I’m gearing up for my first ever big boy tour, or at least the first one that I’m fully responsible for (Outside of, y’know, the nightmare hellscape that is booking) and I’m learning A LOT. This of course has been and will continue to be the inspiration for countless articles. Today’s particular struggle is renting a touring vehicle. There are a lot of factors to take into consideration here, after all, if you’re going to be on the road for weeks, or months at a time you want a vehicle that will be comfortable. However, you also are going to want to make sure that whatever vehicle you are taking is cheap. In the pauper-esque world of touring bands there is minimal margin for pleasure and just because you can afford a bus doesn’t mean you should get one.
So what have I found thus far? Well – mostly that I wish the band I’m taking out was a two piece because then I could just toss them in a cargo van and profit. Of course – it’s rarely that simple. Instead you find yourself navigating a jenga-esque world where you need to figure out how to minimize the space needed for gear and maximize places for the band to lie down and chill out while on those seemingly endless car rides. Is a 15 passenger van the way to go? Sometimes. But those can cost a lot. Figuring out this very delicate balance is what’s going to probably drive who ever is in charge of your tour insane.
Ultimately it boils down to that critical question – do you want to have a comfortable tour that leaves you in the red, or an awful tour that leaves you in the black? For some bands this is an easy choice – maybe they are hobby band sand can afford the loss, or maybe they are grizzled punk rockers who have been doing this for decades and really couldn’t care less. Of course, there’s a whole spectrum of options in between, but ultimately this is what it looks like in black and white. It’s a frank conversation that every band needs to have. This is one of those unforeseen factors that will torment you as you try to find your way forward in the world of being a touring musician. This isn’t something you can skirt around unfortunately, you either have to go out and embrace the complexity of it all or simply end up unable to tour.
Since the touring question lies on a spectrum, everyone has their own solution to this. It’s such a case to case thing that even websites suggesting great ideas on how to handle touring can be very wrong, simply because there are so many options unique to a particular band. It can be impacted by the kind of gear you’re packing, the amount of merch you want and how much you are willing to pay for gas, and this is only scratching the surface. You also need to consider how old your band members are, younger bands can sleep sitting up in a van as you drive on to the next stop, but if you’ve got some older guys they are going to need to lie down – that’s just how this works. If you have a major stage set up, or even banners, that too needs to be taken into consideration. Trust me – you don’t want random bits of bunting poking into your back for eight hours a day, every day, for a month.
Trust me though – touring is amazing, even if you get a bunch of stuff wrong. Human ingenuity is such that any group of reasonably intelligent individuals can figure something out such that everyone manages to overcome the greatest adversity. And screwing upon your first tour is pretty par for the course – it adds to your narrative as a stupid beginner band. That doesn’t mean you should make an uninformed decision though. I would recommend setting up a spreadsheet and sitting down with your guys and figuring out how much you care about each factor that you identify, and then use that to decide on a touring vehicle. Or maybe just borrow your friends van, that works too.
One thing to keep in mind before I leave you – Uhaul trailers are surprisingly cheap to rent. That’s a little tidbit I think far too many bands ignore. If you can all fit nicely into a minivan and then also get a trailer that will be way cheaper than bothering with a 12 passenger van or the like. That being said – you need to be careful about the restrictions that places on highway driving. Furthermore – you can’t attach a trailer to a rental, and of course, it’s going to take more gas. Nevertheless, from my research it seems that if you can make it work space wise this is far and away the least expensive option. As you can tell by now, this question of trailers is just another example of how touch and go this entire thing can be.
Feel it out, check a bunch of options and ask a bunch of bands eventually I can guarantee you will find the best way forward for you and your touring team! This is something that oftentimes can only be found out via bitter experience. Sure your booking agent or manager might have an idea, bu you have to realize that ultimately choice of touring vehicle oils down to the kinds of margins you want to have and the interpersonal relationships in your bad. After all – your costs don’t impact managers or booking agents! Keep that in mind as you delve forward, but realize that though the road is long, you always come home in the end.