The fuel cost problem isn’t going away, and yeah, it kind of sucks. I’m showing my age here, but I remember when you could fill up your van for under a dollar per gallon, and your DIY screamo/grind shitcore band could break sticks and strings from coast to coast on meager t-shirt sales and a dream. This is sadly no longer the case.
Many musicians have just given up on touring, writing it off as an impossibility, at least while they’re just starting out. They try to build up a fanbase through social media, posting bedroom playthrough videos once a week in the hope of catching someone’s attention. And you know what? That’s not a bad habit to get into. But touring is music. A live performance is the hot passionate sex compared to a recording’s prim second base make out. If you’re not partaking in the primal, communal sound worship that’s been ingrained in our collective since the days when we wore the skins of large animals (you know, the ‘80s), you’re missing out on one of the core joys of being a musician. Local shows just aren’t the same. Seriously.
So with that said, here’s a few ways you can cut down on the cash you’re spending on gasoline, while still bringing your sick breakdowns to basements in states with supermarkets that you’ve never heard of. What up, Piggly Wiggly?
Share the Van (and the Gear) with Another Band
This is more practical for some bands than others. If you’re an 8-piece with 3 guitars, two vocalists, and a keyboard player then you’re kind of fucked (also, what the hell are you thinking?), but for power trios and quartets this can be the way to go. Is your drummer in another band? Boom, instant tourmate. You can probably find the room to bring both bands’ guitar heads while sharing cabs. It might be a tight fit but you can make it work.
Small Rigs, Small Vehicle
Yeah, I know your full stacks, 8×10, and dual kick drum setup makes you feel like you’re playing Madison Square Garden, but if you scale down to 2×12 guitar cabs, a 4×10 bass cab, and a 4-piece kit then the weight alone makes a noticeable improvement in your gas mileage. And then maybe you can even fit into a mini-van or jeep. Again, being a power trio or even a duo tends to help. Who needs legroom anyway?
Kick out Your Second Guitar Player
He’s just stealing merch profits to buy weed anyway. I didn’t want to say anything at first but that shit’s just not cool.
Hustle the Fuck out of Your Merch Table
Speaking of merch, if you can’t reduce your gas costs then maybe you can supplement your income. I’ve seen such lackadaisical presentation, and salesmanship, at the merch tables and it really bums me out. Make conversation with the crowd and draw them over to your wares. Strike up some chatter with the folks who happen to walk over. Be generally personable and friendly, and actually always have someone at the fucking table at all times unless you’re playing or loading. And make that display look good, exciting, eye-catching. Get creative with what you offer. Not selling CDs anymore? What about download codes? Make t-shirts for dogs. Bandanas. Something that stands out. General rule of thumb: if you’re not earning as much on merch as you are from the door then you could up your selling game.
Plan Ahead and Share Gear with Local Bands
Admittedly this can be a nightmare on a longer tour, but if you’re embarking on some 5-10 day jaunt then with a little extra email legwork you might be able to work out cabinet and drum shell borrowing with the local bands on all of the dates you’ve booked.
Skip the Amps Altogether
The solution of more and more suitcase bands flying to festivals a continent away can also save you a hell of a lot of cash on the highways. Yeah, I love tube amplifiers more than life itself. But digital modeling amps can make a major difference to the gear load you have to haul to gigs. If you’re playing VFW halls with puny PA systems this will obviously not work, but don’t forget you can always combine this technique with the tip above and plug your Axe-FX into the series effects return of another band’s amplifier.
Same Number of Shows, Fewer States
This is my favorite way to tackle the fuel dilemma. You don’t always have to tour to the opposite coast or neighboring country. New York isn’t just a city. You could do a two-week tour alone in that one state. Levittown, Albany, Poughkeepsie, Utica, Albany, Buffalo, Rochester, Oneida, Auburn, Watertown, etc. Every college town has some kind of scene, and there are a lot of them. Every county has its own nexus where bored teenagers need to rock out. Some of the best shows I’ve played have been in the least glamorous towns, and some of the worst have been in cities like Seattle and San Francisco. You don’t have to drive into a different time zone to play an awesome show to a crowd full of strangers.