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How to Travel as a Musician

It’s an exciting time in a musician’s career when they are faced with the task of figuring out what it means to travel to gigs. It means a few different things: your band is booking on a regional or national scale, your audience is growing in multiple locations, you are creating relationships with venues outside your city, and more…

In this article, we will discuss the components a musician and band should take into consideration when traveling to shows. We will go over the route of transportation, cost and taxes, safely packing your instrument, where to stay, building a network, rest and immune health, and returning home. Buckle up and get ready for the open road.

Congratulations! You have booked your first out of town show. Maybe it’s a private event, a festival, or a traditional club gig, no matter the type of venue, the first point of discussion upon confirming the show is to decide on transportation.

  1. Getting to the Show and Transportation

Ask yourself these questions: ‘Is your show within driving distance?’ ‘Are you playing other shows along the way / doing a tour circuit?’ ‘How much time do you have to travel?’ ‘How much equipment do you have?’ ‘What is the most time effective and cost effective way to get there?’

For a solo artist or singer-songwriter, these answers may be more straight forward. For a full band, there are several elements contributing to the travel decision-making process. For both situations though, the first thing to discuss is: ‘Can we travel there by car?’ Often times, shows within the region have a range of being 5 - 15 hours via car. It is recommended that one person drives at a maximum of 8 hours a day with a break of 15 minutes every two hours. Solo performers should be very aware of this, as they may need to stop and rest over night halfway through their road trip. Bands with several members have the ability to take shifts driving, however, they should consider arriving to town a day early to allow a full night’s rest before the performance. Don’t be fooled, it’s not just about hopping in the car and getting on the road. There is still cost evaluation to go over.

How many miles does your car get per galloon and does all your equipment fit into your car? For bigger groups, they may need to rent or purchase a van that fits all their gear and can safely transport members. There is also an option to rent a trailer to attach to the back of a car you already have. On the other hand, you may want to consider flying, sometimes filling up your car with gas throughout the trip can cost just as much as a roundtrip plane ticket. Of course, you can always combine these two options, a couple band members pack up their car with equipment and a couple fly or take a separate car.

Flying by plane is a good route of transportation, especially for a solo performer. According to the ruling on section 403 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, artists are allowed to bring their guitar or similar sized musical instrument on-board as a carry-on. This is dependent on when the artist is to board, as the ruling states, “carriers are required to allow passengers to stow their musical instruments in an approved stowage area in the cabin only if at the time the passenger boards the aircraft such stowage space is available.” This allows travel by plane to be very do-able by artists with a simple gig set-up. Before booking a plane ticket though, make sure to read up on the airline you are booking with. Read about the airline’s official protocol on traveling with musical instruments, as well as, read up on personal stories and reviews by fellow musicians. Try to purchase a ticket that puts you in an earlier boarding group for the plane. Southwest Airlines is known for its amiable and can-do relationship with musicians.

If your musical instrument is deemed too bulky to ride in the cabin with you, stay calm. The flight attendant will help you gate-check your instrument. This means it will be hand-placed underneath the plane in the same section as strollers and other gate-checked carry-ons. Although this is not preferred, your instrument will be generally safe with no extra charge. Since the holding area is not temperature regulated, you will need to loosen the strings on the headstock to prevent tightening and strain on the instrument, protect the neck by packing it with a sweatshirt or other secure material, and purchase a humidifier or humidipak to regulate the moisture inside your case. I also find gig bags instead of hard-cases to be friendlier to carry on-board. Remember to always bring extra strings, and thank the airline attendant at the commencement of your flight for allowing you to store your instrument on board. At the end of the day, what they say goes, you’ll need to be nice if you want to remain on a flight.

Traveling by buses and trains is also great, but takes more time than flying or driving.

2. Cost and Taxes

To briefly touch on the money you will be spending for travel, make sure to keep all receipts. You can write-off most expenses on that year’s taxes. If you’d like to file your band as a business entity, that’s another conversation for a different article.

On the same note, when thinking of where to stay, reach out to people you may know across the country. Often times, a friend is somewhere close by. It may even be a friend of a friend. Hotels are great too.

When it comes to discussing how much you will be paid by venues, be sure to get all the agreements upfront and in writing. Have these emails or documents stored on your phone or in your gig bag. Always settle up with your contact at the venue before leaving after the performance.

3. Build A Network

Come early and stay late! Talk to people in the audience, get to know the sound engineer, and artist liaison for the venue. Bring plenty of business cards and promotional material to hand out. You can even prop up a banner next to you on stage with your band name, a photo, social media links, and contact information on it. Hand out stickers, magnets, and pins; they are wonderful gifts to give people you meet along the way. This helps them remember who you are later, and often times this leads to them telling their friends about you. Tell everyone you meet why you are visiting their town, invite them to follow you on social media. The conversation topics are endless when you are the interesting visitor and traveling artist. Additionally, it’s always important to meet any other bands that may be playing the same night as you. There is so much potential to collaborate with groups on tour routes, music promotion, and sharing fans.

4. Rest and Immune Health