How Do I Get Booked on an Amazing Tour and What Should it Cost?

Major labels generally give a new act $75,000-$150,000 in what they call “Deficit Tour Support.” It is enough? Let’s see. And what about the average unsigned act? How much should they budget to mount a successful tour and how do they get access to those great opening slots?

The following is a sample chapter/excerpt from the revolutionary tell-all book by music business veteran, MOSES AVALON, 100 Answers to 50 Questions on the Music Business. Enjoy.

Moses Avalon

Touring is more expensive than recording and at least as important. Yet very few emerging artists I know reserve very much money for this essential item, or even ask the key question: “how much should I spend?” Instead many inexperienced acts, blow their wad on the recording and then wonder why their record didn’t “blow up.” Marketing and touring are too often neglected and the results (or lack thereof) show when acts are left to wander the desert of doubt looking for answers to reach the next level. If this sounds like you, well, you’ve come to the right page. Let’s dig in.

First off, I know many reading this are still touring in your local clubs. For you, the numbers in this piece are going to seem unreachable. Two points: One, this is a great window into what your competing bands are spending, and two, remember that all bands, able to afford these budgets below, were once just like you. So, have faith and think of this as a look ahead.

Tours generally last from four to six weeks for newbie acts (one or two albums on an indie selling under 30,000 units a year) and six to 12 weeks for larger national acts. International acts know no real time or monetary limits. They go where they want when they want, and their budget is based on higher economics. But for the average emerging and mid-sized act, what’s the deal?

Having never packaged a tour myself, I asked some of my experienced manager readers (who handle the range from national acts, to ones with barely 1000 fans on Facebook) to write in with their advice. Here’s what I got.


Artists or “branded tours” (like Warped) capable of packing large venues are a very small minority of the industry as a whole. They have many opening-act suitors and therefore bargain accordingly!

Back in the ’60s and ’70s, an opening act slot was generally given as a gift by a major act to a friend who was a local act. The national act changed local openers more-or-less, with each city. Not any more. At the entry level, most emerging acts have to “buy” their way onto a decent tour.

Promoters and bands themselves, have learned that ticket sales are only one form of tour revenue. You can also charge money to each vendor who wants to service the audience; that includes the opening slot, or a second (side) stage near the concession stands–or restrooms. Even a sub-tour, with a separate mobile “acoustic room” within the main tour. All these slots are for sale, usually trough a tour packaging agent who takes a “buy-on.”

This money, paid to the agent, is spread around to various persons who ultimately get you the right opening slot. It’s not like payola, which is covert and sneaky and a fraud. This is a legitimate fee paid to cover overhead, commissions and marketing savvy.

Buy-ons are measured in thousands. Often tens-of-thousands. (Which makes the Sunset Strip club owners, who mandate that you buy $200 worth of tickets to your own show, seem benevolent.) It’s not a mere gatekeeper fee. You’re paying to ensure that you’re getting a solid match of your music with an top act who’s audience will yield high potential for “conversion.” That means new people who have not heard you yet, but will become a fan after hearing you. Does all this sound a bit contrived?

Grocery stores get fees from vendors whose products are displayed in their weekly ads or next to other products that are similar or complimentary. Such as toothpaste next to soap. You think candy is always on the bottom shelf because there is no room at the top? No; it’s because children can reach it there. Candy companies pay markets to ensure that their product does not end up next to the toothpaste.

You want music fans to sample your candy? You have to put it where it can be reached. Think of a national tour like prime shelf space and the buy-on the price for getting high-yield conversions.

So, how much!?!

To do something like the five-day Warped Tour or carry a one-to-three-week leg of a national act, both of which i would call a mini tour— a band would need about $80K. It would break down like this:

$50,000 – Buy-on fee.
$8,000 – Crew salaries: driver, merch master at arms (often a girlfriend), personal roadie/drum tech/guitar tech and one tour manager.
$5,000 – Transportation (in a van you already own)
$10,000 – Lodging (don’t expect more than the Days Inn at this level)
$7,000 – Miscellaneous (repairs to gear, incidentals, per diem [$20/day])
Total $80,000

You want exposure? Exposure is not cheap. Naturally, there are ways to trim this budget. One client of mine did a three-week leg of a major tour for $8,000. (They slept in the van, cut out the techs and tuned their own instruments, used the house mixer, no monitor mixer, combined the role of driver with road manger, and were their own packaging agent.) But the results are rarely as satisfying.

