There are two ways to “break” as an artist

January 12, 2012

1) Tour


2) Tour

The only real exceptions to this rule are:

1) “radio” bands

2) pop stars who break through success on a TV show or movie first (think Disney kids).

Now, before you start getting your guitar strings all in a tizzy, hear me out. Yes, there are ALWAYS exceptions to the rule.

But, generally speaking, if you don’t tour, how do you expect to develop a following?

And if you don’t develop a following, how do you expect to make a LIVING from your music?

Touring. Touring. Touring.

“Why is touring so important?” you ask.

Good question.

Many reasons:

1) Touring is the only real way bands develop a fan base. 

Sure, back in the day, there was radio and videos on MTV and now we have all the social media outlets like Facebook YouTube and such, but being in a room, in person, in front of people, singing your songs and playing your music is still the best and only way to develop a true and loyal fan base. As great as social media is, we are still human beings and nothing beats a live concert and meeting the artist afterward.

After all, would you rather get an email from your favorite band or singer? 

Or get to meet them after their show? 


Sure, you may even be clever enough to create a YouTube video that gets a million or more hits. But YouTube videos are here today, gone tomorrow.

If you play a show, even if only 10 people are in the room, and you have a nice chat with them after the show, and they like your music, I guarantee they will tell their friends not only how GREAT a band you are, but also how NICE and COOL you were to them after the show. So, when you go back to that town or city, you should have MORE people there the next time. Sometimes you have to start small to get big. 10 now, 20 later. 40 down the road. Then 80. Then 100. Then 200. Then 1,000. You get the idea….fan bases can develop exponentially over time. But it takes TIME. So if you don’t start today, you’re never going to get there.

2) If you don’t tour, how do you expect to ever get signed?

Say you want a record deal. Or just someone to “invest” in your music (that isn’t a parent or family member). Say you give me a CD and I send it to one of my label or “investor” contacts — and they LIKE it. Well, the very next question they are going to ask me is, “How’s the live show?” So, if you don’t tour, there is no “live show” and no fan base. A label’s level of interest goes from HERE….to well, here…because labels know what all of us in the industry know – TOURING BUILDS A FAN BASE. It is an ESSENTIAL part of your career and key to your success.

3) When you play live, you get to meet with and network with other artists and bands. 

And guess what the #1 way an artist gets an opening slot on a tour is? Yup, that’s right. Their friends. That’s why Taylor Swift takes Kellie Pickler out on tour with her instead of a million other artists: because they are friends.

4) If you don’t play live, you’re probably not getting a performance on a TV show.

I was just talking to one of my contacts who works as a booker on a major TV show. He said, “Do you think I’m going to send a camera crew of SEVEN out to film an artist who isn’t AMAZING live?” Of course not.

You may not need a huge fan base to get on a talk show, but if you aren’t playing a show in the next few weeks, how is the booker even going to come see you live to evaluate your show for its TV potential?

5) The only way to get “better” live is to play out often and tour.

How do you get better at something? Practice, practice, practice!

For years I managed a band that had incredible success in the music placement area (thanks to some well produced songs and an amazing promoter in yours truly). And we had tons of label interest. However, whenever we would showcase for the labels, which we did time and time again, after the show it was crickets, crickets, crickets. Our lawyer said, “I think the band isn’t getting signed because of the live show.” They sounded fine live. But there was no energy. The lead singer had no charisma up on stage. No spark. The band played out but they never even went on a real tour. They just played locally and in Los Angeles a few times. So the live show was just “ok” and “ok” isn’t enough to get signed. And A&R guys and labels and even a savvy investor knows that the #1 way to break a band is ON THE ROAD. So, if you want to get better live, play out often and go on tour!

6) Touring is part of your “job” as an artist.

Yup, you heard me. You don’t want to be like Steely Dan, do you? It’s SO hard to get attention these days, so if you don’t tour, you’re cutting out a HUGE way you can get noticed. After all, I’m sure you’ve all had friends tell you, “Dude (dudette?), you HAVE to see this band play live. They are AMAAAAAZING!”


You want to be that band.

If you’re an artist who is not playing out and not touring, well, that’s like a painter that says they only use 1/2 of the colors. Or a chef that only knows how to make a few dishes. Sure, you can do it, but it won’t be much of a painting…and you won’t be much of a chef and it certainly won’t be a very good restaurant if you only make one or two items. Sure, you’re still an “artist” if you don’t play shows. But maybe you’re really just a “songwriter” and not a “performing artist.” Do you want to be Diane Warren? Or U2? Each have made millions. But who do you think has made more?

7) You want to get signed? What do you think happens after you make your record?

You tour!

I know we talked about that earlier but it comes up a lot.

Artists say to me all the time, “Oh, but I’ll tour IF I get signed to a label” or “I’ll tour WHEN I get signed.”

Here’s the rub.

Labels don’t want to hear that.

In fact, I bet most labels would laugh if they heard an artist say that.

They don’t care.

Put yourself in their shoes.

You can choose to sign any artist in the world that is unsigned.

Pool #1 has 1,000 artists who want to get signed who are touring, have developed a fan base and are working their butts off.

Pool #2 has 1,000 artists that have either 1) never toured or 2) only played a handful of dates here and there.

Now, put yourself in the shoes of the A&R guys and President of the label.

Why would you even LOOK at artists in Pool #2 when there are already TONS of amazing artists in Pool #1?


