Graduating from a handful of local gigs to a multi-city tour can take your band into more uncharted territory than you might expect. For expert advice on how to handle the change together, we decided to tap the navigational skills of a young band that’s booked their own tours, logged some serious highway miles, and agreed to share their stories. We caught up with Katie Larson, Savannah Buist and Michael Dause of The Accidentals at the beginning of a 35-city tour.
Meet The Accidentals
Within a couple years of graduation from high school, they were named Billboard‘s Breakout Band at SXSW 2015 and Huffington Post’s Sweet Sixteen of 2016. Along the way, the indie-folk trio shared stages with Sixto Rodriguez (Sugar Man), Ladysmith Black Mambazo, The Wailers, Andrew Bird, Joan Baez and lots of others. In 2017, Yahoo Music included The Accidentals in their Top Ten Bands to Watch 2017.
Check out their song “KW” to get a sense of their music:
Given the band’s brand-new Sony Masterworks record deal, you’d think that the days of roughing it on the road might be a fading memory. It turns out that while these young phenoms have learned a lot in a short time about being professional musicians, they’re still learning how to survive long tours like their current grueling schedule of over 230 dates a year.
Here’s what they had to say when we asked for details.
Ryan Smith: How are the tours you’re doing today different than your early expeditions?
Katie Larson: Every tour is its own animal. Sav and I got our start playing four-hour sets at bars and breweries when we were in high school. It was just the two of us then, but we’ve grown to include Michael Dause on the drums, an amazing tour manager, and two sound engineers. This month, Jake Allen is special-guesting on keys and guitar.
The venues we play on tour have always been really diverse, and that hasn’t changed. We still try to say yes to every opportunity. We’ve played museums, living rooms, jazz clubs, theaters, radio shows, crack-of-dawn TV interviews, listening rooms, elementary schools, workshops, churches, music festivals, weddings (yes, weddings), arenas…you name it.
Little by little, we’ve become professional troubleshooters. We’ve learned about car maintenance, graphic design, electrical engineering, travel planning, nutritional science, marketing, people management, and finance in addition to playing and writing music.
Michael Dause: It’s been really interesting to see our fan base grow. On some of our first tours around the country, we’d play to rooms of maybe 5 or 10 people. After playing the same city over the course of a few years, that number increased to 20, then 40, and so on. The shows keep getting bigger, and so does our tour rig. We started with the three of us packed in an Expedition. Now we have a nine-person van with a trailer.
RS: What are the most important lessons you’ve learned about touring?
Sav Buist: The first is to take care of yourself. When you sit in a van for up to 22 hours a day, it’s easy to forget to eat or stay hydrated. You’re not getting much exercise in that environment, so we each have our own workouts. We try to go to Whole Foods whenever we can to see who can buy the most healthy food under $20.
The second is to ask for what you need. It’s not wise to try and take everything on by yourself.
The third (but certainly not the least important) lesson is that being present is key. We’re all Type A personalities who love consistency, which is hilarious because the road can be anything but consistent.
KL: I’ve realized just how little I really need to survive. No one cares what my hair looks like when I walk into a gas station at 3 AM. And I’ve learned how useful Gold Bond powder is in 100% humidity at a music festival. The lifestyle lends itself easily to unhealthy habits, so I think one of the most important lessons we’ve learned is to take care of our bodies and our minds.
MD: Be honest on the road. Emotions are always running high. There’s no time to hold a grudge against someone for something said five days ago. That, and no more than one trip to Taco Bell per tour. You will regret the second trip.
RS: What does it feel like to have accomplished so much so early in your careers?
SB: We were overachievers in school, and that carries into our daily life now. We work really hard playing hundreds of shows a year. We also handle band finances, manage our social media presence using a WiFi hotspot in the back of the van, and we’re constantly thinking of ways to change the story. In the end, age is a number.
