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Local Music - Are You Tourworthy? 

by Luke Baumgarten & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & W & lt;/span & e talk to a lot of bands in a year, from local singer/songwriters to national touring acts, from club giggers to huge, monolithic stadium rockers, from screamo kids to hip-hop veterans. All of them, absolutely every one we've talked to -- and especially those Spokanites without any touring experience -- say that booking a tour is the hardest thing you'll do as an independent artist. That sucks, because unless you're the Arctic Monkeys or one of the handful of other bands that have gone from garage to MySpace to multi-platinum, touring is absolutely vital to building the band. To be better and bigger, you're going to need to get out of town. Stretch your legs on some trips to other, less friendly scenes. You need to win some people over. A big Spokane following will get you Thursdays at the Hillyard VFW, but a medium-sized following in the Northwest has the capability of getting you much more.


Other, bigger, artsier towns (even affable Canadian ones) think Spokane is an artistic black hole. The reality is nowhere near that bleak (the five bands we're featuring this week prove it), but the perception is what's important. Touring opens doors to our bands, but it also opens up other towns to us. Every Spokane band that comes through a town, plays a good gig, makes some friends and sells some merch, is a step away from the popular notion that Spokane is a redneck backwater. Helping our image makes it easier for bands to stay in town and succeed elsewhere.


And when a Spokane band gigs with some hot new Portland or Seattle band, those bands will be far more likely to hit Spokane when they're crisscrossing among Seattle/Portland/Vancouver and Boise/Minneapolis/Denver or wherever. Having good bands in town and getting more good bands coming through on tour will help keep young, smart, artistic people in town. It's all a big cred feedback loop, and it won't do anything but help Spokane's image and its scene.


Wouldn't it be nice to actually keep bands around so that we can take credit for what began here (like former Spokies Velella Velella and Ice Age Cobra, which are now repping Seattle in a big way)? Some bands will inevitably fly for greener pastures, but they're doing that already, but those that have success touring through several cities while based in Spokane (something that neither Velella Velella nor Ice Age Cobra had done outside Seattle) are more likely to think of Spokane as an OK place to store gear.


That concludes the bright-side-of-life pep talk portion of the tour guide. It gets rougher from here on in.





GETTING BOOKED & r & Bitter pill time, buckaroos. Seattle doesn't love you. Neither does Olympia or Boise. Chances are, Portland openly despises you without even knowing who you are. They just hate like that. Booking a tour won't be easy, funding a tour won't be easy, playing to nearly empty dancehalls won't be easy. That's the reality of the situation. If you're reading this in preparation for your first tour, any notions you have of stardom are misplaced and, at best, far in the future.


Bands here have groused about a Spokane stigma for years, bigger towns turning up their nose at groups from these parts, forcing them to either stay in the Inland Empire or to go incognito. That may or may not be true, and even if it is true of certain too-hip venues, it's certainly not true of every single club in Seattle or Portland. No, the reason it's hard to book shows in bigger cities is far more practical than that.


"It's really hard to get a show in Seattle for Spokane bands because we don't need them." That's Ashley Graham, promoter, webmaster, journalist and band philanthropist. Despite her grim outlook, she'll be your best friend in Seattle. She likes the Spokane scene, though she is critical of what she considers a lack of ambition in many of our bands. Her words aren't meant fatalistically; they're meant to steel bands against the reality of things. Not only does Seattle not love you now, the music scene there will survive just fine if they never even hear you. In other words, you're not special.


Of course, you can be special. You can maybe even be huge. But being passive isn't going to get you there. That's true of playing Seattle, Portland and Vancouver, but it's just as true of gigging in Twisp or Omak. If no one hears you, you get no points for being good, so get your head right and get ready to work your ass off.


But of course, we at The Inlander don't want you getting so caught up in planning a tour that you stop playing shows here. No, we'd like to make working your ass off as easy for you as possible, so here are some instructions. Check out the map we made on pages 20-21. First step there is to figure out where you want to go and for how long you want to be gone.


