How to Book a European Tour as a Broke American with No Money or Industry Contacts


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How to Book a European Tour as a Broke American with No Money or Industry Contacts

It's tricky, but not impossible.

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While starting a band can seem like a daunting enough task as a newbie musician, packing said band up and touring across Europe feels like pure fantasy. But we're here to tell you that not only can you do it, you should.


Although touring Europe on a tight budget and without your own booking agent is possible, it's a massive commitment in terms of time, energy, and the amount of breezy rejection emails you'll collect along the way. This said, if you're prepared to grow skin that's rhino-hide thick and dedicate a whole chunk of your free time to crafting emails to strangers, it goes from hazy pipe-dream to actual real life thing you're doing. And, if we're totally honest with ourselves, is it that hard? Sure, fielding mean emails isn't exactly a day out at the beach, but it's got to beat the daunting pre-internet method of booking a tour: reaching out to complete strangers via the phone and snail mail. Just imagine those telephone bills and all that palpable disdain dripping down the line. The mind reels.

Plus, if you're going to focus on the downsides of booking your own tour, you should also keep the dreamy stuff in mind: feeling out where your fanbase is (maybe you'll play to three glassy eyed cynics in Paris who are too cool to clap but sell out a 300-person venue in Lisbon), making new music industry contacts, enjoying a holiday where you might actually break even, and possibly even experiencing the only thing more sought-after than adoring fans and some cool music label guy who's in love with your sound: Fun, you guys. Drinking beers in a squat and going to a weird hip-hop party as the sun comes up and someone you don't even know making pancakes in the morning.


We've compiled advice and tips from both musicians and industry insiders with years of experience in figuring out tours around Europe. These include American Primitive guitarist Daniel Bachman, synth-pop musician Yohuna, Berlin-based music promoter and consultant for non-profit organizations Sebastian Hoffmann, bassist Leah Buckareff from doom-gaze band Nadja and Paper and Iron Booking's Erin Coleman.


You know what's cool about nerds? They're organized and they research hard. This is your new personality, so embrace it. Start getting in touch with venues and promoters at least six to seven months before you intend the tour to begin. Coleman suggests building a tour around a route of cities you want to visit, citing Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris, and Berlin as good destinations to aim for, since they're relatively easy to travel between and offer a wide range of venue styles and sizes. In order to stay on top of the hundreds of emails you'll be sending out, Yohuna advises creating a spreadsheet with details of who you've contacted, when you last reached out to them, and checking back in every one to two weeks that you don't hear back. "You'll feel like a pest, but that's just how it's done."

But before you even craft so much as your first line of an email, roll up your sleeves and research the people you're contacting with all the fevered enthusiasm you'd invest in a 3 AM Facebook stalk of your ex. Start by getting in touch via the contact page at a venue or promoter's website and they'll usually end up either forwarding your email on to the right person or giving you the correct email address. These places and people get deluged with requests from up-and-coming bands every day, so set yourself apart from the copy-and-pasting masses by sounding like you actually know what they're about and suggesting why you'd be a good fit for them based on their previous shows or connections. And of course, that means avoiding rookie errors like forgetting to check and then double-check genres: nobody wants to be that folk musician sending beseeching emails to techno promoters. Yohuna suggests including links to mp3s and a little press (track premieres, video premieres, reviews) if possible, but, please, never attachments, since they clog up inboxes. Coleman recommends looking up bands who you feel are comparable and checking out where they first started and who put on their shows when they were at a similar stage in their career to where you are now. This sounds like a lot, but Songkick, Bandsintown, and all have archives of past tours, so these are good places to plunge into your Google deep-dive.



As with basically everything in life, touring is often about forming relationships with people. Bachman suggests that in order to make the whole cold emailing thing a little less cutthroat, it's worth reaching out to anyone you know who lives in or has lived in Europe and asking them for recommendations on who to contact. Having a friend in common often speeds up the process, or at least makes things feel a tad more organic than when you're shooting off emails to well-connected strangers with all the deadly precision of a sniper.