What happens after you sign to a label and make an album?

The label puts you out on the road.

Now why would they do that with an “unproven” entity? What if they sign you and you hate touring? Or the band gets along great in the studio but not on the road? If they only sign acts that tour ALREADY, they’ll never have to worry about these problems, right?

8) Money

How do you expect to make any money if you don’t tour?

With CD sales falling, ticket sales (and merchandise sold at shows) are one of the only ways to make money in this business. How much did U2’s tour gross in 2011? North of $300 million. Sure, you’re not U2, but most artists make their living on the road.

9) You need or want a booking agent

Booking agents don’t care if you have a record deal or not.

But what they DO care about is, “How many people can you draw to this show next month in Toledo?”

A key to success is getting a great booking agent on your team.

And you can do that, even without a record deal.

But you need FANS…

And how do you get FANS???


10) You want press?

If you want any real press, you need to tour. Most local and national newspapers and weeklies don’t care much about you unless you’re coming through town soon.

11) If you don’t do it, someone else will

While you’re sitting at home, crying that it’s “too hard” or “too expensive” or “pointless” to tour, other artists and bands are slogging it out on the road and developing fans, one by one.

Think of it this way.

Even if you’re a solo artist or band, and you played for one fan every night, if you played out every night, in a week you’d have 7 fans and no doubt have sold 7 CDs/shirts. In a month, that’s 30 fans and CDs/shirts. In a year, 365 fans and shirts. Of course, any place you play should have at LEAST 5-10 people so do the math.

Sitting at home = no fans.

Playing out = fans every time you play.

Of course, you have to be savvy about touring. Use social media to promote your shows. Don’t know anyone in a city? Find some people online, or buy targeted ads on facebook for the cities and towns you are going to play. Make great and ENTERTAINING YouTube videos to help grow your fan base. Ask your fans to bring their friends and promote your next shows.

12) It’s fun

Yes, playing your music live, in front of people and not a YouTube camera, is and should be FUN. You should ENJOY and LOVE being up on stage, getting to perform for people every night. Getting to see people’s reactions to your songs, your energy on stage, your lyrics…that should all be PRICELESS. After all, isn’t performing one of the reasons you got into the music business in the first place?


Now, I can probably add some items to this list but 12 reasons should be enough. Maybe you can think of more??

I understand that many of you can’t tour because 1) you have a day job 2) you have a spouse and/or kids to support 3) gas is really expensive 4) the economy “sucks”

I suppose that’s why so many artists that get signed are so young. Because when you live at home and have no responsibilities, you can go on tour.

However, even if you have family and financial obligations, you can still play out.

My friend’s brother is married with kids in New Jersey yet they still play out almost every weekend.

Sure, he’s doing it for fun and not to get signed. But if he can do it every weekend with a wife and kids to support, so can you!


Now I know I can’t “talk” you into touring.

Artists either “get it” and tour and play out as often as they possibly can. Or they don’t. And no amount of me trying to convince you, especially over an email is probably going to change your behavior (although secretly I hope it will).

Just know that the artists “making it” today are touring. Why, even Katy Perry went on Warped Tour when her first album was breaking. Sara Bareilles rode around in a van even after she was signed to Epic to promote her first album. Everyone tours.

So if you’re not reading this email from the back of a smelly van somewhere…

(Please feel free to forward this email and this email alone to members of your band or other artists you know. But please do not post it on a web site or blog without asking permission. Thanks!)

Copyright @2012 True Talent Management. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without author’s prior consent.

Jennifer Yeko
True Talent Management ~ True Talent PR

9663 Santa Monica Blvd. # 320

Beverly Hills, CA 90210

http://www.truetalentmgmt.wordpress.com – Read my music blog for advice on making it in the music business



  1. Woah! Nice email and thank you for posting. It’s nice to read something that is different from most music articles being published lately. I’ve had a day job that pays very well for years and even though I like it, I feel it’s hindering our progress as a band and I KNOW we could make a living in this band if we could seriously focus and bust our asses working on it. Plus, it’s getting to a point where everything is becoming a blur…I’m a teacher so i get summers off and can easily tour on vacations…but I’m seriously contemplating just getting out of my job this June and forcing ourselves to turn our band into a serious business. By sinking and not having comfortable lives, we’ll be forced to make changes in our habits and lives. Having a day job is great but it also gives you a room to get lazy. We’re currently setting up shows on weekends in surrounding cities and a week long tour during spring break…but i think disconnecting from my comfortable finances may just be the something i totally need to feel free again and just work on music…ill find a way to survive. anyway – i completely agree about the touring and that makes me excited anyway. It should make any performing artist excited to tour!


  2. I was so excited to open this email, based on the title. Because I thought maybe it would address the way that most people expect ARTISTS to work for free. I have been managing and booking myself for nearly a decade. In doing so, I’ve managed to tour the world, and release 3 CDs, receive awards, etc.. And it still escapes people that I do this FOR A LIVING. This is a business. I, clearly an established professional, encounter many (with money) who ask me to sing/appear at their events for free. While I KNOW they didn’t ask Cuba Gooding Jr, or Russell Simmons to make their appearance, at the same event, for free. I’m sure many artists are unreasonable and self-centered, and behave as though they are entitled to every glory just because they can play – I am aware of artists like these. But believe me, I encounter the same problem from non-artists that you get from artists.

    Maya Azucena

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