Acts often find sponsors to put up the cash or are forced to balance the personal expense with the hope that the investment will probably yield millions of dollars in national print, radio interviews, increased airplay as well as playing in front of 250,000+ people who don’t necessarily know your music and wouldn’t otherwise.

Remember that if it wasn’t worth it, people would probably not do it. And they do it every day.


A more established mid-level act (one with perhaps a gold single/album) would generally budget about double the mini tour: between $120,000 and $150,000.

Are they paying themselves more? Not really. Per diems notch up a bit to about $30 a day. A lot of the new money is eaten up by THE BUS. Yes, the big thing you see parked, with the cool psychedelic designs. That giant costs about $750 to $1,500 a day plus enough fuel to fly a B-52 to France.

Other new expenses are costumes, sets, lighting/effects, the production and logistics of merchandise to be sold and more crew: your own mixer and monitor person, security, and a tour manager to coordinate every aspect of the tour and interact with all the production staff, other acts, your agent, manager, girlfriends/boyfriends, groupies, and stalkers, and especially to make sure you get on the bus and on to the next gig on time and in one piece.

When it comes to the buy-on, do you think you get a break now that you’ve pierced the bubble with a hit? Nope. You still pay, and it might even go up quite a bit. In the case of a newer platinum-selling artist going on an arena band tour with Mötley Crüe or Aerosmith, the buy-on could be as high as $250K. (In a rare event, it could be zero if they have the same management or the national act wants to try to poach fans from a potent sophomore act.)

Moses Avalon's 100 Answers to 50 Questions on the Music Business

This is only a fraction of the information I have to say on this subject. In my book, 100 Answers to 50 Questions on the Music Business I give you detailed budgets for tours, from small to mid sized, as well as what acts spend on marketing those tours. A whole other money pit that needs to be watched carefully.

What can you add to this discussion? Have you found better or cheaper ways to get on a big tour? Have you been ripped off by a promoter or tour packaging agent? Share your knowledge and be heard by posting below. Your contribution helps others.

Check out what other questions are asked and answered in my new book. I think you’ll agree with my many readers that if you only buy one book on the business in the next five years, it ought to be this one. Support this site and expand your knowledge by getting your copy today. CLICK HERE.


16 responses to “How Do I Get Booked on an Amazing Tour and What Should it Cost?”

  1. broshow says:

    $80K??? This is the old model. It’s a DIY world now. The Defranco’s and Corey Smith’s never needed that stuff.
    I would suggest that instead, you record your EP or album and nail down the immediate area you live in playing every bar and dive over and over. Expand your region and hit the road, sleep in the van or on the floors of fans apartments, play, play, play. Build a base and grow it. Songkick, Sonicbids, lots of ways to reach fans and bookers. Spend as little as you can and save as much. If you’re good enough and work hard enough, you’ll make a lot more money doing it that way than by giving Aerosmith or whatever $250K to play in front of a bunch of people who don’t care and aren’t there to see you anyway. Are they really your audience, etc.? Can you imagine what you could accomplish by reinvesting that 250 elsewhere?

    • Moses Avalon says:

      For once we agree. This piece however is for after that stage , when you’re ready to go national.

      • JJJ says:

        Moses, does the local scene matter as much as most artists think it does, or can an artist jump into the national game from an having unknown name? Also, would it be more cost effective to buy-on with foreign bands in other countries? Or would that be too risky in terms of getting robbed?

    • Hitman says:

      I’ve seen literally dozens of local bands follow the above advice. Here’s what happens when you “nail down the immediate area you live in playing every bar and dive over and over.”
      People get sick of hearing you. Not if you’re good enough? Nonsense, I’ve know many great bands who couldn’t keep a draw going. There’s just no way to keep a following when they know they can see you next week if they miss you this week. Touring is the only way to go, unless you’re a cover group. Then it’s a whole different story.
      I do agree that investing $250k to open for an act whose audience doesn’t even want to see you is a waste of time and money. “Who opened for The Flaming Warthogs?” “Uh, I dunno. I caught the last couple of songs. They were pretty good, but I don’t remember their name.”
      Then again, if I had $250k (or even $80k) to spend on a “mini-tour”, I believe there are more effective ways to spend it than bribing, er, “paying” agents $50k of that to let me open up for a headliner.
      As Zappa said, I could be totally wrong. We’re scuffling to cover the costs of the new CD and the UK tour coming up!

