A lot of people ask me how I survive on the road playing little venues every night and how I afford my excessive amounts of gear/production. How does one still make a living from this competitive, risky career? Over the years I’ve learned many survival tactics/life hacks. Some of them are pretty pathetic to the average Joe. But sometimes you gotta stoop real low (and ignore the average Joe) to shave off expenses and keep the dream alive. Anyway, here are some elaborate explanations on 5 ways to save some serious bank living on the road:
- HOTEL BREAKFAST AKA “Yellow-Bus”
In the words of my dear friend Alex Baker’s In The Alley “maybe I’m out for breakfast kicking the dust on the Yellow Bus”. This has become the code word amongst the ever changing Rosedale crew for scoring free eats. Most touring musicians know about the hotel continental breakfast heist. So I’ll go ahead and lay out the most effective strategies/direction to never get caught, guidelines for specific hotel franchises, how to get supplies for the next two days and how to keep them fresh.
You’re gonna have to be up by around 9am. Maybe you slept in your car/van/trailer or at a friend’s place (bring the friend! College students without wheels love the Yellow Bus!) Search Google maps for the closest Hampton Inn, Hyatt, Best Western, or Holiday Inn Express (only Express‘ have free breakfast. Hampton Inn breakfast runs 6am to 10am. Most others are only open until 9:30am). Bring a plastic bag for ice and something with pockets (maybe a hoody. no jacket. pyjamas are a plus… you want to make it look like you went to grab something from your car, but forgot your room key to get back in.) If you’re with a crew or even just one other person have them go to the fire exit/side entrance as you walk in the front doors. Subtlety say hey to the front desk as you check your phone and head straight for the elevator. Go up the elevator to the 2nd floor and navigate to the side of the hotel that your friend/crew is waiting at. Go down the fire exit stairs and let them in the side door. Now, with everyone, go back up the fire exit stairs and casually make your way to the elevators. Look for an ice machine on that second floor and just see if it works. If there are newspapers grab one for the elevator. Head down the breakfast lounge and enjoy the buffet. When finished, grab some coffee cups and lids and fill the cups with cereal, bacon, eggs, sausages, pineapple, homefries etc. Stuff your pockets with tea bags, apples, bananas, oranges, yogurt, oatmeal…
Maybe grab a couple of plates for bread so you can make some epic sandwiches later. Once everyone has their cups, plates, and pockets stuffed head back up the elevator and fill that plastic bag with ice. Head back down the fire escape stairs and out the fire exit to your vehicle. Put the ice in the cooler and any food that has to be refrigerated on top of/around the ice. My personal favorite breakfast is Hyatt because its pretty gourmet but the downside is that the cups/ plates/utensils are all washed so you can’t really take anything back up to your “room” other than cereal boxes. Hampton Inn is your best bet. The staff is trained to be extra friendly and even if you get there a little after 10 they usually let you go at it.
If you slept in, there are a few YellowBus alternatives. Try walking into a 7-eleven and casually commenting on how old those chicken wings look…ask what time they’re getting tossed. You might just walk out with some tasty 4-hour-old chicken wings. There’s soup kitchens in most cities on most week days. I stayed in Greenfield Indiana for about 3 weeks getting a rhythm section together for a tour- Never spent a dime on food. Soup kitchens can be tough to find but just google the city and soup kitchen or ask the local bums. And while your at it give them some of your yellow bus. As shady as this all sounds (and it is), being nice and giving back goes a long way. Make friends with the Hampton Inn kitchen lady and let her know how much she’s appreciated. Go grab your acoustic and song some tunes for everyone at the soup kitchen. They’ll likely enjoy it much more than the dive bar you’re playing later that night.
- GET A GYM MEMBERSHIP
I’m seeing a lot of my fellow touring musician friends catch on to this. You can get a gym membership for $20 a month. That might seem like a big commitment over a year but consider it rent. I go with Planet Fitness because there’s at least two in every major city and most are 24hrs. Not only is it an ideal place to shower and freshen up, you can get unlimited access to wifi, filtered water refills, message chairs and most of them have hydro message beds. I’ve gotten away with countless 2-5 hour naps in those hydro beds. If you go at 2am there’s usually only one employee and they’re just cleaning or on the computer. So they’ll just forget and/or be forgiving to your “accidental nap”. PF also has free pizza on the first Monday of every month at around 5pm-8pm and free bagels and coffee/tea the 2nd Tuesday of every month between 6am-10am. You’ll also be more inclined to get into a workout routine which goes a long way for any occupation but especially for musicians eating whatever’s affordable/free. That’s a whole other blog but yeah, your health is your wealth. So get a cheap membership for a gym you can frequent in your hometown as well as convenient pitstops on the road and get your miracle morning on. Don’t think just loading gear every night is gunna burn off those greasy hotel breakfasts…
- DOWNLOAD THE APP “GAS BUDDY”
This is a free app available for pretty much any smart phone and it works like a charm. Basically just open the map (You gotta click the top right corner) and compare all prices at all the stations in the cities along your route. Sometimes you gotta really zoom in to see all that’s available. And sometimes they’re too good to be true so maybe it’s worth calling and asking but they sometimes don’t answer. But you’ll be surprised how much you can save on gas just by driving one town further and/or a mile or so off the highway. Also, another little tip as you’re scanning stations and seeing matching prices, always favor Speedway because you can walk in put whatever you were gunna put on the pump on their prepaid gas card. Then use that prepaid card on the pump and you’ll save 3 cents per gallon. Some don’t do it but most do. And if you’re in Sheetz territory then favor Sheetz simply for the amazing deals on subs and shakes. You can get a 6inch sub with literally everything you could imagine for just $2. It’ll fill you for the day. And don’t forget to fill those water bottles at the soda fountain (with just the water tab…I’m not that shady…unless Horchata is on tap like California’s AMPMs)
- RECYCLE, RE-USE, REDUCE
My stance on this one may seem cheesy, obvious, hokus-pokus-y, tree-hugging and maybe excessive to some…but excessive is my middle name and global warming is extremely real. Not only is it important to re-use and reduce the amount of plastic and paper you consume on the road to help the planet that you’re dumping loads of carbon emissions into everyday just to get your music heard (not to mention all the promo materials, gaff tape/production materials, electricity etc.)
