharge… you won’t get much, and hopefully you are surrounded by confident people who don’t mind if you need to spend some time alone and they don’t take it personally. Communication is key here. Enough, but not too much.
Check your oil and windshield washer fluids regularly… whatever vehicle you’re in, it is your lifeboat. One time on the way to Winnipeg just before Christmas, it was so cold we had to put cardboard in front of the radiator of the van to keep it warm enough to transmit heat into the cabin. The transmission blew and started a fire underneath, we thankfully got it put out and had to get towed about 50kms to a repair shop in the city. That ended up costing over $2000 which is a lot when operating on a tight budget! Be prepared to go into debt. Touring is an investment, and in order to build markets you’ll have to spend some money on travel, food, and accommodations. Try to set up shows in trade for food and accommodations on the nights you don't have anything booked throughout the week so that you’re at least not spending resources on the basic necessities. And merchandise, is key to making that extra money to help out with traveling costs. Be creative, and if it’s clothing see what others are doing that sell well and make it unique to your brand.
Management and Touring
I was approached by the leader of a band I’ve been working with recently and asked what my thoughts and experiences were on the topic of management and touring, so I thought it would be best to pose the question to Mark Watson from Watson Entertainment who is my long time friend and former business manager from my touring days. Hope this helps!
When is the right time to get a manager?
There are no rules. I've had situations where I'm involved from day 1 to where I'm brought in 10 years into their career. Start getting to know some managers so you have a bit of a database when you're ready to engage. The ideal situation (for me) is when the artist has done some work on their own. A manager is very much a partner and like any partnership, it takes time to find the right match. Don't jump into any deal, "date" for a while. Do a short-term contract that you can walk away from easily so you can make sure it's the right fit. Any credible manager will want to do the same thing, they're also testing the waters to make sure this it's a fit. The most important thing is to develop trust and have generally a similar vision for the project. As far as finding a manager there are several ways to go about this:
1.Search other bands that you admire, see who their management is and reach out.
2.Network: go to industry conferences and make sure to hit any management panels.
How do you book a tour?
Start in your area and slowing start branching out. I suggest you let this be an organic process, don't force growth. In other words, don't try to book yourself into a big room when you know you can't fill it. It looks bad on you and the venue/promoter won't have you back. Look at where other similar bands are playing and go after the same venues. Eventually, start looking at applying to showcases so you can expose yourself to buyers in other markets. Just about every industry conference has a showcase element and typically every province, state, and country has a conference. Look at iwanttoshowcase.ca as a starting place. Another great resource is cimamusic.ca, well worth subscribing to their newsletter. Don't bother casing an agent, let them find you. An agent works on commission, you need to have some value before you'll get real interest. In most cases you won't make money on your first few tours, so have some money saved up. Touring looks/sounds like fun from the outside but it is very hard.
Mark Watson, Artist Manager
6337 - 2100 Bloor St. W Toronto ON Canada M6S 5A5
Keeping your voice in shape
Last week I was speaking with an artist new to the industry and they wanted to know how to prepare for their first vocal session. I’ve worked with enough vocalists to give them some tips, but it led me to the thought… “why not ask some respected vocalists who are experienced in the industry what their thoughts are?”. I also wanted to get ideas from singers in a few different genres, so… if you’re an aspiring singer who wants some advice on how to take care of the pipes, read on!
