Carnegie Hall? Royal Albert Hall? The Kalamazoo Civic Center?
I guess I should clarify.
I didn’t actually mean “how far will your career go?”
The topic of today’s Educate and Entertain post is this:
How far will you go for a booking?
How far are you willing to travel as a performer?
Expanding the geography you’re willing to cover is perhaps the easiest way to expand your income as a performer.
In fact, it might even mean the difference between doing this part-time and full-time.
How It Went For Me
When I started to get more involved in the work of performing in schools, concert venues, libraries, and regional arts centers, it became apparent to me that I actually could build a full-time career around it if I was willing to travel a bit.
However, I love the work, and I wanted to be doing it full-time. How to accomplish that?
Time to hit the road.
Here are some things to think about in terms of taking your show on the road…
Tours vs. Daytrips
Some Silly People (like me) Prefer Daytrips
You may be in a different situation than I am.
For me, I’ve had a wife and kids to rush back home to since I first started doing this kind of work twenty years ago. I simply haven’t been willing to go “on the road” for a long series of days.
So, I’ve structured all of my bookings around my need to be back home at night, and waking up in my own bed, as often as possible.
And because I work in schools quite a bit, this equates to some really stupid, er, excuse me….early mornings.
I might have a 9:15am booking in a town three hours from home, or more. You can do the math from there.
(Yes, breakfast is eaten in the car.)
I might then schedule a second booking for that same afternoon in another town on the way home. (See the article “How To Get Gigs in Schools.”)
(Yes, lunch is eaten in the car.)
Then, home for dinner, clean up the kitchen or help my kids with homework, and generally try my best to continue being a recognizable face in my own house.
The next morning? The cycle might start all over again.
Another common scenario for me would be to book an evening gig in a town two or three (or five) hours away.
In that case, I’d try to schedule a daytime gig en route to the evening performance, then head right back home after the evening concert. (I’d miss dinner and homework of course, but I could be “on the scene” in the morning to help get people off to school.)
For most normal human beings, this kind of travel seems insane.
I totally get that. It’s just what’s worked for me.
The Beauty of the Tour
Of course, if you have the luxury of not needing to be in your own bed each night, stringing a series of geographically-aligned performances together makes a whole lot of sense.
You can take advantage of things like:
- less time behind the wheel
- less impact on the environment
- discount incentives offered to venues for “block booking” you
- having more time to explore the places you visit
- not putting 35,000 miles per year on your vehicle!
Perceived Value of the Traveling Artist
“No prophet is acceptable in his hometown.” – Jesus
Maybe you’ve found this old adage to ring true more often than not; I know I certainly have.
The thing is, it really works to our advantage as traveling performers, because the opposite side of the coin is this:
The second you leave the confines of your home region, your value in the marketplace increases.
Think about it.
Let’s say there’s an upcoming performance in your area by an artist who works in your genre, but they’re from Chicago. Or Atlanta. Or even a town just two hours away from you.
Even if you haven’t heard of this performer before, isn’t your first thought something like this?
“Hmm, they must be pretty good if they’re touring here from somewhere else…”
And maybe they’re sensational.
But, it’s also possible that their performance is no more compelling than yours; perhaps far less so.
I’ve even had the experience of being hired for a performance a good distance from where I live, for very good money, doing something very similar to what I know another really high-quality, local-to-their-area performer does.
They paid me considerably more than they would have paid that local performer, and only partially because of the expense of getting me there. (More on that in a minute.)
The amazing thing is this: In talking with that performer, it turned out he had been hired to do a performance in MY home area, also for really good money, sometime that same month.
Jesus was right!
You can’t be a prophet in your own hometown, but you CAN be one in everyone else’s.
(For the record, I’m certainly not implying that performers are interchangable and what we do is a commodity that should be considered strictly on price; just that I think we should never underestimate the perceived value inherent in performing outside of our home region.)
It’s worth talking, at least in general terms, about how we price our performances when we travel.
There are a lot of ways to approach this, of course, and ultimately your situation and your goals will dictate what’s right for you.
For me, I make my living performing for a set fee, so I’m going to give you an idea of how I think about pricing for “road” gigs; this may or may not make sense for you.
(If you can afford to come home with more new fans than money, for instance, these concepts might sound a bit odd to you.)
The cost of getting there and back
I think it goes without saying that it simply costs you more to travel away from home for a performance than it does to go around the corner.
Here in the U.S., the federal government’s Privately Owned Vehicle (POV) mileage reimbursement rate ($.58/mile at the time of this writing in 2019) is a good rule of thumb to use in calculating what it will cost you in gas, tolls, and general wear and tear on your vehicle to get where you’re going and back again.
And we really must consider wear and tear on our vehicles – – the more we travel for work, the sooner we’re going to need our next new car.
Charging for your gas alone isn’t going to cut it, so make sure you’re using a figure that allows you to put some money aside for the day that old Betsy makes her last trip.
OK, so now we have:
Your local fee + your travel expenses
And that’s going to feel like a more reasonable number to you until you strip out the costs of getting there and realize you are now spending a lot more time working for the same amount you make at home.
What is your time worth?
Not only does it cost you more to take your vehicle out of town, but it takes more time. Sometimes alot more time.
For that reason, I’ve never been a big fan of working on the road for local rates + expenses.
For me, I always build something into my fee for the time I’m going to be sitting in the car.
Because if those four or six or eight hours of travel are not being compensated in any way, I’ve just cut my hourly earnings in half, or much worse than that!
My time would actually be much better spent at home doing more marketing and looking for additional booking opportunities.
Eight hours in my office drumming up new work is actually more valuable to me than eight hours of unpaid time in the car to get to a gig where I’m going to earn the same thing I make locally.
(You may be interested in the article How Much Should I Charge? 3 Pricing Strategies for Performers.)
Do You Take Your Show on the Road?
Now it’s your turn. Are you traveling far and wide to keep your calendar filled?
I’d love to hear about what works for you. Leave me a note in the Comments section below.
About The Blog
Since leaving a white-collar marketing job in 1992, Dave Ruch has been educating and entertaining full-time in schools, historical societies and museums, folk music and concert venues, libraries, and online via distance learning programs.
Along the way, he’s learned a great deal about supporting a family of four as a musician.
The Educate and Entertain blog provides articles, tips, encouragements, and how-to’s for regional performers (in any region) interested in making a great full-time living in the arts.