Vol 3, Issue 20: Touring Riders & Paying Your Dues: But I Don’t Wanna Play Just for Beer

I’m sure all of you are familiar with the frequently expounded three word expression, “paying your dues”. Though the phrase found its origins in the Industrial Revolution, in reference to the fees one had to pay in order to remain a member of his/her trade union (and therefore receive protections from employer exploitation), in modern times, it is most commonly used to describe the situation in which rookies find themselves, upon entering the job market for the first time. In the industry of music, specifically, it is typically expressed as a piece of advice to aspiring amateurs, from vets and industry professionals alike, who are all too eager to see their names in lights without having done any of the leg-work to get there. As we learned just a few short weeks back, in our discussion with three label reps, although talent and marketability are essential qualities for any band to get noticed, so too is work ethic, and without it, you won’t get very far. It is with this notion, in mind, that I will be writing on this week’s topic; that being, touring riders.

Long before you are in the position to be making any demands from promoters and/or club owners, you have to, as you may have guessed from my intro, “pay your dues”. What exactly this constitutes will vary slightly from band to band dependent upon your territory and/or genre, however, all band start-up stories involve playing countless shows, at dives, to crowds of ten people (if you’re lucky) for which you do not get paid, and are not appreciated. If your home-base is located in a big city such as Toronto, or Los Angeles, because such places are already oversaturated with wannabes and has-beens, this poor treatment is taken to the extreme; something you’ll get a brief taste of, when you tour these metropolises.

For instance, many clubs, in booming cities, actually expect indie bands to rent tour buses, and fill them with their hometown fans in order to bring a crowd to their out-of-town gigs. Further, rather than providing newcomers with opening spots so that they can work on expanding their followings, several major venues expect said bands to rent out their spaces in order to put on their own shows.

It is of my personal opinion, that both of these practises are absolutely ludicrous, as, typically, indies don’t have that kind of money to spare, and neither method will help a band in improving their attendance rates for future shows. However, this just scratches the tip of the iceberg in terms of the kind of b.s. a band must endure in order to establish themselves, and gain respect among industry professionals – all of which must be done, need I remind you, while maintaining a smile on your face! Perhaps a personal story, at this point, will be illuminative.

Aside from having countless promoters rip us off by leaving mid-way through our sets to avoid fronting our bills, not to mention being electrocuted by our microphones each time we attempted to play and sing simultaneously due to improper grounding, when my band ANTI-HERO first emerged on the scene, our rise through the ranks was anything, but easy.

Upon the release of our album Unpretty, we were invited to play out in Northern Ontario (about a 10 hour drive) at what was supposed to be a massive sporting event. As we were promised to play to 10,000 people, we agreed to cover all of our own expenses (which included renting an additional vehicle) because we were under the impression that we’d be able to break even through merch sales. When we arrived however, we were led to the stage which we learned was completely separated from the sporting event, and charged an additional admission price. Not surprisingly, the crowd wasn’t very keen on this; thus our audience ended up consisting of the other bands who were given the same line, and our significant others.

So in telling you all of this, what is the point I’m trying to get at?

Well, as much as it will suck and cause you endless frustration, realistically speaking, it will be AT LEAST a year before you have established yourself and your following, to a point where you can play semi-regular gigs to decent sized crowds. Usually to get to this stage, you will have had to have released an album.
For the sake of your own career, DO NOT even think (and I mean it) about creating a touring rider until you’re at this point as it will not be honoured, and may potentially prevent club owners from offering you future shows.

Okay, but once I get there, what should I include in my rider? Because it’s no surprise that most musicians have a penchant for booze, club owners often try to pawn off beer tickets, to bands, in lieu of payment. While this may satisfy the tastes of some, it fails to assist you in profiting from your gigging enterprises. You need to ensure, above and beyond your booze requirements (if any) that your gas expenses, parking costs, and accommodations (if required) first and foremost are covered. Anything extra on top of that is “just gravy”, as they say, and that way, all earnings you obtain from merch sales or cover charges will be straight profit that can assist you in making it to your next destination.

Should I make any other special requests along the lines of Ozzy Osbourne and his bowl of 2000 brown M&Ms? Clearly, this is something that is up to your personal discretion, but keep in mind, your demands will only be met if you’ve got the star power to back ‘em up. Beyond payment concerns, if you are touring to unfamiliar territory, I do strongly suggest that you include in your touring rider that popular local acts are to open your show. Your ability to do promotions in new areas will be limited as you will not be knowledgeable of the scenes, and quite simply, you cannot rely on the clubs, themselves, to make your special appearances known. With this in mind, you may also wish to include in your rider that venues, upon confirmation of booking, are to provide you with lists of their local media for your publicist.

As your career develops more and more and you prove yourself worthy of the rockstar designation, it will result in bigger stages, better sound, more rawkin’ audiences, and, of course, “celebrity treatment”.

With that being said however, I hazard you to remember two things:
1) never forget where you came from and
2) don’t convince yourself, for a second, that it’ll be an easy climb.

You’ll undoubtedly have to deal with a lot (and I mean A LOT) of shit, at first, but don’t let it turn you into a pushover, or cause you to bend your standards, once you’ve attained some bragging rights of your own. Most importantly, you must remember, in the music industry, there are certainly no second chances, and to protect your own career, you most definitely should never concede on territory you’ve already conquered.

Catch Rose Perry appearing as a special guest speaker at this year’s Jack Richardson Music Awards’ Seminar Series this Sat April 4th! www.jrma.ca for more details. Youtube link available here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KRwAH8Gx_Qg

About the Author:

Rose Cora Perry is the frontwoman for Canadian hard rock band ANTI-HERO known as “The 21st Century Answer to Nirvana”, as well as the sole owner and operator of HER Records, a management company in which she offers marketing, promotion, publicity, tour booking, and artist development services.

Her band ANTI-HERO has toured extensively across North America playing notable festivals such as Warped Tour, Canadian Music Week, NorthbyNorthEast, Wakefest, and MEANYFest.

Voted “Best Rock Act of the Year” by numerous industry publications, their critically acclaimed debut album, "Unpretty" is available worldwide for purchase. Rose Cora Perry is a dedicated promoter of D.I.Y. ethics, and an avid supporter of independent musicians.