But you’d be amazed how much money you can save by thinking green.
Try to re-use that gaff tape whenever possible. Sure, its 4 times the price of duct tape. But we all know it works way better for most applications, its cleaner, and keeps it’s stick after using it on most surfaces. So pick up one roll of gaff tape, put your bands sticker on the inside of the roll so nobody takes it, and re-use each little slab whenever possible like it’s going extinct. Same goes for batteries. Get rechargeables. I’m strictly AA on all my wirelesses now cus they’re cheaper and quicker to recharge than 9Volts. Anyone who tells you that rechargeables are ‘gonna mess up your unit cus they don’t hold an even charge’ etc. has it backwards. Get a little charger and some rechargeables for $15, make setting up a little charge station the first thing you do at the venue, never buy batteries again. PAPER- I dont know how many times I’ve been asked (by even the touring veterans) “dude, you got any paper in those bins?” I’m guilty too. It seems there’s never any spare blank paper sitting around a venue when you need it. And nobody wants to buy paper basically just for scratch. Consider writing set lists on the backs of guitar strings pack’s labels. Some of those packs are nice thick white cardstock on the back (great for merch signs!) So save all that handy paper when you restring/reSKIN(drummers).
Most venues don’t have recycling which really hurts my organs. I understand that it can be a pain and sure; the impact percentage of helping the planet is so small- but every little bit helps and a show’s waste is petty much all glass, metal, paper, and plastic. So do your part; save that amazon box, put all your unwrapped CD’s plastic, old strings, and old set lists in there and toss them in the recycling on the street corner outside of the venue or wherever you see one. The tour gods (and planet) will repay you. I already touched on refilling water bottles at the gym and gas stations. Hot water is available and free at pretty much any gas station for your 28 cent ramen and the tea and oatmeal you grabbed from the continental breakfast.
And if you’re touring America definitely avoid buying water bottles in California, Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Oregon, and Vermont. They charge deposit fees so you’ll be paying almost double for that case of water. Sometimes venues provide a case of water for the bands. If there are any left, ask to take a few. They’ll likely let you have the rest of the case.
- TAKE ADVANTAGE OF REWARDS/POINTS AND TAX RETURNS
You did it! You bit the bullet for your baby. Maybe you broke even or made a few Benjis thanks to that merch and CDs and now the next tour is just around the corner. One of the many harsh realities that sets in for touring musicians is getting home and facing the titlewave of upcoming expenses. You quickly find yourself racing deadlines for ordering more CDs, more merch, new tour posters, more stickers, your shoes are all ripped up, you gotta hire PR, you wanna get back in the $tudio, your girlfriend wants to go for dinner, your cat needs to go to the vet, your trailer needs new tires…and breaks, your vanneeds new tires…and breaks. First thing:
Get a rewards points credit card and charge as much of it to the card as you can. Next; keep all your receipts (especially the ones you couldn’t use your card for) and keep them as organized as possible. Have a folder on your computer of all the online receipts. Register your band as a business, hire an accountant to file your taxes (or file your taxes yourself if you’re that savvy) and you’ll get all that tax back. The beauty of living on the road is all expenses are business expenses! Also, log your miles. You may get audited and they’ll ask for that.
Back to that credit card: Most banks now have some sort of a “no-fee-travel-rewards-points” credit card. Make sure there are no hidden fees and don’t put more on it than you can pay off next month unless it’s actually an emergency. Also let your bank know you’re traveling so they don’t block your card when they see same-day charges in Montreal at noon and Philly at 8. Use that card everywhere and rack up the points. Get one for each currency. But another note on gas; some prices go up if you use credit. So always ask if it’s the same price for cash as card. Those points slowly add up and you’re basically getting money for nothing. Some travel rewards cards double or tripple the points if you can figure out how to order the flight/hotel through their site. With all the points I earn from swiping I pretty much get free hotels in the rare occasion I’m stuck with no other options.
And one more thing on our only remaining tour expense- (gas) get those station’s rewards cards! Canada has Petro Points at Petro gas stations. You can redeem points for cards that knock off 10 cents per Litre. And Sheetz has some rewards too if you’re into free subs…you are?! Me too!
In conclusion, never think you’re making enough to splurge/treat yourself. Save it for the upcomming emergencies/repairs.
Or think of all the things you want for your band but can’t afford (Better recordings, cooler merch/duplication options, stage show/production, tours overseas etc.) The point of touring is to grow your brand. You’ll get tighter, you’ll build character, you’ll gain fans and like minded friends, you’ll get better at sleeping uncomfortably, you’ll see a lot of cool stuff, and you’ll get wicked good at driving/parking. But if you think you can spend money like your friends back home, you’re gunna end up stuck working a day job like your friends back home. So choose Spartan and take advantage of the many advances in technology and corporate competition amongst our modern society. Your new fans will thank you.
Post by Mike Liorti of Rosedale.
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