Touring is an essential thing for any band that wants to become known outside of its hometown. While touring the United States is great, a lot of musicians who have toured the U.S. extensively might want to try a European tour. Plus, some artists just seem to find a niche in a part of Europe and they go there to play for the fan base they have built overseas. No matter the impetus for wanting to tour Europe, there are some things you need to know before you can get started becoming a European darling.
Who better to consult than a couple artists who are seasoned veterans of touring Europe. Bobbo Byrnes is the guitarist and vocalist for The Fallen Stars from Orange County, California. He has toured Europe several times, including a tour from May to August of this year. Nicole Laurenne is the keyboardist and vocalist for The Darts. She was previously in The Love Me Nots, Zero Zero, and Motobunny. She has toured Europe several times also. They provide some insight about what you need to know specifically about scheduling, packing, and getting around before you embark on a European tour.
Booking a tour in the U.S. is challenging simply because of the size of the country. Planning a European tour is challenging in its own way. Take a look at any concert venue in the U.S., and it might be booked for the next three or four months. When you start thinking about booking a tour in Europe, you have to realize that some of the venues are already booked for the next year. That’s right. It might be a full year (or perhaps a little longer) from the time you book your first gig in Europe to the time you play your first gig there. While that might seem like a drag because you’re not used to booking tours that far in advance, it’s a good thing because it gives you an entire year to plan your European tour.
After booking those first few dates, you might be tempted to fill up your calendar as much as possible. After all, how many opportunities do you get to tour on another continent? Filling your European tour schedule is one thing, but you don’t want to fill it completely. Byrnes says, “It is very important to schedule days off or you will burn out.”
One of the challenges to scheduling an American tour is particularly noticeable on the west coast, where your drive between venues will probably be considerably longer. A comparably long drive in Europe can take you across several countries. However, it’s also fairly ambitious when it comes to Europe. According to Byrnes, “While it is possible to drive across Germany in a day (I’ve done it 3 times) it is not ideal.” In other words, you’ll be doing yourself a great favor if you keep your shows as close together as you can manage.
When it comes to packing for a tour, a good rule is to bring as little as you possibly can. But then if you’ve toured at all, you probably knew that already. After all, you probably just throw a handful of t-shirts, some jeans, socks and undies in your bag and you’re ready to go. Well, when it comes to a European tour, minimal packing is definitely the right idea. About clothing Laurenne says, “Take almost nothing.” So at least you won’t have to change that aspect of life on the road. After all, clothes take up space that can be used for things like gear and merchandise. Plus, the more you take, the more you have to worry about cleaning.
OK so doing laundry on tour isn’t very rock and roll, but it’s something even rock stars have to do. Laundry is a much more accessible chore in the States than it is in Europe. You can’t count on finding a laundromat there like you can here. Also, there’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to get to a laundromat during operating hours while you’re bouncing from one place to the next. With that in mind, you need to address the laundry issue before you even get on a plane to fly to Europe. How do you take care of the problem before you even arrive in Europe? Laurenne advises, “Take stuff you can wash in the sink.” Byrnes goes a step further, adding, “I pack a portable clothesline that has suction cups so I can do laundry pretty much wherever I am.” It just goes to show you that sometimes being practical is pretty rock and roll.
Clothing isn’t the only thing you have to worry about packing. You also have to figure out how to pack the gear you’ll need when you’re in Europe. Plus you need to figure out a way to pack your gear so it doesn’t get damaged in transit. That being said, you want to take a pretty minimal approach when it comes to packing gear because, acording to Laurenne, “There are very few elevators and you will be hauling everything up and down tiny staircases and down cobblestone streets.” No matter what gear you bring with you, Laurenne advises, “you’ll need a big power transformer if you’re bringing anything with U.S. plugs. Otherwise you’ll fry everything.”
Of course part of the gear you need to take with you – if you play guitar or bass – is strings. Byrnes says, “It’s very expensive to buy guitar strings in Europe.” With that in mind, you’ll want to pack based on how quickly you normally go through a set of strings. “I usually pack about 30 sets with me. When I’m on tour I usually get 2 shows out of a set of strings – this year I played 65 shows in 80 days and went through over 30 sets of strings. If I try to get a third gig out of a set, I end up breaking them during the next show. Never fails.” So the message is while you want to pack lightly on clothes, you should lean toward overpacking when it comes to strings and other accessories for your instrument. Byrnes advises that you “pack extras of things that you may break or need. I always bring an extra capo and I bring extra bridge pins for my acoustic.” All of these extras don’t take a lot of space in your luggage, and it’s better to have the strings and not need them than to not have them and need them in a place where they are more expensive than you’re used to.
Getting around Europe is really different than anything you’ll experience in the U.S. Think about the freeways in Los Angeles. They are vast. You can’t expect to see anything quite like that in Europe. For example if you drive in France, you’ll find a lot of two-lane highways with the occasional passing lane so you can get around a truck. That alone is pretty challenging, but then there are the matter of the roundabouts that serve as exits to other highways. In the U.S., if you miss an exit, you can circle back pretty easily and not lose a lot of time. In France in particular, if you miss your exit on the roundabout, it might be a while before you see another one. So what do our experts say about getting around Europe?
Laurenne: “The only way we’ve gotten around is to hire a van and driver for the whole tour, and they arrange backline rental for the tour also. It works out well but it’s not cheap. We wouldn’t advise trying to drive yourself as the signs and the parking and the clubs are all operated in different languages and it can get actually kind of dangerous without someone who knows the drill there.”
So if hiring a van and driver is not in the budget for you, then you should at least find a local (hopefully you already have fans or contacts there) who can help you with getting around.
Byrnes says, “Street signs are slightly different and not entirely intuitive to what you’re used to. A quick look online will tell you what some of them mean and will make it so you don’t drive down a pedestrian walkway or tram line.”
Street signs aren’t the only thing different from the U.S. Byrnes says, “For the most part right turns on red are not allowed. Bikes are everywhere and if you go right on red you will most likely hit one.”
While getting to places in vehicles is one concern, it’s not the only one. You’re also likely to do a lot of walking in every town you visit. To that end, Byrnes advises, “Figure out what shoes work for you. For me it’s a great pair of boots that are great for walking, great when it rains and pair up with whatever I’m wearing.”
Granted none of this guarantees that you will become the next artist to hit it big in Europe. However, using these tips will certainly help to make your first DIY tour more pleasant. It might also help you to build a fan base there so you can tour Europe more regularly.
Written by Gary Schwind
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