Autobahn: Roadmap to Touring & Performing in Germany

Autobahn: Roadmap to Touring & Performing in Germany

Presented by Music Passport

Come and find out everything you need to know about touring in Germany: Who are the key players in Germany’s concert business? How is the touring industry structured? And what role do artists’ agents, concert promoters, and local organisers actually play?

Thursday 23rd November 12:30 to 1:30 at NGV Theatre

Milly Milgate – Sounds Australia (Moderator)

Ash Sambrooks – Higher Plains

Silke Westra – FKP Scorpio

Bjorn Pfarr – Reeperbahn Festival

Touring in any territory can be brutal but it can also be fun, productive, build audiences, sell product and provide an income. Germany is perfectly positioned as a base for artists to tour across Europe. Live revenues are good and not only do they pay artists, but there are opportunities travel costs from Australia to be covered.

So what is the number one recommendation for a first time artist touring Germany? Simply, do not play too many gigs unless the money is there to make it worth your while. Over-gigging will crush energy, morale and could negatively contribute to the early demise of your band. You are better off playing 4 to 5 nights a week and leaving a few days off for meetings, networking or simply having some hang out time. It’s essential that you do your research before arriving in Germany, e.g. what labels, radio stations, promoters and booking agents are available to meet with in a particular city? Email potential organisations before you leave Australia letting them know you will be in Germany. Ask if it’s cool to drop off your product, e.g. vinyl or CD, at their office. Do your research and drop names from bands you like who are on their roster. Keep an eye on Meetup and Facebook for music networking events such as songwriter nights, indie happy hours, parties and open mic nights, etc. Write these down onto a diary timeline that matches your potential tour dates. Connecting with someone at a record label or radio station over a beer/coffee is much more valuable than making 60 euros and selling two CDs at a crappy show.

It’s pointless promoting a band/artist that no one has heard of in Germany; shows won’t sell any tickets. Before you leave Australia work on building a profile with relevant German representatives, or, prove that you have a viable profile in Australia, which can be replicated in Germany. It is recommended that bands/artists send out booking emails introducing themselves, but keep these emails short and to the point. Remember, English is not Germany’s first language. So what should an introductory/booking email look like?  Use the first 3-4 sentences to pitch your band using concise and clear English and completely avoid inserting text messaging shorthand, e.g. LOL. Draft and wordsmith your top two unique selling points as part of your pitch. Get family and friends to read it. They will let you know if it makes sense and accurately describes your work. Let them know when you plan to be in Germany. Put your website site, email address and two best press quotes under your signature. Germans/Swiss/Austrians love representation, so if you have a manager, have their email the venue/clubs instead. If you have a reference from a musician ally, be sure to drop their name (ask first).

There are lots of German agents wanting to grow and develop artists, so these potential opportunities should be leveraged. Throughout Germany there are small indie radio stations, e.g. Flux in Berlin, who will promote bands on air and their shows. While touring in Europe, see if you can get on the bill of Eurosonic Noorderslag, an annual four-day music showcase festival and conference held in January in Groningen, Netherlands. This festival operates as a showcase for Euro bands. Many European promoters, bookers and labels attend this festival to find new talent so it is worth attending and making new connections. Across Germany and Europe, there are many new über cool boutique music festivals and these can serve as a taking off point for any artist.

Do not be afraid of playing pass the hat shows when you are starting out. Many venues will offer you a show on “play for the hat.” Germans, Swiss, Austrians, Belgians, Norwegians can be quite generous on hat shows. They understand gig etiquette and you’ll generally be walking with at least 200-300 Euros per show, this is especially good for those mid week hard to find shows. You need to make sure that the hat payment is enforced. There should be a sign on the door stating “8-12 euro donation” and the host should pass the hat between acts. If there is only one act, ideally pass it once at the beginning and end. The host should always make an announcement about the hat pre-show. For smaller club shows ticket prices of around 13 to 15 Euros are normal.

