The road can be a lonely place. As any touring musician knows, it’s tough out there. Organizing venues, covering travel expenses, staying out of trouble, and even just finding your way from town to town can be as epically fraught with challenges as a DragonForce guitar solo.
While it’s true that most musicians create more friends and good times on the road than anything else, it’s also hard, if not impossible, to do all the tour organization and planning alone without a support network. Often, indie artists never take that first step down the dusty trail because there are so many obstacles in the way, which is why singer-song writer Hans York got in touch with Jeanette Lundgren when he was planning a tour.
Jeanette runs Mother Hen Promotions, a social media management service for independent musicians. “Hans is now based out of Texas and he intends to spend all of 2010 on the road,” Jeanette says. “It was his request to me that I look at his tour schedule and analyze it for potential challenges. For example, you shouldn’t be crossing the Rockies in December. There are some areas you don’t want to travel through in winter or spring, and indie artists planning a tour need to have a sense of these things.”
Based on Hans’ request, Jeanette began to develop the kernel of a great idea. What if she could put together an online group where musicians could go for information to help them plan a tour? “The basis of my idea is that people are rolling around doing the tour in their car, and a lot of indies are broke. What if all of a sudden they’re stuck in the middle of nowhere with a dead car, and their AAA just ran out? And what if the next gas station they come to is a rip-off? This group could tell them which nearby station to stop at.”
The group, which is starting out as a Facebook project, will grow to include everything from maps, to locations for filling converted diesel vehicles, to tips on those coveted mid-week venue finds. “Sometimes it’s not easy to find mid-week shows,” Jeanette explains, “especially if you’re not on the coast. So we’d like to get people posting about midweek venues or even open mics or showcases where touring artists can go and perform and sell merch to stretch their weekly budget.”
Although the group is now focusing on North American tour planning, Jeanette is hoping the project will grow to include European locations, too. The success of the project, she knows, will be based on what the artists themselves are willing to contribute. “Interaction will be key. It’s gotta be from the people who are actually living it,” says Jeanette. “A couple of people have posted so far about what they’re looking for, but that’s not what this is about.”
Jeanette is hoping that indie artists will contribute their insights and road stories on a state-by-state basis, letting other indies know which venues are supportive of touring musicians, and offering suggestions on places to stay that are cheap and safe. As the group grows, it may even be possible to involve businesses in the project – offering promotional opportunities to business-owners who are willing to provide discounts to touring acts.
Already, radio stations around the country are getting onboard, posting contact information to be used by artists who would like to promote their music ahead of time. Connecting with local radio can be key to the success of a tour, particularly when venues are lax in that particular department. “I was once planning a show in the middle of Washington State,” Jeaneatte recalls. “This venue sent me a list of local newspapers and media, and half of the links were dead. They weren’t doing any promotion, but gave us people to contact – dead links! – hello?”
This story is just one of many that come from a life on the road. Indie musicians possess an invaluable storehouse of information, and it would be a great thing to collect it all somewhere it could be used to help. While it’s true that the hard knocks won’t disappear, it may be that Jeanette’s group will be able to prevent a few artists from getting into situations that can range from annoying to downright dangerous.
“Recently, a girl I met at Folk Alliance told me about a stretch of highway in Arizona – she was touring and every time she drove that one stretch of road she was stopped by the same cop,” Jeanette’s voice is tinged with that mixture of disbelief and resignation which comes from knowing that situations like these are all too commonplace. “She wasn’t speeding, but the cop wasn’t on the up and up. Not a cool dude. That stretch of highway should be posted. Every issue that is of importance to an artist should be brought up.”
When you start to consider the range of different issues that affect musicians on the road – particularly when they don’t have the support of a label or manager, the magnitude of the task can seeming daunting, but Jeanette is optimistic. “Is the group too all-encompassing?” she wonders. “I worry that if it’s too big, that be a downside. But it should be open, it should be a discussion. Anything that will be of help to indie musicians who spend their life on the road belongs there.”
Check out the newly-forming group here. Post your stories and read what other people have to say. Jeanette’s project could become an invaluable resource to touring indies, but it all starts with people stepping up and contributing.