How can my band rebound after a bad tour?
Critic Jessica Hopper has played in and managed bands, toured internationally, booked shows, produced records, worked as a publicist and is the author of The Girls' Guide to Rocking, a how-to for teen ladies. She is here to help you stop doing it wrong. Send your problems to her -- confidentiality is assured, unless you want to use your drama as a ticket to Internet microfame.
These two liked it, but...they were the only ones. Photo by Sarah Cordingley via flickr.
I'm upset that I've sacrificed so much for such little recognition and my last disastrous tour ruined what little credibility I had in the first place. It went like this: six members of my band backed out the day of our tour kick-off and I was stuck with only one new member who played noise. We had rock shows booked around the country for two months straight and our performances did not reflect the work on the record at all so the audiences were disappointed and confused.
Worse, this other guy offended every band, booker, sound guy, venue on the road, ruining what tiny little credibility I had. Word spiraled out in the underground that we were hell on wheels and to be avoided at all costs. What a nightmare. I think everyone will forget after time, but I am wondering if it is still possible to promote and save my last record with positive press and maybe do another tour for it in a more positive light this summer. Or should I scrap five years of work, come up with a new pseudonym, possibly a disguise and start over?
Fingers Crossed & On My Knees
Dear Ms. Fingers,
I Googled up a few things about your band and tour and it seems like if people were unimpressed by your noise-duo version, they kept it to themselves. The other thing I learned is that people know you helm this project and it's often a big revolving cast of band members involved, so if that's established, it seems that it's understandable they are not going to get the same show the next time through. Hindsight being 20/20, maybe you should have cancelled that tour, but it doesn't sound like irrevocable damage was done--though you don't know until you try to get back out there.
I have a feeling that it probably felt worse being in it, that all the failures you feel are worse from your side than from the audiences view. Also, everyone should be seeing bands that offend their sensibilities more often. Your band operates in a fringe scene. Folks were not thinking they were coming in for some Grizzly Bear-esque girl pop from you. The other thing to keep in mind: most musicians are assholes, especially to promoters. Your bandmate was probably one of three or four people on that bill that said something untoward or offensive to the booker. So you have some things working in your favor.
It's not a catastrophe, though. Nothing feels quite as eviscerating as a bad tour. My question is why did all six other member quit at the same time? Was it a surprise? Did they think they were getting paid? Did they finally get the routing and were like "OH hell no. I do not do Piqua, Ohio, on a Sunday!"? Do these people have other, more successful bands? Did you do things to make them feel like hired hands or did they feel true investment? Secondly, two months is too long unless you are a popular band. It is a long time to ask people to live off per diems and to be away from their partners or pets or jobs or shitty side project bands.
You live in the middle of the country. You can do a solid East Coast tour and come home in a week or 10 days if you wanna hit Providence and Chapel Hill. A two month tour is for 22 year old college drop out basement punk lifers who are all full time members of the band. You can do three weeks that covers the Southwest, West Coast and come back through Canada. Be efficient! Respect that not everyone wants to work for your music like you do, which is to say, don't expect people to martyr themselves for your tours.
You learned a lesson, now put what you learned into practice: Find some band mates that are a little more committed and look at ways you can earn their commitment. Make tours short and solid. Get over what happened this summer and move on like it was all part of your grand plan. Let this sordid tour launch a rebirth!