Katie Garibaldi ~ Indie Touring
I read an article recently about advice on “making it” as an indie artist. It was great, but one of the points advocated not touring outside of your local area until you’ve built up a substantial enough following, where you’re basically selling out every venue in your hometown region.
While it’s definitely imperative to play locally, I felt myself cringe when I read this piece of advice. In my experience as an indie singer/songwriter, frequently touring outside of your neighborhood is a vital part of “making it” in this go-for-it independent music business.
It’s important to start at home base. Playing locally gives you experience with live performing and gets your name out to your community, which is necessary. But in any town, there are only so many places to play, so many of the same people that will come out to shows week after week, and so many times, “Hey, we’re playing down the street again this weekend” will sound exciting to your local fans. This routine can become stale and actually work against you as a growing artist. Once you’ve introduced yourself to your neck of the woods, it’s time to “hit the road, Jack!”
Besides breaking up the monotony of the “same old, same old,” touring outside of your hometown gives you a unique experience that you can’t get staying at home, and it makes you a stronger live performer (and can even inspire songwriting). You’re also meeting new people, who can translate into potential fans.
Fans support you by purchasing your music and merchandise and by recommending other venues in town for you to play. Maybe, performing locally, you find that there’s not a huge demand for your genre of music, but if you hop a few cities or states over, they go crazy for it! Don’t keep yourself in a geographical box. You’re denying yourself endless opportunities to gain more exposure, make more fans, and sell more music.
Going on tour can seem intimidating to some artists who have never done it before, but touring doesn’t have to be overwhelming. If you’re an unsigned artist, you might not be lucky enough to have the means to rent a tour bus and go on the road for months. There’s nothing wrong with that. I like to break up my touring into mini tours, where I’ll play somewhere for a few days, come back home for a bit, and then do it again somewhere else the next month.
It’s much more manageable (and profitable) to include touring as an ongoing ingredient of my everyday career, rather than think of it as just one exclusive occurrence at a set time. If you don’t know where to start, a good way to plan a tour is finding a festival or showcase that you’re interested in. Once you book that, just search for surrounding places that you can tack on to that trek. If you have one or two nights free in between gigs, open mics are a great way to introduce yourself, network with other musicians and promote to get people to come out to your shows. Be sure to stay consistent and revisit markets you play on a regular basis.
Touring also benefits your reputation as an artist in your hometown. I’m based in San Francisco. When people ask where I’m playing and I respond with, “Next week I’ll be on tour in Tennessee and then I head back for a couple shows here. Next month, I play Southern California,” it can change their perception and they’ll be excited to come to local shows.
It’s almost like touring outside of your hometown gives you greater credibility within your hometown. This brings you full circle back to home. Now, you’re no longer just a local artist. You’re a national or international touring artist.
So, playing your local scene is crucial, but I say, so is playing everywhere else. The whole point of what we do is getting our music out to the world, right? As an indie artist, this usually isn’t possible without getting yourself out to the world. Touring opens up new doors in new places. Break out and see where the road takes you!
Speaking of seeing where the road takes you, I just released my new album Follow Your Heart, and it’s something I’m very proud of. I went through quite a journey with the recording of this album, trying to find the right people to work with and the right place to record. After some misses, I found Tiny Telephone studio in San Francisco and spoke with the owner, John Vanderslice. I just knew immediately that this was the right place for me. My engineer, Ian Pellicci, is the nicest guy I’ve ever known and it was such a treat to work with him. He’s so skilled at his craft and I have the utmost respect for him. I also got to work with standout musicians, who really poured their heart and soul, along with me, into these songs.
I still think about, on an almost daily basis, how blessed I am to have been able to work with such talented and genuinely nice people for this album, including the folks at Magik*Magik Orchestra, who I was lucky enough to plan out string parts with. This album is really special to me because I included some of my most personal songwriting on it, and I was able to produce a sound sonically that I’ve been aiming to present my music as. I wrote the title track Follow Your Heart about the importance of following the voice inside your heart, no matter how hard things get. I feel like this message became the cornerstone of the album, and the entire course of its creation changed my life. I feel really grateful for the whole experience and excited to share my new music with people!