How to Make Money on the Road (Hint: Don’t Spend Any)

Me in the kitchen of a venue: I always found a way to eat for free (almost always).

All too often I hear guys complain about never making any money on the road.  All the while, in the same sentence, I’ll hear them mention hotel rooms, allotting money for eating out, drinks, etc.

What?!  So, you’re complaining about “not making money,” but you’re spending it all?

I know, I know…it’s hard not to spend it.  Especially when you go on a two week run.  I’m not totally innocent.  I would splurge from time to time and get a room or go buy a nice meal somewhere.  Sometimes you have to splurge for the sake of sanity.

For the most part though, you have to keep that money in your pocket.  And, for the most part, you won’t be making much to begin with.

Below are some basic ways we came home with cash:

1.  Have A Plan: In some cases you’ll be getting a guarantee.  So add those up and estimate that as your operating budget for the trip.  The shows where you receive door shouldn’t be factored into the budget.  For all you know – no one will show up and you won’t make a dime.  In fact, you might have to float the $150 fee for the sound guy.

Basically, just be prepared and anticipate costs before you leave.  Make sure everyone in the band is on the same page.  If your guitar player is expecting to get paid on this trip and the budget doesn’t allot for personal cash – you will have to have a talk with him/her.

If you are going on a 2 week run of traded out shows with no guarantees…then you’re strategy is going to be completely different.  Bottom line is:  Just have one and be ready.

2.  For Food: A loaf of bread, jar of peanut butter, some generic chef boyardee meals, and possibly a free meal at the venue if you can work it out.

After a couple days you’ll want something besides peanut butter and generic chef boyardee, so do this:  Pull into a hotel in the morning.  Have one or two guys from the band walk in, comment on the weather, talk about how well they slept last night, then raid the continental breakfast.

We lived like kings on the road because of that.

Some places lock up the breakfast now, so we may have ruined it for everyone, but you could still give it a shot.

You can also sparingly hit up the $.99 menu at Wendy’s.  Every other day or so, we would grab a small chili and a baked potato and spend less then $6 as a band.

And let me tell you – when you’ve been sparingly eating nothing but peanut butter for a few days, a chili and baked potato taste like heaven on earth.

3. For Lodging: You’ll always find and meet new friends at the show.  Stay with them and get to know them.  I’ve met some of the best friends of my life doing this.

If you’re anti-social, sleep in the van.  If you don’t have a van, sleep in the car.  We toured out of a Hyundai Sonata for over two years.  All 3 guys in the band were over 6’2″, we had  a P.A., all of our instruments, and bags.  Sleeping in that thing was hell on earth.  So don’t talk to me about “being cramped.”

There’s no excuse here with me.  Unless your drummer has really bad gas and you’re passing through Minnesota in December and you can’t keep the windows down 😉

4.  For a shower: You don’t need a shower.  Ok, yea you do.  Either steal one at your new friends house or pay $5 to take one at a truckstop.  If you’re sleeping in the car and eating peanut butter all week – you can afford a $5 shower from time to time.

5.  For Drinks:  I almost didn’t put this in here because I guess it’s not TOTALLY essential, but I love to drink so I think it deserves a spot at the table.

Look – like I said, I love to drink.  However, I rarely spent band cash on drinks.

Usually, after soundcheck, we’d find out if the bar let the band drink for free.  If so, we got our drinks.  If not, we got a round of waters and waited.

Why would we wait? Because by the 2nd set at least one person in the bar would start buying us drinks.  In most cases – we would never even have to take advantage of the free bar.

And in the cases where there was no free bar and no free drinks from the patrons, we’d seriously not drink a drop.  I’d say that happened 20% of the time or so.  If you can’t handle not drinking 20% of the time then you shouldn’t be out on the road anyways.

Just sayin’.

That’s about it.  Oh wait, one more thing:

6.  Take Care of People and They Will Take Care of You:  This is more of a long term approach, but if you plan on hitting the same circuit time and again you will eventually make some great friends along the route.  If you truly show you care about those people, they will take care of you along the way.  Remember though:  It’s a two way street. They may kind of like your music at first enough to approach you, but the real reason they latch on is because of who you are as a person.  So put your ego away and really get to know people.

Be kind and be generous and it’ll come back to you tenfold.

And now…that’s it.

This takes some REAL dedication and mental preparation on your part.  Some studies of the brain suggest that the very thing that makes you so good at as an artist is the very same thing that makes you so bad at business.  They require two totally separate sides of the brain.

So work on it.  You won’t always get it perfect.  The key is getting it right more times than not.

What are some ways you’ve saved money on the road?  Instead of sleeping in the van or car, has anyone camped along the way?


Tweet:  @davemhuffman

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