10 Do's and Don'ts For Your First European Tour

These guys did it, so why can't you?
These guys did it, so why can't you?
Photo by Ruby Dave/Courtesy of W. Flynn

In August, we loaded our backpacks and emptied our savings to follow my son and his band on its first-ever European tour. Whichever adjectives coax to mind any simultaneously challenging and wildly rewarding experience, they all apply. Including the band’s four members, our group numbered ten in all. Before any of us were ragtag groupies and before they were an act with a European following, we were all just friends and family. The tour was a beautiful reminder of how important those ties are, particularly when you’re far from home and in unique circumstances daily. We learned, or re-learned, a lot about each other.

We also learned a little about surviving an ambitious D.I.Y. music exercise. In all, the band’s tour included more than a dozen countries, two festivals, 25 shows in 30 days and one 12-hour detention by the British border patrol. There were some mistakes and many right steps that made it easy to compile a list of Do’s and Don’t’s to share with any act set to conquer Europe for the first time. Here’s a list of tips to make your first trek Over There a smooth and memorable one.

This should be the most obvious, dum-dum advice among these entries. Its inclusion underscores how critical it is to know what the hell you’re getting into. From the simplest things, like purchasing the voltage converters you’ll need to charge electronics in the UK and mainland Europe (two different types of electrical outlets, two different converters) to knowing which country uses what currency (Pounds? Euros? Francs? Kunas?), the more you know the easier and better your experience will be. Buy and read guidebooks, follow the news in the countries you’ll be visiting, use all the travel apps your smartphone will hold (especially Google Translate). Most importantly, create a budget and steadfastly stick to it. Make a plan, a backup plan and an “aw hell” plan for every conceivable circumstance.

If you're going to succeed, you can't lie down on the job
If you're going to succeed, you can't lie down on the job
Jesse Sendejas Jr.

If you plan to perform overseas and get paid for it, you may need credentials which allow this to occur. The best, no-questions-asked solution to any immigration issue might be to apply for working visas. That can be expensive, though; and, it might be unnecessary. Depending on how long you’ll be touring, how much money you’ll earn, whether your shows have a sponsor and are considered permit-free cultural events, you may not need a working visa. European Union countries seem far less concerned with permitted music activities for visitors than the United Kingdom. Musicians’ stories about being questioned, harassed and banned by the UK Border Agency are plentiful. Our best advice is to check with the UK Visas and Immigration International Enquiry Service. You’ll get to explain your plans to an actual person and get a case number, which may prove helpful.

Someone takes the business lead in any band, and the band member who handled the tour we followed did an outstanding job. It took her about a year to piece together what she could. She was also smart enough to reach out for help to groups that book shows in Europe. In our case, Pumpkin Records did an amazing job setting up shows, promoting them, making band accommodations and just being there in general. Find someone who knows the local music scenes and the audiences best suited for your music to enhance your band’s chances at a successful tour.

The group spelled out its appreciation for its driver and new friend, Holly
The group spelled out its appreciation for its driver and new friend, Holly
Jesse Sendejas Jr.

Trains, planes, ferries — you will likely need them all to move around Europe; but the best option is to drive. If you have driver duties in your band, encourage your bandmates to give you a break and hire a driver. Why? If you’re driving in the U.K., you’ll have to master a) the steering wheel on the passenger’s side of the car; b) driving on the left side of the road; c) maneuvering the roundabouts; d) not drifting into curbs because you’re not used to driving so near oncoming traffic; and e) teaching yourself to drive stick (much cheaper to rent than automatic transmission) with your left hand.  In mainland Europe, everything is as it is here in the States, only twice as fast (“Move, Bitch” is the theme song for the German autobahns).

Seriously, just hire a driver like Holly, the badass Brit who drove for and befriended the band. She was fearless in getting a massive van filled with incorrigibles from Texas from one gig to the next and tolerated none of their shenanigans (unless she too was ensconced in them). Or, Jack, who made all the right turns by day and got turnt by night. These professionals knew where they were headed and kept everyone safe - their basic duties. All the fun we had with them besides was an added bonus.

Berlin, London and Paris might sound appealing, but focusing only on the large European cities will hamper your chances at reaching people in the fundamental way that helps you grow an audience. Some of the best places we visited, and some of the most fervent audiences, were in spots like Tubingen, Germany and Diest, Belgium. These smaller cities also take you off the tourist track and give you a clearer view of how people live elsewhere.

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