Matthew de Zoete released his debut album in 2006 and has been touring relentlessly since then. He released his third album, Colour Film earlier this year, launching it with a European release tour. We asked Matthew to share some tips about taking his music across the ocean.
In His Words…
A prophet is never accepted in his hometown. The grass is always greener on the other side. Despite not actually being a prophet, I took these aphorisms to heart and started booking my own European tours in 2008. Having heard that a good market exists for music that might be called roots/singer-songwriter/independent in The Netherlands and Germany (NL and DE), I decided to start with these two countries. Since then, I’ve toured there four times, playing over 130 shows in total, developing a fan base, and making a profit each time.
In case you’d like to give it a try, here are a few ideas I’ve found to be helpful:
Many venues in NL and DE book further in advance than is typical in Canada. Some larger venues and well known live music series book 14-18 months in advance, although 6-12 months is more common. Some venues do book only 1-3 months ahead, but planning at least a year in advance is best.
Booking a tour always involves contacting many people and dealing with a flood of information, and doing it overseas only complicates things. Establish and maintain a good organizational system to keep track of everything you’ve done and need to do.
This goes without saying if you’re an independent musician, but even more so if you’re booking your own overseas tour. Not knowing Dutch or German won’t be a stumbling block, but not working hard enough will. I’ve found that a higher ratio of bookers in NL and DE don’t reply to emails (sometimes just at first, sometimes ever), so finding and contacting many more venues than you’ll actually play is a good idea. This involves a lot of research, but fortunately, Google knows almost everything.
Determine where you will tour, and then search for live music venues in those places. Almost every venue has a website with contact info and an agenda. Figure out which venues host the type of music you play and when. Asking to play a solo acoustic concert on a Wednesday night at a venue that hosts only full bands on Saturdays isn’t of much help.
Find musicians making similar or compatible music in the regions you’ll tour and see where they’re playing. Don’t hesitate to contact them to ask questions or see if they might be interested in playing a show together.
There are many people and organizations that can help independent musicians and songwriters. You can often find them online by Googling a city name and ‘live music’ or ‘songwriters’. For example, NL has several city- or region-specific Songwriters Guilds such as the Amsterdam Songwriters Guild, Den Haag Songwriters Guild, and Central Songwriters Guild. They’ve been quite helpful for me, and they might be for you as well.
Play Your Strengths
Being from North America and being a native English speaker (probably the same for French in France and parts of Belgium) is a real plus. Coming from the culture that spawned this type of music and your mastery of its native language give you a certain authenticity in NL and DE (either actual or perceived) and help you stand out. Make sure everyone you contact knows you’re coming from Canada.
If possible, touring with a new record is a good idea.
Depending on your family history, touring in the country or region from which your ancestors came and making that connection known to people you contact can also attract attention and generate interest. The fact that my parents were born in NL has occasionally been helpful in booking or promoting a show.
Try House Concerts
Beside the wealth of music venues in NL and DE, there are also many people interested in hosting house concerts and other unconventional performances as they are still quite new and exciting in these countries. There are some house concert organizations (such as Live in Your Living Room in NL), but you can also find individuals through music forums and local musicians. Couchsurfing.com is another great resource – I’ve found that many Couchsurfers are eager to host and/or attend house concerts.
These are just a few general tips for booking your own tours overseas. There’s much more to it than can be covered here, but it mostly comes down to planning well in advance and spending countless hours on the computer. It doesn’t sound like much fun (because it’s not), but the potential rewards are worth it – a profitable trip overseas playing your music and building your fanbase.