Choose your towns wisely. All towns aren't created equal, and all bands can't gig effectively in every town, so it's important to hit the towns that'll work and to avoid those that won't. This is especially true of a first tour that's almost guaranteed to not be profitable (yeah, we said it). So here's the thing: If you fancy yourselves the next big indie thing, aim for the coast and hit any college towns within range. Whether you go up to Vancouver or not is a complicated question of time, money and what substances you have on your person that might be frowned upon at international borders. If you do hit Vancouver, though, take a hard look at Bellingham for its urbanely outdoorsy college set and Anacortes for its surprising hipster utopia on your way to Seattle. Don't underestimate the enthusiasm of smaller towns.


If, on the other hand, you're just really into soulful, percussive, experimental white-boy music and into making the world a more loving place -- we mean, if you're a jam band -- you should, under no circumstances, pass up a state school. Why? Because that's where the trustafarians are. The point being: Embrace stereotypes. Own them. It'll pay off. College radio might not be what it once was, but wherever there's weed and a responsibility-free environment, you'll find people eager to hear a String Cheese Incident cover. That's science. What's marketing after all, if not cross-referenced, pin-pointed stereotyping? It might be distasteful to your artistic side, but until you have a manager (who isn't your roommate), you're going to need to think like a business person.


Match your style to the venue. Now that you've got the towns you want to hit, use our listings. We've alphabetized by town and the little icons below the club names indicate what genres each club caters to. It's a little rough, but if you're somewhere between indie and screamo, you can bet a venue that has both indie and loud rock icons is likely to be your kind of place. You can check the map legend for an explanation of what each icon means. Not all the listings are complete, so if there's no booking contact, we either couldn't find one or there wasn't one, so call that venue's main line.


This process -- contacting venues, sending press kits, e-mailing venues your MySpace page -- is the only direct way you're going to get shows. Schmoozing other established bands to get an opening slot works well, but you can't rely on that for every town (we'll talk more about that later). And like applying to colleges or whatever, it's best to cast a wide net. Everyone we talked to in assembling this list -- from Boise to Vancouver -- suggested to err on the side of excess. You're probably not going to be able to play the Neumo's or Chop Suey on your first trip to Seattle, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't send your kit there. On the other hand, don't lowball yourself. If a place seems sketchy, do some research. Check their Web site or the events calendar of an alt-weekly in the town. If the venue has crappy or sporadic music, or they seem to let absolutely anyone on stage, the audience will probably be non-existent, apathetic or outright hostile. There's no need to walk into a bad situation when a mediocre situation might present itself, so try those joints as a last resort.


Follow their instructions. The ones you decide to contact need to be pestered, but in the right way. Don't be rude, and don't force yourself on them. If a booker tells you not to call them, don't call. If they say they don't want hard copies of your press clips, don't send any. If they want an e-mailed press kit or a link to your myspace page, do that and only that. (If they don't seem to care, go ahead and hit them with everything you've got.)


One thing you absolutely must do, though, is follow up. Bookers love music, and they'd like to give you a shot, but there are a lot of people vying for their time. So you can't just sit back and let them come to you. They won't. Once you send out an e-mail or a kit (or, preferably, both), wait a week and follow up via e-mail or phone, again keeping to their desired method. If you can't reach them on the phone, leave a polite message and try again the next day at a different time. Be tenacious but courteous. Many people book as a side gig, and some don't even get paid, so dealing with douche bags is low on their priority list.


Make friends. That whole adage, "It's not what you know, but who you know" is true, and it applies equally regardless of whether you've got a marketing degree, you're a political candidate or you think you're the next Pretty Girls Make Graves. Having a gorgeous, professionally mixed and mastered demo is good, but having an established band go to the mat for you is so much better. Having that happen, though, requires tenacity and luck. Make friends with every band you open for in Spokane. Stay in the front row for their set. Show them you appreciate what they're doing. Party with them afterwards and stay in touch once they leave.


For a more targeted approach, do MySpace searches to find your kindred genre spirits from other towns. Praise them, grovel before them, make them love you so that, when you're ready to play Anacortes and you're trying to convince a booker to book you, you can say, "Well, if you book us you can get Karl Blau," or whatever. Alternately, you can just ask them if they're gigging the night you're in town and whether or not they'll get you on the bill. Once you have contacts established, go a layer deeper. Friends request all their friends, artists and otherwise. Repeat as necessary. It's called networking, and the more people you have in your network, the more likely one of them will do stuff for you if you need it.