People ask me this question all the time: "How do you keep your voice?" When I first started singing, I would lose my voice all the time. And I've learned some tricks that now help. This goes for studio sessions, live shows, writing sessions, rehearsals etc. 1. Warming Up Naturally For the first 2 hours in your day, speak softly. Drink lots of water. Allow your voice to naturally warm-up. Hum quietly. 2. Know your Limits Learn about what you can and can't do with your voice. This is only learned from experience. So - sing EVERYDAY. Practise a variety of different songs and styles to keep your vocal chords challenged. Vocal chords act like muscles...you need to keep using them to make them strong (just like a bicep). I like to take 1-2 days off from singing if I have had a strenuous vocal week...This helps rest and repair the muscle. You will also learn that certain things can help or hinder your singing (ie. Allergies, Different weather patterns, Food, Drinks, Travelling, etc). Learn how EVERYTHING affects your voice and always keep that in mind when booking shows, studio sessions, etc. 3. Be Stress Free Work on finding your inner confidence. KNOW that you are capable of hitting the notes and singing the songs that you have been working on everyday. You can do it! The more relaxed you are, the easier it will be to sing. Before stepping on stage, or walking into the studio, picture yourself singing at your highest potential and being the most powerful, strongest singer you can be...this actually works. If you want to find out more on this, Google "Visualization" 4. Sleep If you have a busy week of studio sessions or shows, be sure to get at least 8 hours of sleep to help repair your vocal chords throughout the night. 5. Water Drink a tonne of CLEAN water (I prefer room temperature). Drink more than you ever thought you could. I have found this helps in ANY situation (ie. being sick, not sleeping enough, eating the wrong foods, etc). 6. Take Vocal Lessons The theory you learn will insure you have the correct technique to make it through any night of singing. 7. Breathe When I'm nervous, I forget to breathe. And without breath, I can damage my vocal chords. So - Be sure to always remind yourself to breathe!!! 8. Take it One Step At A Time It will take time to learn what works and doesn't work for you and your voice, so don't stress out...Enjoy the journey...And sing your heart out...
Singer / Songwriter / Rocker
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How to prepare for a recording session can vary from gig to gig. Sometimes you'll be called in to the studio with absolutely no details and in which case you need to be ready to fly by the seat of your pants. Most of the time you'll either be recording vocals to songs you've written yourself or recording for an artist you know and who's music you are familiar with. Here are a few suggestions as to how to make your time in the studio as smooth and productive as possible. 1. Warm up. Nobody is paying you to croak out the first few takes. Be ready to work when you arrive. 2. Whenever possible, familiarize yourself with the artist and the music you're about to be a part of. Listen to what they've produced before so you have a fighting chance of being on the same page creatively. 3. If the situation allows, write out lyrics to keep with you in the booth. Who wants to have to scrap a great take just because you forgot the words? Or worse, who wants to waste precious studio time while you scribble out the words on a napkin? 4. The more accurate you can be in terms of pitch, entrances, cutoffs, etc the better. It makes editing a lot easier for the engineer/producer and they will be more inclined to use you again. 5. That being said, let your personality shine through your voice. The magic of a live performance is often lost when the singer is behind glass walls. Sing like you're belting your heart out on the stage! 6. If you're recording your own music you probably already have a good idea how it goes but taking the time before the session to solidify exactly how you want these vocals to be immortalized is a great idea.
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The day before I don't talk a lot, drink a few Jack Daniels for the rasp and sleep a bunch. The day of I smoke a cigarette in the morning and drink my lemon tea for a bit... I go over the lyrics like a play. Where do I want to shine in my performance, what emotions do I have available for this display of my talent. I try and find all the things that went wrong this week, month, or what surrounds me. I find the positive and try and feed off of that. I don't scream for no reason because I think it sounds good. Recordings for me change as the days go by. Sure I keep a lot of the song the same but I tend to sing it different in the studio. It's not live. There are takes after takes... Sometimes once is all is does take. But I really try and relate with the song that day, not the way I sung it for months or whatever, but that day. Where am I? What happen this week to make me feel this way. If it comes off as angrier then it's real, if I had an awesome week you'll hear it in the recordings. I have always believed that vocals are from the heart. Watch me live... I always add something new or take a few things away. That is how I record. It's also how I perform live During the recording process, I love lemon juice and Jax. Both have to be pure... Always remember lyrics and melodies can change, as long as they are for the best. Be prepared, know your mins as you are good to sing them and might even get sick of em by the end of the day. All and all, go to the studio prepared, well rested, know your part, and don't be afraid to change for the better and take constructive criticism… enjoy the experience.