Buckareff was more skeptical about the idea of cold-emailing your way into a European tour and suggests connecting with other bands in Europe (whether homegrown or expatriate musicians) is key, so that promoters have a frame of reference for your music and what sort of audience would likely show at your gig. But you'll need to exercise patience and save up dollars for postage: she suggests slowly building organic relationships with labels and musicians in Europe by sending vinyl in the mail to bands you like instead of emailing with links to your Bandcamp. Should a friendship blossom, it's important to reciprocate: suggest ways you can help European bands out when touring in America. Nobody wants to help out a narcissist, right?


One big difference from US tours is that musicians are usually provided with free basic accommodation and food (breakfast, dinner, maybe some coffee too) but it's worth double-checking that with the promoter/venue if it's important to you. Hoffmann recommends being attentive to regional differences: in continental Europe, people are more likely to be loyal to a specific venue or a concert series where they know they can discover new acts, even if they weren't familiar with them prior to the show. As such, these small shows don't usually have advance ticket sales. "In the UK, however, ticket sales are key; if a show doesn't do well in the pre-sale, promoters tend to cancel the event."


According to Hoffmann, one major difference in touring around Europe is a specific category of venues: "cooperative or collective non-profit associations ('Verein' in Germany, 'Arci' in Italy, 'Association' in France)" which are ideal for small acts since they pay musicians a guaranteed fee regardless of how many tickets they sell. Read up on cities you're considering playing in and exercise common sense. Sometimes the best venues aren't located in a major city but in smaller towns surrounding it "because it's quite difficult to run a music venue in a historical city like Venice, for example, or in a city with high rents like Frankfurt."


Renting a van isn't especially cheap. Hoffmann quotes at least 100 euros a day for hiring a van from companies specializing in vehicles for touring musicians. It's worth noting that petrol costs are also way more expensive in Europe. "The European average is 1.20 Euro/liter, which roughly equals $4.50/gallon."). Bear in mind that you also have to pay high tolls for using the highway in many countries there—the toll for driving five hours from Paris to Lyon, for example, is around 35 Euro ($37). If you're driving, do your research first. While US driver's licenses are usually accepted, some countries require an International Driving Permit (a translation of your US driver's license), which can be issued by AAA. Both Buckareff and Coleman suggest that if you're able to downsize your musical outfit enough to fit in a car to minimize costs, go for it, while Hoffmann also suggests traveling by train makes financial sense for solo artists or small bands if you book your tickets far enough in advance. Check out Seat 61 for a comprehensive guide to train travel.


Since the EU is a political entity rather than one country, there's no one set border policy. Most, but not all EU member states, form what's referred to as the Schengen area, which, very roughly speaking, allows non-EU citizens entering under the visa waiver program to play shows, so long as their stay doesn't exceed 90 days in any 180-day period. You don't need to apply for any paperwork in this case—you'll automatically be placed into this category. However, perhaps the most pertinent non-Schengen country in terms of touring is the United Kingdom, which has its own immigration and visa policy for non-EU folks. Non-EU nationals who intend to perform (even if it's just unpaid showcases) in the UK need a valid work permit or certificate of sponsorship. If you fall into this category, you cannot apply for a visa yourself, you need a registered company in Britain to apply for your visa. While you might assume the promoter at the venue you're playing at would cover this, they're not always able to since they need to fulfill a set of regulations and pay a yearly fee to do so. As such, if you check with the venue and they can't cover it, you'll need to reach out to a UK-based sponsorship registration company—the venue you're playing at will be able to direct you to such a company. But wait, it gets more complicated: the European Parliament is currently calling for the reintroduction of visa requirements for American citizens, so this situation could change—keep an eye on the news.


Check out the Touring Artists website, a valuable resource for navigating the head-spinning details of taxes, visas, contracts, insurance issues and getting through customs. Hoffmann works on their help desk which is free of charge to use.

Look, booking a tour is pretty thankless. With all that reaching out to strangers and kissing up, it's a little like online dating minus the probability of a beer-and-melancholy-fueled fumble (or heck, maybe not: I don't know how good your emails are). But! When you're rocking a tiny pub in Karlsruhe and the teens at the front are looking at you with eyes so soft with adulation you might as well be God, it's all worth it. So get out there. Start emailing. Go conquer.

Sophie Atkinson is a British writer based in Germany.