But choose those friends wisely. Not every Seattle band is Death Cab. Not every Portland band is the Decemberists. We're not referencing their style here, but their quality. That is, like any other town in America, there are way more crappy bands than good ones. Probably more, because over-hyped scenes breed poseur bands like over-ripe peaches breed fruit flies. So do a little window-shopping. Go to a band's Web site and check out their press. Make sure they've gotten press. Check their MySpace page, see how often they play and where. If they've been around a long time and they're still playing crappy venues, that's not a good sign. There are bound to be Seattle bands that are as desperate to get a gig there as you are. That's not to say they won't be cool people, they just aren't going to much aid your success in that town.





FILLING VENUES & r & Don't get your hopes up. If this is your first tour, be prepared to play less-than-killer bars on weekdays to less-than-overwhelming crowds. If there are good shows around town on a given night, your draw will probably be even smaller. We're going to help you stop that hemorrhage, but don't expect to make tons of money at the door. Just to be on the safe side, don't expect to make any money at all. You're laying a foundation here; the profit (hopefully) comes later.


Check up on the locals. The more promotion you have, the more likely people are to come, so find out if the venue is promoting your show. Get to know the bands you're playing with, if you haven't already. Figure out if they're doing anything to promote as well. You can try to lean on them to help you out, but don't expect much. This is really to get your own expectations right.


Do what you can without them. You don't live in town and your show mates aren't promoting, so you enlist a street team. Figure out if you have friends in these towns. Family, acquaintances -- call in favors. Remember all those friend invites you sent out to friends of other bands? Did any of them accept? Did any of them leave comments? Hit them up. Make up fliers and find someone to pass them out and tack them up. Send the venue some demos and ask them to distribute. Post your event on craigslist.org


Get press. Here's another time that the old carpet-bomb technique should be in full effect. Send your stuff to every paper, alt-weekly, radio station, Web site and blogger you think will help. And don't just go for the big ones. Bigger towns have neighborhood papers, and those papers have calendars. So figure out what neighborhood your show is in, if it has a neighborhood paper, and send stuff there. The Web's really leveled the playing field for smaller bands, and arts coverage in Web mags and bloggers in cities like Seattle, Portland and Vancouver have sizeable audiences. Many such sites have extensive events calendars they'll put you on. The Web has the advantage of not being constrained by page counts, so they can't hide behind the old "no room" excuse.


After your set, stay for the other bands. Grab a beer after your set, and go stand front and center for the other bands. Dance. Enjoy yourself. Most clubs have communities associated with them, as do many bands. The more you make yourself at home in those environments, the more accepted you'll be.


Sell your own merch. You'll probably have to do this, lacking a crew to do it for you, but make the most of it. Talk people up, thank them for coming out. Use your merch table like a meet and greet. Even if no one buys anything, make your presence felt, engage in conversations with people, geek out with them, make yourself their peer.


Send someone around with a clipboard. Ask people if they'd like to be on your mailing list. Yeah it's old tech, but it's a gateway to new tech. Ask for myspace pages as well. Invite all the myspace contacts as friends. Keep the e-mails (which will undoubtedly include more than a few [email protected] fakies) somewhat organized so that the next time you roll through town, you can e-mail them.


Network. After the gig, stick around and hang out with the bands. Make small talk, forge bonds, make friends. A band you gig with in a rat warren in West Seattle might soon be playing shows in Bell Town. Just ask Seaweed Jack. They've played three shows in Seattle now. The headline acts from two of those shows, the Blakes and We Wrote the Book on Connectors, have since had separate shows at the Crocodile Caf & eacute;. That's a premier venue. It's where super-hip bands play before they get big enough to play the Paramount Theater.


Bands that are constantly playing a scene will gain notoriety and acceptance way faster than bands that play there once every couple of months. Making and maintaining contacts, then, will ensure that next time you hit town you'll play to bigger crowds than before, have more success and fun, make more money and have a better overall experience.


Repeat. Touring is a cyclical thing. How your art is received has a lot to do with how successful you'll be, but aid that process by being humble and working hard. The more time you put into each trip, the fewer trips you'll have to make before you start playing the kind of gigs you want to play.
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