Whether you like it or not, when you’re touring, selling merch, and making gig money, your band is a business—a limited liability corporation (LLC), if you choose to register that way. As such, it pays to think about how you’re going to manage the business, particularly if you’re touring abroad. Granted, a manager can do this for you—but you have to pay her, don’t you? Why not handle this stuff yourself?
Foreign tours are a high-stakes game. You stand to make money, but you can also lose your butt on an expensive tour. You’re probably going to want to do at least some tourism, see the sites, taste the local food, enjoy the local, uh, substances (no judgments here). At the end of it all, you’re lucky if you can break even.
Take the luck out of it. Check out these tips to ensure you return in a better financial place than where you started.
Beware of Hidden Travel Fees
Going to be using a credit card while on tour? There are hidden travel fees you should know about. One of them is the credit transaction fee. Your credit card company will charge you more just for making a purchase abroad. Typically, the fee is 3 percent of your total purchase, or it’s a flat-fee of $1. Over time, these fees can add up something fierce. If you want to withdraw money from an ATM, there are surcharges on that too. In point of fact: take cash with you or open a band account with a bank that partners with an overseas bank, because you won’t see an added fee for using an ATM.
Another problem is the Value-Added-Tax (VAT) on top of purchases. In Europe, it’s 15 to 25 percent, depending on what country you’re in. But in some countries you can get a VAT refund. Look for stores that offer one. Then, have the merchant fill out a tax free form and attach your receipt. At the airport or border, have the customs office stamp your refund doc, and take it to a refund service. This may seem tedious, but it can save you a lot of money in long haul.
Deduct the Miles You Drive and Other Expenses
This is kind of complicated, but, according to Article 17 of the OECD Tax Convention, “the State in which the activities of a non-resident entertainer or sportsman are performed is allowed to tax the income derived from these activities.” Essentially this means when you’re performing abroad, the countries you play in can tax you on anything you make from the performance. Keep documentation on your expenses, as they figure into your actual income. And register as a business here in the US.
Say, for example, you’re playing in Australia. Going to be driving from Sydney to play a show in Newcastle? Using the band card to buy some witchetty grubs and Anzac biscuits for lunch on the way? Buying some strings at Allans Billy Hyde in Sydney? You can deduct band business expenses on your US taxes, but you have to track your miles and keep your receipts. Thankfully, there are apps for tracking miles and digitizing receipts, so you don’t have to run around like a turkey trying to hang onto your records. Do your research ahead of time and make sure you’re prepared to take full advantage of small business tax deductions. Australia might be able to tax you for your performance, but, here in America, you can get money back for your travel expenses because you’re technically a small business.
Take the Least Amount of Gear Possible
There are limits to how much baggage you can check with airlines, and most types of gear won’t fit in carry-on compartments. Disc Makers offers a pretty good guide on managing your gear during international travel. Basically, it comes down to only taking what you really need. If you can’t stand to transfer those electric piano sounds onto a workstation synth, you’ll have to ship the piano separately. If you’re shipping instruments or checking them with the airline, just make sure they’re well-protected in hardshell cases and/or boxes with styrofoam peanuts. And check with the airline ahead of time on their instrument transport accommodations. Finally, for instruments like drums, find out if there’s house gear available, or ask bands you’ll be playing with if you can use theirs.
Minimize Your Group Size and Rent a Reliable Van
The more people you take with you, the more you have to pay out. Tour managers are great, and it may be tough to part with yours, but are they doing anything you can’t do yourself? The same goes for sound techs and roadies. In terms of a tour van, go with a basic, reliable model. The fancier you get, the more it’ll cost you.
Save on Accommodations
Couchsurfing.com, AirBnB, and hostels are a band’s best friends. If the venue or promoter doesn’t take care of your accommodations, consider looking into an inexpensive space instead. And, it doesn’t hurt to make friends at the show who may offer you a place to stay.
Save on Snacks
Don’t fall for highway convenience store gnosh in a country like Germany, where you can hit the Autohof, a gas station near the highway that has cheaper eats. In general, highway gas stations are going to be expensive wherever you are, so try spending a little extra time off the highway at the local eateries. The food’s better too.
Save on Calls
Mary from Punk Planet makes a good point: “On tour it’s important that the promoters and/or your booker can reach you.” With the majority of US cellphone carriers (besides T-Mobile), you’ll pay extra for phone calls abroad. Try getting a cheap phone with a SIM card in the country or region where you’re touring. You’ll also be able to use GPS, which is ever-so-important in finding your way to venues, but you won’t be able to make calls at the same time (in Europe). The nice thing is, you can make Wi-Fi calls for free using Facebook, Skype, Viber, and Google. Don’t pay your US carrier a boatload just to make calls and texts overseas. Take advantage of Wi-Fi calling and texting, and consider a pre-paid band phone with local SIM card.