12 promoter theory is a tricky thing, but also what I have based a lot of my tour booking experience around especially for lower level bands. It is the belief that it is much better for your band to do weekend dates every other weekend within 250 miles or so of your home town rather than a big tour. If you follow this religiously you will play 48 dates a year but never repeat markets more than once every three months – both things which are pretty ideal in the eyes of most bands trying to crack on the underground level. In my experience it is the only way to reliably grow your bands brand without overstretching yourself in terms of time or money and simultaneously making sure that you look like a cool band in the eyes of your peers. I want to take a minute to dispel some common myths bands believe, then talk about the logistics of how twelve promoter theory would actually work. This isn’t a self evident thing, but it’s one that more bands should be willing to follow if they want to actually get somewhere.
A lot of bands seem to think that if they go on a big national tour the people they play in front of will all be super impressed and then tell all their friends. The issue is big national tours are logistical nightmares. If your band is from San Francisco, sure it might be fun to play in New York, but unless you’ve got an actual following or you’re there for a festival those people aren’t going to give a shit, they have a million bands of their own to follow and you aren’t going to be back for at least another year. If you’re from San Francisco, it makes a hell of a lot more sense to spend all the time and money you would have taken to go to New York to play your local markets, like San Jose, Sacramento and even as far north or south as Portland or LA. These are places that you KNOW you can hit again easily and you can build up relationships a lot more easily. People are going to remember you if you play in their area once a quarter, once a year is a stretch.
Beyond that I think it’s important to remember that it’s also a psychological thing for you and your band. Going out and playing a pair of shitty shows might suck – but if you know that you will be in your own bed tomorrow then it’s not that bad. If you are going out and playing ten shitty shows in a row knowing it’s going to be another week before you get ot see your girlfriend and you’re all losing a few hundred bucks on this tour then it doesn’t make sense to punish yourself like that. The bands who come home with money on tour on the low level are the ones who have reasonable expectations and don’t stray too far from home. They go places where they know they will be back, where maybe they have played one off shows before and where they ultimately know that people are going to give a shit. I know this can suck at times and I know that you don’t want to be told that you can’t do the tour of your dreams, but wouldn’t you rather have a tour that builds you up as a band?
Logistically speaking twelve promoter theory couldn’t be easier. Look at the cities that are within a days drive of you and figure out where you know people or where you have friends of friends and start to figure out if you can get shows there. Once you start to piece those dates together you will rapidly find yourself booking shows that matter, because the promoters will care since they know you will be back and know your friends. When you’re booking a show a thousand miles from home you’re not going to get a lot of love because the promoter knows you’re probably not going to be back anytime soon – yours is not a relationship they need to cultivate. But if you’re booking something two hundred miles away, they probably know people in your city and they know that if they fuck up it’s going to come back to haunt them and the other cool bands from your city aren’t going to be reaching out to give them the hookup.
Here’s the other thing to be aware of – labels are going to be a lot more interested in talking to a band who have a proven regional draw then one who consistently go out to new places with the misguided belief that ‘We need to find out audience bro!’. If you’re playing for no one at home, odds are you are playing for no one when you travel and if you are playing for no one anywhere then maybe no one actually cares about your music, like at all. You need to remember the people going to see an unknown touring band on a Tuesday night do that ALL the time and they aren’t going to be able to remember your band from one of countless others that they see this month. That’s sort of the fuck of it – if you can’t prove that you’re big in at least one place then maybe you aren’t really going to be big anywhere, and if you’re just wasting gas there is no reason for a label to want to invest their time, money and energy into you.
At the end of the day – just becoming a cool band who understand the way things are is really a question of showing up where you are wanted, and to show up where you are wanted means that you need to be established in a given region. This not only will make people take you more seriously but build up a cult around your band and make people excited when you finally do get enough attention for leaving your region to be worth it. You will be building on a firm foothold rather than annoying people around you by begging for shows, and by building up that foothold you can become a profitable and beloved touring band.