Former Vox of BME
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I always try to schedule my vocal sessions for late in the afternoon, after my voice has had some time to wake up. I feel that it's most important to approach vocal performance casually: it's easy to overdo your vocal and sing too hard when trying to deliver that 'timeless' performance for the album. Pretend you're at a performance; deliver all the nuance and dynamic you'd inject into a live concert. If you wouldn't sing a certain way in a bar, room or hall, don't sing that way in the studio. Keeping it natural, comfortable and tasteful is the name of the game. Lastly, be forgiving of yourself. As with any activity, you have good days and not-so-good ones. Deliver your performance, and if you're not happy with it, don't linger. Move on. At the end of the day, you'll always have vocal takes you're thrilled with, and ones you'd like to do better on, whether you've slaved over them or not. And they will always sound better the next day, with fresh ears.
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I'm probably the worst person to ask. I'm terrible at warming up! But I do find peppermint tea and humming with teeth slightly touching/buzzing works wonders for me. And soft scales...not pushing too hard, nice and soft, focusing on nailing the pitch with each movement
Running Red Lights
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The studio can be an intimidating and pressuring habitat for a singer. A singer is expected to capture a best ever performance into an audio recording device while encased inside a tiny silent room that has the warmth of a brick wall through a glass window. Near impossible. It's an artificially space of creativity. It's unnatural. Warm up. Hum. Before each take drop a spoonful of coconut oil or olive oil to lubricate and loosen your vocal cords. Never drink hot or cold anything....extreme temperatures shocks the cords. BUT more important than the all of that shit...be vulnerable. Strip naked if you must. Find a way to reach the true sentiment of the song. The song is boss. You are the vehicle and if you want to tell your story in an effective way than you must surrender yourself to the moment. Sing like it's the last time your throat will ever make a sound. When you write a song over time the pain dies down. Remember it once more and sing the fuck out of your heart.
Running Red Lights
10 things to know before hitting the studio
Ten tips to help maximize your time and money and get the best possible recordings.
1. Demo all your songs. And I mean all… the initial pre production recordings don’t even have to sound good. Just something good enough for you to listen and analyze arrangements and flow, melodies and how everything is working together.
2. Figure out what your budget is and what your end goal is. Be realistic. Do you want 3 songs recorded really well? Ten songs? The more time you spend recording/editing/mixing, the more it will cost you.
3. Rehearse, rehearse, then rehearse some more. The better you know the songs and parts, the quicker you will be able to perform parts you’ll want to keep. Remember, recording is a snapshot of your emotions and performance… do something you’ll be proud of.
4. Be open to suggestions and changes to your songs. Just because you came up with what you think is the next greatest song ever written does not mean it doesn’t have room for improvement.
5. Can you afford a producer in your budget? Get one. Yes, I’m selling myself… but beyond that a good producer can be a coach and offer impartial opinions on songs/parts/lyrics etc, keep the arguments to a minimum between band members, keeping a smooth flow of ideas, energy and time management.
6. Record the songs that get the best response from your fans, ones you know you can recoup your money back ` through sales. If you wrote 20, and can afford to record 5, use the best 5 and make a great record. Don’t try and record all 20 with a crappy microphone and equipment, there’s a lot to be said about integrity. All killer, no filler.
7. Find a studio or multiple studios within your budget. Use what you need when you need it. If you want a large room to record drums in, fine. But once those are done, scale down to a smaller space to record things that don’t need large room ambience and 39 microphones/preamps and other things you don’t need to pay for.
8. Make a plan. Once your songs are chosen, your budget is known, you have a studio/studios picked, make sure you and everyone communicates and shows up when you’re supposed to. No one likes having their time wasted, and things will go much smoother.
9. Make sure your gear is in good condition. New strings on guitars, new skins on drums, electronics in good working condition. Not everyone can afford the best gear, but if you maintain what you have it’ll save a lot of headache and money in the studio. If you don’t have good gear, see if you can borrow/rent something. Give credit in your liner notes, that goes a long way.
10. Buy a good external hard drive. Do some research, get at least 1TB. This way you’ll have a backup copy of all your sessions, and if you need to go to multiple studios you can carry it around with you from session to session.
Enjoy the process.