Pree is a fantastic D.C. based band that doesn’t just play in D.C. They’re performing at DC9 10/21 and the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage 10/22 before heading to CMJ in NYC and 10 other cities through 11/11. Here are some pro tips for touring by Ben Usie with input from Ben Schurr and the rest of Pree.
Despite what you may hear from certain whiney tour diaries published on certain sites, touring is amazingly rewarding even on bad days. Yes, tour can be grueling on your body. Yes, you will see the best and worst of humanity, in yourself, in your bandmates and in the greater world that you encounter. But touring is very empowering for all involved and you grow and learn at an accelerated rate. Below are some “pro tips” learned from trials and tribulations on the road.
1) Touring is 100% required for any serious band. If you think you are tight as a local band, you are probably wrong. Unless you can play 5-6 nights a week, you are not tight. You also won’t really have full insight in the evolution of your performance until you perform in front of DIFFERENT people (who aren’t your friends) every night. If you claim to be pursuing music full time and are not planning on touring at all, quit now.
2) You gotta have something to leave behind. Even if a crowd loves your set, they are likely to forget the details of the event within a day or a week (especially if drinking is involved). Recorded music in physical form keeps working for you well after you’ve left town. Record your music as efficiently and effortlessly as possible while trying to maintain your standard of quality. Don’t spend a year trying to do it all yourself. There are loads of solid local engineers with cheap rates. Here are a few things to remember when recording:
a. Never forget the age-old balance of getting things done. Pick your two highest priorities between quality, time, and money. If you want it done fast and cheap, it ain’t gonna be the best quality. If you want it done well and fast, it ain’t gonna be cheap. If you want it done well and on the cheap, it ain’t gonna be quick. Pick your poison. There’s no breaking this scientific law.
b. Don’t reach infinitely for something that’s not in the heart of your music. Let those longings become the seeds of your next record, which you will begin as a much wiser human being and a better musician (via the process of recording and touring, duh!)
c. Tapes are not a fad! Tapes are the best option for low-cost mass-produced physical products. A good tape deck can be purchased for $10 at thrift stores, and you can order professionally made tapes for about $1.50 per tape for 100 tapes. This low cost allows you to be flexible with the price of your music for fans and arguably gives you access to more long-term fans. A lot more people who go to shows have a spare $3-$5 to keep a relic of your band forever than the $15-$20 necessary for vinyl. Sure, people love vinyl, but the cost to produce is outrageous and still only a small subset of music listeners have record players and the budget to purchase new vinyl. Digital-only releases are basically meaningless and value-less. They get eaten by the great black-hole that is the Internet, never to be felt, loved, touched… I can’t think of anything more depressing than digital-only releases.
3) Work within your means, or just a little past them. With touring and recording, work within your means. Don’t over-do it. A Kickstarter is probably not a good way to fund a tour. You may regret it and touring is not exactly an end in itself. (I have no proof, but I bet that 80% of “successful” Kickstarter campaigns end in broken promises, regretfully empty-handed fans, and a misuse of funds. Plus, it kills the mystery and magic!) Go out as long as you can in whatever stable vehicle you can afford. In 2014 make it sustainable or bust!
4) Rinse and repeat. Touring once doesn’t get you anywhere. Touring connects you to like-minded people so that you can stay connected in the future. These are real human interactions. NOT some fake and easy electronic thumbs-up. Stay connected and go back. Every tour gets easier, because you build your connections and the public awareness of your existence. People who enjoy your music and buy it want to trust that you will be back, that you will keep fighting against the void. And that helps them keep fighting their own fight. And that is priceless.
5) Don’t quit after a bad night (or even several). This isn’t easy. Most people cannot go out every night of the week, so even successful bands are going to have questionable shows on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday. On bad nights, remember that your performance in an empty room still affects your performance the next night in a full room. Believe in yourself. Mondays suck for anyone with a job (except for hair stylists, but they call that Saturday…).
6) Learn to cook. There is no shortage of shitty food on the road. Do yourself, your colon and your mind a favor by grocery shopping at some point in your commute from punk house A to show space B. You can feed a band of four for under 20 bucks, and it’ll bring the band closer together.
7) Create tour games/get silly. It’s incredibly grueling to essentially be in a 2-8 person musical (often but not always sexless) marriage with your living space being a mobile, trife box on wheels. Road games help! A joking band is a happy band. One suggestion is the state/genitalia/animal alliteration game, i.e., Wyoming Wang Wolf, Virginia Vagina Vulture, etc. Be creative.
8) Limit your fun $ spending. Touring is a lot of hurry up and wait. Some of our favorite ways to kill time in a new city include hitting up local thrift, music, and record stores. A good rule to stick to is to only to only buy 1 item in each city/store. You won’t break the bank as quickly, and you have the adventure of finding the thing that fits your style the most out of everything. After the tour, you’ll be a whole new stylish version of yourself with some rad records to lull you through post-tour-depression.
If you aren’t ready to commit to the above, break the band up now and catch up on your Netflix. This is just the tip of the iceberg, as the rabbit hole runs real deep. But alas, knowledge is power and rent sure ain’t cheap.
Follow Pree on tour this fall by following them on Instagram.