How To Survive Playing To An Empty Room And Other Advice For A Band's First Tour

Dec 12, 2017
Originally published on December 12, 2017 9:10 pm

When you're facing a major life change, it helps to talk to someone who has already been through it. All Things Considered is connecting people on either side of a shared experience, and they're letting us eavesdrop on their conversations in our series Been There.

North Carolina band Blame the Youth has been playing together in and around Charlotte for three years.

Now, they're at a point where they're trying to decide just how serious they are.

Amber Daniel and her bandmates still have their day jobs. Amber is an elementary school music teacher who teaches private lessons on the side, and being on tour full-time would be a big change.

"We're getting to the point where it's like, so you gonna do it? You ready, you ready?" she says. "Speaking for myself, yeah."

But Amber still has some concerns about hitting the road.

Three years ago, the Houston band The Suffers were in the same place — wondering if they should go on the road, and how to do it.

Kam Franklin, the band's lead singer, says The Suffers' decision started with a big discussion among the bandmates about quitting their jobs and taking a chance, which everyone decided to follow through on.

"There will always be something to come back to," says Kam. "But you can't go back to these opportunities when they're right in front of you. "

This interview has been edited lightly for clarity


Advice from Kam Franklin

On deciding to tour full-time

We had a conversation and we were like, alright, we know we're doing this, but we don't know what's gonna happen after. And like where was gonna be the stopping point for us to know that, OK, this is when we need to go back to our old lives. And you know, is everybody down to quit their jobs.

On dealing with your bandmates on the road

Over-communicate your needs and your frustrations to your band and to your team early on. Passive aggression will ruin your band. It will ruin your business. And I know it seems really silly but saying things like, you know, I need to stop for tampons, or I need to go to a bra store because my back is hurting because this bra is old and I've played too many shows in it. At a certain point you guys are gonna be it to each other. It'll be beyond family, beyond a romantic relationship and you have to learn how to not only respect one another's space but how to respect yourself by over-communicating when it's necessary.

On playing to an empty room

We have never, thankfully, played to zero people. But we have definitely played to a room that probably had a dozen people in it, including the people who were working there. But at the end of the day you have to take on this mentality of, "Who cares?" Because at the end of the day, is this what you want to do with your life? So look at that show as a practice for the major stage.

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(SOUNDBITE OF BLAME THE YOUTH SONG, "ABACA")

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

This is the North Carolina band Blame the Youth. They've been playing together for three years in and around Charlotte. And they're at that point that bands hit where they're trying to decide, how far does this go?

AMBER DANIEL: After you've done all the shows in your hometown and you're branching out to other states, it's like, our footsteps are already being ordered to do a tour.

SIEGEL: That's Amber Daniel, lead singer and bassist of Blame the Youth. Amber and her bandmates still have their day jobs. She's an elementary school music teacher. Being on tour full-time would be a big change.

DANIEL: We're getting to the point now where we're just like, so we going to do it? You ready?

KAM FRANKLIN: (Laughter).

DANIEL: You ready?

FRANKLIN: So are you going to do it?

DANIEL: Speaking for myself, yeah.

SIEGEL: The other voice you heard was Kam Franklin of the Houston band The Suffers. Three years ago, The Suffers were in that same place, wondering if they should go on the road and how to do it. So we connected Kam with Amber for our series Been There to share some advice. Kam said The Suffers' decision started with a big discussion among bandmates.

FRANKLIN: Where was going to be the stopping point for us to know that, OK, this is when we need to go back to our old lives? And you know, is everybody down to quit their jobs on - I think it was January 30 of 2015. And nobody wanted to stay at home. And so our first tour out, it was pretty short. It was a month. And we had no money. We made no money. We came home with nothing. And, like, we were still living on our savings at the time, so none of us really felt a major hit that first tour or that second tour or that fourth tour of that first year.

DANIEL: I'm honestly so scared 'cause I'm, like - I'm a super introvert, and I kind of have control issues. And so, like, I'm going to have to drop everything to do this.

FRANKLIN: Yeah.

DANIEL: And that's a scary feeling. And I know you know that.

FRANKLIN: Oh, it (laughter) - it's terrifying.

DANIEL: It's terrifying.

FRANKLIN: The day I quit my job, I had this super big going-away party. I worked at an investment bank for five years. And when I got home after everything was over, I started sobbing. Like, what did I just do? And I mean, to be honest, after I let out the cry, I was just like, why am I tripping?

DANIEL: (Laughter).

FRANKLIN: This is great. I'm going to do this. And I was like, if I ever need to get another job, could I get another job? And the answer was yes. There will always be something to come back to. That's why you went to school to get your degree to be a teacher. You can always go back to that.

DANIEL: Yes.

FRANKLIN: But you can't go back to these opportunities when they're right in front of you.

DANIEL: What's one major key for touring - either being on tour, going on tour, whatever - one major key that you think that I need to have.

FRANKLIN: Not being afraid to over-communicate your needs and your frustrations to your band and to your team early on. Passive aggression will ruin your band. It will ruin your business. And I know it seems really silly - but saying things like, you know, I (laughter) need to stop for tampons or I need to go to a bra store because my back is hurting because this bra is old, and I've played too many shows in it. But at a certain point, you guys are going to be it to each other. It'll be beyond family, beyond a romantic relationship. And you have to learn how to not only respect one another's space but how to respect yourself by over-communicating when it's necessary.

DANIEL: So how many empty shows have you guys played, and how do you get past that?

FRANKLIN: (Laughter) Look at it like this. We have never, thankfully, played to zero people. But we have definitely played to a room that probably had a dozen people in it...

DANIEL: Relatable.

FRANKLIN: ...Including the people that were working there. But you have to take on this mentality of, who cares...

DANIEL: Right.

FRANKLIN: ...'Cause at the end of the day, is this what you want to do with your life?

DANIEL: Yeah.

FRANKLIN: So look at that show as a practice for the major stage.

DANIEL: Right. So I know you've been touring for a while, and you had to quit your day job to make the time and the effort for it. Would you say that it was worth it?

FRANKLIN: Definitely. I have no regrets. There have been a lot of lows. There have been a lot of highs. But these guys - like, they are the true loves of my life, the pain in my back, the...

(LAUGHTER)

FRANKLIN: Just my - I hate them so much, and I love them so much. We have this thing that we do for the first day of tour where we're all just driving out of Houston, and once we've passed or stopped at that first truck stop and we get back on the road, we actually play "On The Road Again" by Willie Nelson.

DANIEL: (Singing) I can't wait to be on the road again.

FRANKLIN: Yes, girl. I never really understood, like, how impactful that song was until after that first tour. And he says something like, the thing I love is making music with my friends, and I can't wait to be on the road again.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ON THE ROAD AGAIN")

WILLIE NELSON: (Singing) And I can't wait to get on the road again. On the road again...

FRANKLIN: It's the best job, and I hope that it works out for you guys.

DANIEL: We're going to make it work.

(SOUNDBITE OF WILLIE NELSON SONG, "ON THE ROAD AGAIN")

SIEGEL: That's Amber Daniel of the band Blame the Youth. They're hoping to go on their first tour in the summer of 2018. She was speaking with Kam Franklin of the band The Suffers. They've been touring on and off for the last three years. They spoke together for our series Been There, connecting people on either side of a shared experience.

If your life is about to change and you'd like some advice, write to us at nprcrowdsource@npr.org. Put Been There in the subject line.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ON THE ROAD AGAIN")

NELSON: (Singing) The life I love is making music with... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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