A DIY Hip Hop Guide to Touring Europe
Posted by PremRock on Mar 06, 2012 | 0 Comments
You’re an artist, an independent one, in a sea of other million indie artists. We’re all trying to stand out, some of us have the skills to, some don’t. You’ve released a well-received record and even booked a grip of out of town shows pairing you with some fresh acts from different regions. But now you’re back in your kitchen typing at your laptop plotting your next move, because even though you should be proud of the last few months, you aren’t at all. You need to keep moving, or get lapped.
Since a child, you dreamed of traveling overseas, meeting people of all cultures, performing in front of hungry fans and getting paid to live your dream. But you can’t do this, you have no management, booking agent or anything else that â€œrealâ€ artists have. So just forget it, and rock that venue you always rock, rap in front of your friends, sip those 2 PBR’s the venue so graciously allots you, and hang with the same crew you always kick it with. It’s not going to happen, it’s too hard. Well I say Fuck That.
Fuck the local venue that books you for free, fuck having only frans… (Friends that are fans), fuck PBR (Sorry PBR, you know I’ll be back eventually), and fuck the conditional supporters who only come around when they want a showcase themselves. Think bigger, you can do it and I’m going to tell you everything it took for me to put together two tours in Europe one solo and one with Willie Green.
The only thing I ask of you is to please check the know-it-all attitude and entitlement trip at the door. Let’s begin.
It’s an idea. One you blab about when you’ve been drinking, or if you’re sober, one you just blab about from time to time. One, people think is incredible on paper, but secretly doubt you have the drive to see it through. How do you even begin? Well I say this, find where you want to go and see how realistic it is. France, Czech Republic and Germany are some of the biggest European markets for hip-hop, they love them some good-old fashioned American rap-singers and are close enough geographically.
How much time can you realistically afford to spend over there? Do you have things tethering you to the states? Girl, child, good job etc… If the answers are across the board no, you’ll immediately have some more slack when it comes to planning. If they’re yes it just means you need to think more concisely than I would, doesn’t make anything impossible. My day-job now requires carrying the luggage of the much wealthier and often working the back-breaking overnight shift, so my heart doesn’t break when I have to skate. I’m single and without children, so no teary goodbyes or financial concerns other than myself. Each situation is unique, so consider that into your planning.
So, you’ve chosen the areas you want to hit and it seems like if you could coordinate half of this, things would be looking pretty good. But…you’re broke. You hold doors for tips and have to pay rent which is backed up as it is, and you owe your bookie $35, your Mom $10 and you may or may not have to pay a fine for open container citation in the park. (Stupid law, really.) How on earth are you going to get there? If you were bigger you could negotiate flying expenses but it’s your first time and unless your buzz is colossal, you have to eat that ticket and make it back by rocking shows and hustling discs.
Well, fortunately for you there are various outlets that are created to help us, broke idealistic artists get to where were going. Kickstarter, Pledge Music, and Go Fund Me are a few and all essentially pretty similar. Go Fund Me, however will allow to get the money as it comes in, as opposed to the others which require you meet your goal in order to get the money. Ask for what you need and then some.
Be as creative as possible with your fan incentives. I offered an exclusive mixtape available (to this day) ONLY to people who pledged. Think about how invaluable that is to a fan of your music, a friend or a family member? I also offered hand-written letters, which shocked me how much people responded to. Sure, handwriting 45 letters in two nights was a pain but thinking of the bigger picture it was an incredible feeling. I’m sure you have unreleased music sitting around, packaging it together with a sentimental touch could be the difference between $25 and $50 donations. Be respectable with your promo, maybe keep it only to emails, and an occasional FB post and tweet. Nobody likes spam, so figure it out. I also offered video updates, people love to feel like they’ve helped establish a budding artist. And if they donate, they have. Your grandmother or cousin with three kids can’t skate off to Amsterdam but taking them on their videos can make them feel like they’re with you. You’re going to be surprised how many people want to help you, it’s humbling and if your Karma and work ethic are right you’re going to get there.
UGH. The most dreaded part of my life is booking. I don’t have the clout or connections any agent or manager has so essentially it’s a lot of cold-calling and a lot of humbling rejections. I can’t be in any other frame of mind when I decide to undertake a day of booking. No writing… No smiley faces… Just some relatively soothing music and enough coffee to drown Lower Manhattan. You have to follow every single lead. It’s the most tedious work in the world and until you got it like that, you got put in the work. I chose to take the route of finding out every single connection I had to Europe. Who’s been there? Do I know anyone living there right now? My homey Keenan studied in Spain like 6 years ago, does he know anyone who knows anyone? I humbly sought the council of all New York City artists I knew that has been there and all of them were happy to tell me their perspective and since my track record is genuine, people didn’t have a problem helping me. If you’re known as selfish, I wouldn’t ask… Or just don’t ask me.
