By Jed Bookout
“Worst case scenario, we have a great time.”
This is the simple philosophy Michael Kilker and his band Tidemouth believe in.
“I think my favorite memory [of tour] is driving over night through Northern California towards Oregon,” said Kilker. “We stumbled upon a beautiful beach with the darkest blue waters. It was that moment I thought to myself, ‘I would never be here if it wasn’t for the band.’”
Kilker, like so many young musicians his age, used to merely dream of things like this. He is the vocalist for local Valencia based hardcore band Tidemouth, and has been afforded many opportunities men his age can only dream of because of the DIY Touring circuit, a loosely banded affiliation of musicians, promoters, and casual fans across the world that help provide bands with shows, places to stay, other contacts and even food.
DIY (Do-It-Yourself) Touring is the act of traveling across the country and possibly the world without the representation of a manager or record label, generally costing the artist on tour money out of their own pocket. Bands and promoters and sometimes even fans are in contact with each other, trading contact information all in the name of helping each other out in areas that were otherwise inaccessible prior to the tour.
The origins of DIY in touring are not entirely clear, though it is often credited as coming into fruition with punk rock musicians in the 1970’s. The goal was to bypass the traditional major label and management system bands had been relying on for years altogether and essentially manage themselves. They would act as their own booking agent, promoter and manager all in one.
Knowledge about DIY Touring is spread almost entirely via word of mouth, and has exploded in popularity now the internet.
Mark Sarich, owner of the Lemp Neighborhood Arts Center in St. Louis, is a firm believer in the success of the self-made tour.
“It’s not about DIY. It’s never been about DIY.” says Sarich. “It’s about DIT: do-it-together. Help someone out, they will help you. It’s that simple.”
One of the few things tying otherwise unrelated bands together is a strong work ethic. These bands will book their performances ahead of time with someone they’ve come into contact with on the internet, on the phone, or through friends of friends.
“Instead of playing in ‘rock clubs’ with stages, lights, smoke machines and having to deal with ridiculous things like that,” said Green. “We get to play in spaces that people who care about putting on a show go out of their way to make sure happens… that kind of community beats trying to do this any other way for me any day of the week.”
“At the end of the day you may have to completely rely on strangers to throw together something for you,” said Kilker. “It’s a truly wonderful feeling arriving to a city that you’ve never been to in your life and meeting friendly faces.”
Bands rely on guaranteed sums of money, or sometimes even “door splits,” which are percentage-based deals agreed upon with a show promoter ahead of time, to get from one stop to the next. These guarantees are often only $100-150, just enough to get an artist to the next city.
Bands make extra cash on ticket sales at the door, or even just from donations by friends and fans across the country, as well as the sales of their merchandise such as t-shirts, posters, cd’s, records and more. Oftentimes, the money earned is funneled back into the merchandise and touring for later.
Not every band makes money though. This is why many bands end up financing these tours out of pocket, spending grand sums that could potentially cost them thousands of dollars.
“Financially we have yet to make money off of a tour,” said Kilker. “That’s fine with me. Yeah, it would be great to not lose money, that’s what every musician dreams of. All art should be a labor of love. If you can make money doing music, great. It’s not a priority.”
DIY Touring, on average, will cost most young bands thousands of dollars because of gas, food, vehicle upkeep, room and board (though most bands opt to stay with friends or strangers to avoid this expense), instrument repair, and the price of the vehicle itself. Even with lowered gas prices, a two week trip to the Atlantic coast and back would cost $3,000 in gas alone.
The lack of stability combined with the necessity to have another job just to bankroll the endeavor may sound horrifying to some, however, Green insists it is anything but.
“I like the idea of sleeping on a stranger’s couch. I like having ridiculous stories to tell. The DIY culture means everything because it allows all of that to happen.”
Saugus native David Green of the punk band Moonraker, another local SCV band in the trending circuit, describes in detail the experience of his band’s last tour.
“We played bars, living rooms, basements, warehouses, parks, and a few actual music venues. We played a festival in Montreal and got to spend three days in Canada with some of our best friends,” says Green on his experience on tour.
“We made more money then we ever have before, not that we made a lot of money, but it was enough that before the tour was midway through we already had enough that if for some reason we didn’t make anymore money the rest of the tour, we’d still be able to make it home.”
Despite the enthusiasm the men face for the music and the traveling, DIY touring still costs money and as such, is not the only job either men have. Green moonlights as a drum line coach at a high school when he’s not selling pizzas at a local pizzeria, while Kilker is an administrator at a charter high school.
Tidemouth recently released new music in January, while Moonraker released their newest EP, “String Theory,” last April.