Getting a band touring overseas has daunted bands and managers since we began exporting music. However when bands have managed to get overseas and tour it's made it seem more do-able for the rest of us, and their achievements have opened doors we can all cash in on. Although in some societies funding is available in some capacity, for every band that gets funding to assist touring, there are dozens in the wings with their hopes dashed. I have set up tours with and without funding.
Bearing in mind the things I have said before: 'don't rely on anyone' and 'there is no formula' here are a few tips to how you can get your band an international tour.
Costs: Until a bridge is built linking all major continents, stumping up with the flight costs is unavoidable. However if each band member is prepared to sacrifice their own time and money to cover a share of it, I recommend that you do it as soon as possible. There are a ton of opportunities if you can get overseas, and at the very least touring internationally is one of those unique life-experiences that is worth the investment.
Forget about your social life. If you are serious about getting your band overseas you need to spend a ton of time online contacting labels, venues, promoters and other bands in order to get contacts and interest. In your weekly band meetings (which of course you are having if you want to tour) figure out between you if you have ANY contacts overseas with other bands, friends working in the industry and start writing to them.
A tour plan. Brainstorm some options of how you would be able to afford to get your flight cost, van rental and some living costs. Once you figure out a time frame you can focus on which territory.
From New Zealand to Australia: If you haven't toured Australia, this is relatively easy. With good flight deals, covering your costs is attainable even if you have no profile. Once you have toured a couple of times you can really start making money in this territory. The beauty of performing in Melbourne or Sydney is that unlike anywhere in NZ you can play more than a couple of shows in each town over the period of a week. So a week or two in Oz can be a fast tracked way of establishing an audience. Once you have an audience this can be a great cash injection when you stop off there on the way to the UK or US. It also provides an opportunity to get tight as a band. Playing night after night really hones your live show, and you want that to be hot when you arrive in the UK or US.
The USA is closer and bigger and you generally always get paid for doing a gig - if you can get on a support tour you will probably earn $250 US per show plus merch sales. The UK is really expensive, you can't count on making any money at your shows except for your merch - but if you can base your selves in London cheaply for a few weeks there are a lot of places to play and a lot of great contacts to make. Continental Europe you can always get a percentage of the door take, plus meals, accom and breakfast.
Label and Booker: Two relationships you want to try and get simultaneously: a booking agent and a label. Eventually the word 'label' will apply to who ever is putting your music out, which in the coming years will probably be an alcohol brand or an electronics company but whoever they are a label helps you get a booking agent in the same way that having a booking agent helps you get a label. They both need each other as much as you need them to get your music out and grow an audience so that money can be made. Identify what labels or agents would be interested in your band. If you have no idea then start out with bands you think are similar to yours or bands you see are gaining a profile and go for the labels/agents they are signed to. Make a list and work your way through. Have a good google around and identify the right person in the organisation to write to so you can avoid writing to the info@ address if possible. Never post/email an album unless you are invited to. Drop them a succinct couple of lines about your band, where you are from, your sound and any relevant news: 'we just supported * when they were in NZ' don't mention anything about local achievements as they are irrelevant, give them the link to your myspace and ask if they would like you to send any more material. If you have a tour plan you can tell them when you'll be playing in their town. If they show any interest or not, you can write to them a few days before you play in their town and invite them to your show.
Other Bands. It is amazing how much I have been able to achieve by writing directly to a bands via their myspace or websites. Once I even wrote to the wrong band and got a national support tour through the UK! New Zealand bands are getting a good rep overseas (thanks to the bands that have toured before you) and more established bands like the kudos of taking a new/super foreign band out on the road. Again keep it short and tell them positive stuff. If you are writing to ask if you can support tell them "we are a three piece carrying all of our own gear in our own van" "we have a label who are plugging our song during the tour period so we will be getting a lot of press". This last point is crucial, you really need to be able to bring something to the table and if you can produce evidence that you will be bringing an audience this is hugely to your advantage. However it is still possible to get supports by just being a great band! Supporting or befriending international bands performing in NZ, no matter how small they are is important; they can potentially provide you with a wealth of information if not actually being able to offer you a support with them in their home country.
Venues: It is possible to write to venues in the US and UK and book your own shows. Again check out where the bands you sound like play and contact the venues. In the US and the UK the venue booker puts the line-ups together, and if a band is coming through town with a support in tow, they still need an opening act and sometimes aren't too fussy about who that is. If you have managed to get a few dates supporting a band, then I recommend booking shows on your nights off, or a string of shows right after or before the tour. It's quite labour intensive but it is completely do-able. Remember you are only earning when you are playing, so to start out you can't really afford a night off as you need to generate food and petrol money daily. Also if you are in a big city you can play three or four shows in three or four days.
DIY: It is possible to book your own tours, get your own support tour and tour without a label. If you manage to hook up a support tour you can potentially sell a ton of merch. Assuming you have a CD available to purchase, shipping great numbers of this internationally can be expensive, but you must sell merch at your shows. So depending on the length of your tour you might want to think about getting your CD pressed in the US/UK. There are companies that do this for about US$1 per CD if you order 1000. Certainly get your T shirts printed in that territory.
Publicist: If you have no label or agent or any infrastructure I would recommend that you find a publicist. Again you can write to your friends in bands for a contact or look for similar bands on publicist's rosters. Not only do you want to get more people to your shows, but you want to be able to send clippings to potential labels and bookers, or create a buzz so that they can contact you. The advantage of a publicist is that they can also hook up unique appearances, clothes sponsorships, get you to play private parties or club nights etc. The cost and effort to tour is so high, that is has to pay off, and it could be that the press you generate is the one thing you can keep circulating months after the tour to get you a deal. I've learned this the hard way and would never tour without having this in place.
Music Publishers: It goes without saying that you want to develop a relationship with a music publisher or a company that will try and get your songs on TV/Film etc. This is the fastest way that you will produce proper cash and you should put as much time into attracting publishing interest as you are with getting a label/booking agent. If you can't tour, because you have kids, or there is something that would make it impossible, I would recommend that you dedicate all your spare time into getting a music publisher.
As I have said in earlier blogs, no matter who you do get working for you, don't rely on them. Keep chasing down contacts and opportunities yourself. Your manager if you have one, can get bogged down in the work of keeping up with a 1000 relationships, so where possible keep pursuing these relationships yourself as they are going to benefit you most of all in the end.
Thanks to Milly Olykan for the article. Milly is a New Zealander currently living in London.
For a number of years she managed and tour managed the alternative pop band, The Brunettes.
"As I depart from the world of band management I wanted to write down the core things I learned that might be of use to other bands and managers."
You can visit her blog here: http://www.departmentoftouring.com