As with most other territories, radio stations are still really important and not just the big national ones. Make friends and use these radio stations to support and promote your act. Australian artists are competing on a world stage with all other international acts and especially those from the traditional Anglo/American alliance, i.e. UK & USA. There will be lots of very good acts all competing for one of the 300 slots at the large European festival. Its essential that band/acts/artists has a ‘proper’ set up, that is, a product that is out and available to fans, supported by effective PR, social media, etc. You need to prove that you are serious in music business and ready to compete against other acts. There are literally thousands of band/acts/artists competing for those very limited spaces on European festivals. If you are good, with a noticeable profile then the festival will find you. There will be German representatives at most international conferences and that’s a great place to hit them up and get yourself noticed. Promoters look at who’s playing at other small boutique festivals and those who made a good impression with the crowd. Playing some good festivals in Australia, that you can evidence, can get you on the festival bill in Europe. Promoters also look at data from Soundcloud, YouTube, iTunes, Bandcamp, etc. to inform them about audience numbers and possible ticket sales. Bands need to sustain and return to Europe over and over again to break the market. Many global campaigns started in Europe and then extended to USA, UK and Asia.

As an artist, you need to be aware of current international political shifts, such as Brexit, as this could affect the way traditional business is done over the next two years. Traditionally, London UK based agents did the bookings but this is likely to be affected by Brexit. The German live music market is sustained and it likes external artists. Be realistic and don’t under estimate how much it costs to tour Europe especially the flights from Australia to your starting point and associated accommodation along the way. You need to be able to draw an audience at your shows or you won’t get booked. Your early fans are investors in your band. These friends and allies will make your German tours enjoyable for years to come. Take care of them and make special offers to them when you visit their town, e.g. special access to your sound-check, or meet and greets. Why not consider keeping a list of everyone you meet on the road in an excel sheet? Columns should include name, city, email, what you talked about, etc. Why not even have a “legend status” column ranging from 1-3; “3’s” are those super powerful legends that bought your record and expressed full genuine interest in the show. This way you can personally email these super fans (early investors) next time you tour through their town/countty. Ideally, you’ll want an ally band or songwriter in every town that you visit, someone in your genre who works hard and has good songs. You can share bills, knowledge, and databases. You can help each other in respective weak/strong markets and ideally play with them when you’re in town. Have a great tour. Remember, it’s all about the long slow burn. Each tour builds on the next. Stay in the game, persevere, build your resilience and don’t get discouraged.

European soil is something you’ll want to nurture and grow and entry via Germany is a terrific way to start. Festivals are businesses and they need to sell tickets as they have to make money and that means booking big name acts. Consider starting with the numerous smaller boutique music festivals that have to rely upon their creative curating of acts. The dedicated audiences that attend these small festivals explicitly trust the organizers curration of acts/band/artists, so big name bookings are a lot less important to them. A great tip is to start at small boutique festivals rather than playing early afternoon open slots on a main stage with only 20 people in the audience. Ideally you should be aiming for slow and steady growth like any other successful business. Quite often what’s big in Germany/Europe right now might be the opposite in Australia so don’t be put off if your Australian profile is low. Consider making strategic appearances at the excellent Reeperbahn Festival in Hamburg or other lessor known festival/conferences as opposed to the hectic SXSW or Great Escape. The Reeperbahn Festival is supported by Sounds Australia’s music passport, which is there to promote Australian acts, bands and artists.

Europe is cheaper and easier to tour than the USA and can be crucial in breaking an act. Germany is an excellent jumping off point to Europe due to its excellent transport links to the rest of Europe. From a technical perspective German clubs, halls and festivals are very advanced with well-trained and professional crew. The live German market is continuing to show growth and it will be there for years to come. Take care of the people, respect the foreign customs, and play great shows. The loyalty of these countries will keep you coming back for years to come.

Written by Tim Dalton