05 - Brass Tacks

We toured as an acoustic duo for 14 months from February 2016 to April 2017. 70,000 miles, 150 shows, from Chicago to San Diego, from Vancouver BC to the Florida Keys, from Los Angeles to the tip of Cape Cod and back again. Gigs everywhere. Want to know how?

Q) How did you, an unknown acoustic duo, book 200 paying gigs all over the country?
A) Almost exclusively by email.
We picked the routes we wanted to take, then emailed every appropriate venue we could find in each state along the route. About 2-3% responded. We booked as many of those as we could. Each email we sent had a soundcloud link to one of our songs, a youtube link to one of our videos, a one-sheet describing the band attached as a jpg file, and a short email describing who we were and the specific date or date range we were looking to play their venue. We set up a gMail account for Sugar Still, and created a website where they could see our epk and tour calendar.

Q) What type of venues did you play?
A) We played mostly craft breweries, but also some distilleries, wineries, and other more traditional venues like clubs, concert series, and festivals.

Q) How did you find the venues you played?
A) Mostly from google maps, but some through Instagram tags, other bands tour calendars, craigslist, friend's suggestions, and state brewery or winery guild websites. I built a database app so we could quickly add venues into our database using google and google maps and keep notes. We'd pick a city on our route, let's say Phoenix for example, and then search for breweries, distilleries, wineries, and live music venues in google maps. A quick copy and paste would add the venue to our database. Once we confirmed an email address or contact form, we'd move on to the next venue until we'd entered as many appropriate venues as we could find. The next day we'd email all of them. The app I made could generate personalized emails to each venue, so we could send 20, 30, 100, or even 500 emails at a time if we wanted. Then we'd research the next city on the route and repeat the process.

Q) How much money did you make?
A) We took gigs with guarantees between $50 and $500 per gig. We took very few gigs that had no guarantee and needed a draw because we had no draw and we knew it. Some places payed better than others. Our target guarantee was $300, which we got pretty regularly, but we didn't always get it. Some guarantees included lodging, meals, growlers to go, six-packs, bottles of wine, etc. Depending on the venue we sometimes made another $150 in tips, our average wound up being about $75 in tips. In college towns we found we made very little or nothing in tips, in one college town brewery with a packed house and a $300 guarantee we made $1 in tips. One. Dollar.

Q) Where did you sleep?
A) We slept in the van most nights, usually in rest areas, but we also stayed at friend's houses, camped in national or state parks, and occasionally splurged on motels (mostly so we'd have wifi and could hunker down to book more shows). Some venues provided housing, like an apartment upstairs for example, and some provided a motel room.

Q) What did you eat?
A) We carried a camp stove and cooked a lot at rest areas and parks, regularly stopping to cook breakfast, lunch, or dinner. We kept two small coolers between the seats filled with fresh vegetables, hummus, cheese, garlic, sriracha, etc. and bought food at grocery stores every couple days. Some venues provided meals. Sarah posted recipes in our email newsletter pretty often.

4-star accommodations with Sugar Still. Breakfast with an ocean view. Live entertainment....

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The view wasn't always so great...

Green Mountain roadside breakfast near Bennington VT. #moresugar #morebreakfast #roadwarriors #vermont #capecodherewecome

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Q) What was your tour vehicle?
A) For the first three weeks we had a 4-door subcompact car (a Toyota Echo), but it broke down and we bought a minivan in Denver (a 2003 Kia Sedona) for $1800. We threw away the rear seats and built a platform in the back using a piece of plywood and 2-inch PVC pipe so we could sleep on top and store our PA and gear underneath. We'd pile our instruments in the front seat to clear off the bed for sleeping. We made curtains using bungie cords and pieces of fabric we found at a resale shop in Ventura California.

Repacking day.

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Here's a photo of the platform I made out of plywood and PVC pipe. About $130 in raw materials including a piece of plywood, PVC pipe, PVC connectors, PVC endcaps, mounting brackets, screws, and a piece of carpet. Later on we bought three 1/4" foam mattress toppers and stacked them inside a futon cover.

Q) How far did you drive?
A) We drove about 5000 miles per month, 70,000 miles in 14 months. We rarely drove more than 500 miles between gigs, and usually kept it under 400 miles driving on gig days. More than once we left a venue at 10pm and drove most of the night to get to the next gig. A couple times we made runs of over 1000 miles between gigs, but we gave ourselves a couple days to make those long runs. The van got about 20-22mpg and gas cost on average about $2.25/gal while we toured, so we spent about $8000 on gas, give or take, over the 70,000 miles. We got oil changes every 3000 miles or so, at around $30 per oil change, so that's like 23 oil changes... let's say $700 on oil changes. We bought a couple sets of tires. We had quite a few repairs, including a pretty pricey steering column replacement and 3 or 4 bearing replacements. Brakes too. It was a lot. I'm afraid to go look at the receipts. One thing we did was get a lifetime tire rotation and alignment deal at Firestone and we used it A LOT. We were a tour sponsor of Firestone, they made a metric shit tonne of money off of us. And no, it was not the other way around, they didn't sponsor us... we definitely sponsored them.

Q) Did you bring your own PA?
A) At first we used two Genz Benz Shenandoah 150-LT combo amps, one for each of us, and we each ran an instrument and a vocal mic through our own amps. Eventually we bought a small mixer, monitor, and speaker stands and used the Genz Benz amps as powered speakers.

Here's a photo of the original setup...

Sarah rocking the ukulele for Charnock Road Elementary School. #moresugar #morekids #musicinschools #livemusic #acousticduo

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And here's a photo of the fuller setup...

Q) What were some of your most memorable moments?
A) Sarah burying the van to it's axles in sand in a New Mexico state park. Sleeping next the the ocean in a torrential rain storm in the Ho Rainforest in Washington. A full moon hike in the Arizona desert without flash lights (you didn't need them). Hanging out with the alligators in the Everglades. Waking up on a Monday morning in Oregon with almost no money... and no paying gigs for 10 days. A fantastic Wednesday night gig a golf course in Pasadena that we found on craigslist. Sarah dropping me off at a brewery in Albuquerque and not being sure if she was really coming back to pick me up. Watching the sun come up in Key West. Watching a giant orange moon come up over the mountains in Mexico. Making this video on my iPhone in Myrtle Beach...