Everyone has a unique perspective on traveling and performing. Some learned some damn good lessons and passed them on without thinking twice and since this happened I have no trouble sharing them myself.
Find hip-hop venues that are in your realm of possibility. You’re not going to rock the Filmore here in the states so don’t hit up the venues that are reserved for much more established acts, save yourself the headache. Be confident, respectful and relentless. Treat your art as valuable and in return you’ll see value. Europe has a culture deeply rooted in the arts. They understand it’s importance in society and will more often than not show you the respect you deserve.
Okay… You raised some dough, and even booked a few gigs now it’s time for some logistics. After securing a show you will most likely be granted lodging, dinner and some drinks (This is not a slam-dunk but I’ve yet to be limited in this respect over there.) See if you can’t finagle some travel dough as well on top of your performance. It’s not crazy to ask for an extra 50 euro if you took the train in from Berlin. You won’t get it if you don’t ask.
Find out your best travel route immediately. I’ve learned the hard way what being overzealous can get you, and it’s not cool. You have to be somewhere the next day that is geographically impossible and you’re screwed either financially or physically being able to even show up. This will hurt your professional credibility and your wallet. You’re not in the position to risk finances or unintentionally burn bridges, plan accordingly. Helpful sites include: EuroLines EuroStar, Ryan Air Easy Jet.
These sites represent some of the most cost-efficient ways to get around Europe by bus, train and plane respectively. Keep in mind that a train is actually the most expensive way to travel, most luxurious sure but also the most expensive and depending upon your itinerary you may want to look in a month-long or tri-country pass which makes life easy. Me, personally I like to keep windows open to account for last minute doses of awesome that can occur at anytime. Gigs can appear out of thin air and you may want to allow for that, or maybe not. It depends on your personality. If my dough is looking pretty good 13 days in, I’ll be happy I kept those 3 days open to cop that $99 roundtrip to Barcelona… because, honestly, when else can you do that?? Also, these budget airlines in Europe are very inexpensive at times and really save you in the end if you book in advance. Trust me.
Learn the culture
It’s amazing how far learning a few key phrases in the native language will get you. You may think you sound like an idiot, and you do, but they LOVE this. Think about how dope you look introducing yourself in French, or saying cheers onstage in Czech? These things count as it appears to the fans that you really care about their culture and you’re not an ignorant American. Trust me, I’ve heard some absolutely embarrassing horror stories about some artists I look up to and their treatment of foreign audiences, DO NOT include yourself in that list. Go the extra mile, and reap the benefits.
Temptations and Documentation
Well, assuming I’m speaking to adults and not children, in 2012 I probably shouldn’t have to explain the importance of being safe in the realm of sexual activity. Maybe you’re blushing while reading this but it’s a topic worth mentioning. You’re a traveling artist from America, you’re the center of attention when you’re performing and your story is immediately more intriguing than Igor the plumber who’s at that bar 5 nights a week anyway. What am I getting at? Well, girls are going to be drawn to you. Don’t let it get to your head, (You ain’t that fly) and remember you have a job to do. But hey I’m not the morality police, live a little or a lot, just be smart amigos.
Documentation is very important BUT I also stress, don’t let it dominate your experience. Get lost in everything that’s happening, just take a couple flicks or a video here or there is all. Documentation is such a powerful tool and at times a bargaining chip in the age of Youtube, Tumblr and the blogosphere. Teach yourself the basics of editing and you have a commodity on your hands and access to places people only wish they could take their art.
So you got your plan mapped out, the right amount of money and the shows are looking good. Never stop looking to improve your plans. Reach out to radio and press outlets while you’re in town, see if you can’t get some ways to promote your art to the folks who won’t be making it your show. Get your merchandise together because kids WILL buy out there and the more creative the better. If you can spring for vinyl… DO IT! If not, get those discs pressed up, and pack lightly. Sneaker heads you may freak out, but I never brought more than two pair.
So, you broke out of â€œknow-it-allâ€ phase, and reached out to some people for guidance, I’m kind of proud, now work harder than you’ve ever done and prepare to have the time of your life. I should probably stop writing this and start following my own advice… Europe run #3 is just around the corner.