KL: Sometimes I need to take a step back to appreciate what we’ve been able to experience. We’re lucky to have supportive families, a supportive team, and supportive communities who make what we do possible. A lot of people think that we’re working too hard. But when you’re following your dream and you see it paying off, it’s an amazing feeling.
MD: The community that embraced the band at home in Michigan has steadily grown to more and more places as we travel. It’s almost impossible to express how incredibly fortunate we are to have had these opportunities at such a young age.
RS: What’s next for the band?
KL: We’re looking forward to touring internationally for the first time. We have an ever-evolving wish list that includes meeting some of our favorite artists (like St. Vincent) and playing dream venues (like Red Rocks). Mostly, we’re happy to be making music and taking it one step at a time.
SB: We signed with Sony Music Masterworks last year, and we’re putting out a new album, Odyssey, this summer. The album is about the past two years of growth and change, but it’s also about what lies ahead and learning to move forward boldly—not in the absence of fear, but in spite of it.
We also upgraded to the Shure PSM® 300 wireless rigs for our violin and cello and personal in ear-monitor systems, so this is an untethered year for us! We’ll be sprinting around at our live shows like a couple of dorks.
As far as the long-term future is concerned, none of us can say what lies ahead. We’re all committed to helping each other succeed, and we all have goals like performing at NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts and Red Rocks or meeting Adam Savage and Ani DiFranco. For now, we’ll keep touring, recording music, geeking out over audio technology, scoring for orchestras, making dorky music videos, and being present and enjoying every moment of what we are so lucky to able to do full time.
More Touring Tips from The Accidentals
- Check out sites like Indie on the Move that have extensive databases and email services that can help you reach venues and bookers to plan your tour.
- Purchase an E-Z Pass for your car so you don’t have to stop at tollbooths.
- Create a shared Google spreadsheet that includes all the tour details: venue and contact info, lodging, production details, miles or hours to the next gig, even points of interest along the way. Update it with information—names of the venue’s staff, for instance—from your gigs.
- Set up an account that lets you use your mobile devices to process merchandise sales.
- You have to be able to sell yourself. When we started, we just pretended one of us was the manager. We sent emails from “Management.”
- Use social media to stay in touch with your fan base and announce shows. Promote upcoming gigs on Facebook, Twitter and Bands in Town. Don’t forget to shoot tour videos along the way.
- Merchandise is promotion, so bring an assortment of it. Make sure you have pricing signs, displays and your own table. Most fans will want to pay by credit card, but bring a cash bag with about $75 in small bills to start.
Life on the Road
- Make sure you have a car charger for mobile devices.
- Roadside Assistance is a plus. AAA saved us several times.
- Exercise your mind. Podcasts, TED talks, Headspace and audio books can be helpful.
- Document each day with a line or two in a journal or on your personal Instagram to help you recall the adventures along the way.
- Be aware. When you drop your gear on the stage, make sure you leave a walkway for the house engineer.
- Sound check is not rehearsal. Don’t noodle. Sound engineers can make you or break you, and it annoys them when they have to work to get your attention. Listen intently and respond. Sound check first, rehearse later.
- Engage with the audience and sign merch.
Safety and Security
- Park in a well-lit area or as close as possible to the venue.
- Load out is a group activity. Everyone should help.
- Clean up after yourself. We always make sure that the green room is spotless before we go.
- Leave a token of thanks, even if it’s just a note or a card.
- If you’re the opener, offer to help the headliner with merchandise, water or anything that’s reasonable. Leave them a CD or swag. Building relationships is important at every level of your band’s success.
Michael Dause on His PG ALTA™ Drum Mic Kit
“I use the PGA56s on both my toms and snare drum,” says Dause. “They’re able to capture a full sound of all my drums, and the compact size means I don’t hit the microphones as easily. I’m a bit all over the place when I play, so having microphones that do the job and stay out of the way is crucial.
“My overhead mics are PGA81s. Their sound is subtle,” he explains, “which is nice since I tend to play my cymbals fairly hot. The high end isn’t deafening, which works well for in-ear monitoring and our style of music.”