Local bands and artists regularly come and go in the Valley of the Sun. Over the years, we have seen what seems to be an endless supply of very talented bands and musicians that amass a great local following, but are not able to translate that momentum into touring to broaden their fan base, ensure their own longevity, and increase Phoenix's stock in national music circles.
While touring isn't the only way to have a successful music career, it is one of the most desired and traveled avenues for artists seeking to earn an income and promote their music. An article by TorrentFreak actually states that touring makes up about 28 percent of the average musician's income. And for a band that plays all, or mostly all, original music, it can be difficult to build a career by just performing local gigs.
Enter the Phoenix scene.
With few pay-to-play establishments yet plenty of professional venues, the Phoenix metro area is a great place to cultivate talent before taking on the world. Bands and artists are able to build local fan bases, sell music, get interviews, and play and hear their music on several local FM radio stations. The Valley of the Sun also boasts decent proximity to the West Coast and some parts of the Midwest for basing a DIY touring operation.
To establish the credentials of the bands we've interviewed, here are the bands are some reference points:
Doll Skin has been building their presence with almost constant touring of the U.S. since 2016, including festival appearances on Vans Warped Tour and Ship Rocked. They went international with a European run in early 2018. They are also currently crushing it on the final Vans Warped Tour here in 2018.
After becoming a "Heavy Nedal" overnight internet sensation, Okilly Dokilly has recently gotten off a year of heavy international touring with over 100 shows in the U.S. and Canada, and were a part of the Mockstrocity Tour of 2017.
The Darts have also been touring almost nonstop since 2017 throughout the U.S. and Europe, with festival appearances in Europe in both 2017 and 2018 at SJock Festival. They are also supporting The Damned in their U.S. tour circuit this fall.
Jared and The Mill have also been another constant touring machine since around 2015, with over 17 U.S. runs under their belt, including performances at Firelfly, SXSW, and Life is Beautiful. The "five best friends from AZ" have recently become an international act as well, and they head out for next their run with Arizona darlings Lydia on July 25.
Phoenix New Times asked members of these bands about their experiences, and why touring has been so important to their growth.
NT: How has consistent touring opened up doors for your band?
Meghan Herring, Doll Skin: Consistent touring has opened up many, many doors for us. Touring is a beast, but if they are long and all over the U.S., you really do begin to see a following in time. Our first few tours were with Otep, and her fans really helped spread word about us far and wide. People started taking interest in picking us up to tour more, so we say yes to everything and hit the road! The more you tour, the more word gets out about your band. Venues will want you back, bands will want to play shows with you, and progress is made!
NT: When Okilly Dokilly first broke onto the international scene, how did you go about preparing to take on touring as a band?
Head Ned, Okilly Dokilly: Our first realization that we had to tour was when we got offered the opening spot on the five-week Mockstrocity Tour with Mac Sabbath and Metalachi. We had never toured before and pretty much had to start from scratch. We bought a van from a church and named it Ned Vanders. I spent a bunch of time online reading every list of touring tips and every horror story from the road that I could find, but every band is different.
We over-prepared for some things and under-prepared for others. You never know what touring will throw at you, so a "come what may" attitude is essential. As for some more tangible things that we did to prep for touring? We insured our gear. As much as it goes against the Flanders mentality [Okilly Dokilly is internet famous as being the world's only Nedal band, and almost all of the song lyrics are direct quotes from The Simpson's character Ned Flanders] that insurance is a form of gambling; we broke character a bit for that. We got an agent; they're way worth it if you can get one to work with you. I built a big Excel spreadsheet and used that to tour-manage. When you have to reach out to 30 different venues and ask all of them the same seven-to-10 questions, a big grid of answers helps you remember a lot, like where every venue told you to park.
We invested more in the van than we were comfortable with initially, but I credit the extra checkup from the mechanic and some good fortune to us making it to every one of nearly 100 shows on tour. All in all, make sure everything you do works toward the main goal of making it to the show, putting on a quality performance, and making sure the band and the fans are having fun. Keep pushing that, and the need to tour will become apparent. It did for us when our biggest show happened mid-tour in Calgary, about 1,500 miles north and in a whole other country from our hometown.
New Times: How did taking chances touring help your career?
Nicole Laurenne, The Darts: Taking chances – meaning spending the money, really – on touring outside of our hometown has changed the game for all of my bands so far. Everyone everywhere is saturated online with so much music to listen to, and so many sources telling them to watch this video, and support this crowdfunding effort, and follow this artist. Really, the only way to break through that noise is to go be there, and make some actual noise for them. That way, their local media has a reason to spotlight you, the venues help promote the show, people at some point in their day get offline finally, and go out for a beer, and ... there you are.
After you do this a few times, you start building a little band resume that gives you some credibility to reach out to farther venues and bigger headliners for slots on their bills. But beyond the publicity, it forces you to become a pro. You have to arrange transportation, equipment, band members, lodging, meals, sound checks, parking, networking, merchandise stocking and selling. It really requires you as an artist to get good at everything surrounding your music, so that you can get your music out there to people more and more effectively. The world is totally full of artists, at every level, who stubbornly want to sit back and let their music do all the work; it's a rock star dream for sure. But the sooner an artist funds and actually plans his or her own success, the odds go up about 100 percent that things will start happening one way or another.
It's not cheap – I recommend keeping that day job – and it's full of constant rejections and roadblocks. But The Darts find ways around every roadblock we can. We just don't stop and fuss. Life is too short for that. Write great songs, spend a little on good recordings of them, make an entertaining video, and get it out to other bands and bookers in places you want to see. If all else fails, I guarantee it will be the most memorable vacation of your life.
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NT: How has touring changed the life and culture of your band?
Jared Kolesar, Jared and The Mill: I think the culture of the band has been shaped hugely by tour and life on the road. We’ve been out at it more or less for the vast majority of the past six years, and we’ve developed a lifestyle around it. It’s a really hard lifestyle, but we’ve somehow made it fun. We have a lot of inside jokes, humor makes everything seem not so bad, and has afforded us the ability to all handle sleeping on the ground in empty houses, staying up for 42-hour drives, all being sick and tired of being sick and tired, and all the other challenges a band faces when trying to make their dreams happen.
We also are good at coming together, and supporting one another through hard times, and we’ve learned a lot about being good men and friends with each other. It’s not always easy to deal with breakups or dying family members, etc., on the road, but when such events happen we’re good at helping whoever may be hurt heal themselves and support them. It’s a strong lesson in camaraderie to do what we do, and we’re grateful to be able to do it.
It’s really odd being at home. After a couple of weeks being back, we start texting each other at night about how odd it is to sleep in the same bed every night, or how we don’t understand what everybody does with their time. We’ve really established a lifestyle around each other, to the point where we have a fake religion around the two "gods" of tour, Steven and Derrick. Steven is the god of hospitality and good fortune, Derrick is the god of chaos and misfortune. They bring balance to the road, and mold our lives as they see fit.