  2. ellasplayground says:

    “This money, paid to the agent, is spread around to various persons”… Like who?

    Sounds dodge. And even though you say it’s not a payola it smells like one.

    If paying to get the spot is in, then I liken your candy analogy to the top 10 charts… Can people pay their way onto a spot on that shelf?

    • Moses Avalon says:

      I’m guessing that you’re a “9/11 Truther,” and one of thoes people who belive that Jews control the banks. Right?
      Prior to 1991 it was possible to manipulate the charts, but the Soundscan era makes it virtually impossible to “buy” a top ten slot.

      • ellasplayground says:

        Hardly… Conspiracy theories…

        Sorry if I sound like I’m having a bite,

        I’m just passionate about seeing those front acts have a fair go without forking out thousands of dollars “spread to various persons” who can promise them a spot because they received an x amount of piggy bank savings.

        I bring up the top 10 chart spots because I figured that if paying some people who can get you that spotlight show is now the way of the business then maybe it is also possible with charts. I’ll check out soundscan and how it works…

        • Moses Avalon says:

          Yes, you do that. Their main office is in Area 51 right next to the Free Mason lodge.

          • ellasplayground says:

            Lower yourself to name calling all you want Moses I’m here trying to learn something off your experience but thanks for showing me true professionalism in the music industry. Where do you get off, seriously.

          • Moses Avalon says:


            So learn something now:

            1) I didn’t call you any names.
            2) you’re tone did not convey that of someone who wants to “learn something”.
            3) the music space does practice a very rude form of ediquette, so get used to it.
            4) the only space ruder than pop Muisc is the Internet. So a music forum on the Internet requires a tough skin and a sence of humor.
            5) You seem to have niether. I sudgest you try something ellse as a a vocation. You’ll be very disappointed in how rude things get when you actualy make it into the inner circle.

            How’s that for professionalism?

        • Steve Weaver says:

          Your passion is understood. However, Moses post is about the way things are — not the way they were or that we might hope they will be again someday.

  3. Neel Daniel says:

    The play local DYI method is great to a point. But to cross the river to the big stages you need to do the deals.

    In the old days before the mid 90s you could still be the hot local band on the big show bills, which I have serviced many. But it cost so much now to tour this is just part of the progression.

    If 80K isn’t a nice number, look for something smaller. This is what the majors were good for. You had to pay it back, this loan, but they fronted this unseen cash to get you out there.

    Missing them yet?

  4. […] getting a supporting slot on a major tour will not only earn you nothing directly, but might also set you back quite a bit. Nevertheless, the promotional benefits of going on such a tour are likely to be such that it will […]

  5. Kaydee says:

    Well, I have found this to be a very good article. Friends of mine mentioned a buy-on and I had no clue what it was. I don’t know about the numbers but this was very interesting.

  6. ShawnB says:

    What are some of the reputable “buy on” companies out there?

  7. Don Pino says:

    I filled in on drums for a band when they went on the Cruefest 2 tour. I know for a fact that it is not cheap. $75,000 for JUST the buy on. That didn’t include travel and all that jazz. They did provide us with meals and a gaggle of stage hands to move our gear and we became great friends with the sound guys who knew exactly what we wanted after about a week and it was almost like they were our personal sound dudes.

    My main band bought onto a national tour with a 2,000 cap a club band and we paid about $600 a show and did this for about 2 months. It was great exposure though on both tours. was worth the money IF you have the money to spend, luckily we had backers.

    We did do other tours with no buy ons where we actually got paid but these were a lot smaller and we did not sell near as much merch. For me, as long as I am on the road, I am happy. Sometimes you get lucky and go to a 7-11 right when they are closing down the hotdog thing and you get free hot dogs and nachos at no charge, these are the highlights of the tour. Except Cruefest. Damn they had good food(but always brought it out during our soundcheck so I usually had it cold.

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