Following last week’s exploration of the music industry in Europe, today’s feature will cover the benefits, challenges, and logistics of touring Europe as an independent American musician or band. For an unsigned artist, planning a tour means acting as one’s own booking agent, manager, travel agent, accountant, and publicist. Managing these disparate skill sets for a domestic tour is daunting on its own, and touring a foreign country poses its own set of hurdles.
The United Kingdom, for instance, is notoriously strict regarding visas for foreign touring musicians. It is often recommended that musicians growing their audience focus on countries outside of the UK when first touring Europe. Europe’s geography offers the unique opportunity of booking a multi-country tour with relative ease, given the relatively small sizes and short distances between Northern European countries like the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark & Switzerland. The logistical difficulties of daily travel — transporting instruments and gear, packing and unpacking, navigating train stations, etc. — are partially offset by the generosity and kindness often shown to traveling American musicians. The financial viability of a self-booked European tour depends on a band’s existing fanbase and income, but even if a tour isn’t a financial success, it may help to increase one’s long-term sustainability.
Unlike American venues, many of which have a pay-to-play booking system and rarely offer performers more than a free drink ticket, European music venues are known for their hospitality. Examples of this include free homemade food, generous pay, and in some cases, artist accommodations. Of course, these customs vary from country to country, almost all available testimony and resources cite Europe as extremely welcoming of Western musicians. Some American musicians, particularly in the Americana and folk fields, have found larger fanbases in Europe than at home, and tour the continent annually.
As someone currently working on booking my own European tour, I can’t speak firsthand about the experience. But this research, cited below, attests to the striking differences between America and several European countries in terms of the way they support and value the arts. As discussed last Tuesday, the egalitarian ideals on which countries like Switzerland and Norway have shaped their education and healthcare systems extend to the way they nurture music and live performance.