Things I Learnt on Tour - 2017
It’s been several months since the Terrible Luck tour wrapped up. Though I definitely learnt a lot on this tour, it wasn’t easy to form those thoughts into precise words. I know I’m highly critical when it comes to my music (I’m trying hard to chill out), so when things don’t exactly meet my expectations, I easily give in to a negative mindset.
One thing I’ve learned to combat this, is to think about and focus on what I can be grateful for. This post is meant to remind me that with the help of friends, I overcame several challenges, did the best that I could; and to accept that it was good enough. Hopefully other independent musicians aspiring to tour could learn from this brief recap of my experience planning and executing a tour too!
Have a team of talented friends help you
Planning a tour takes a lot of time and effort. To be more precise, it took almost a whole year. Last year was busy for me, personally and professionally. I was left with little time to be present with myself and my emotions. Thankfully, I had a whole bunch of friends who helped me with different aspects to make it happen. Without them, I don’t think it would have been as successful. After all, designing a tour poster when you’re colour-deficient like me would take twice the time as someone with the relevant training. It makes more sense to focus on your strengths and to oversee your team and the project timelines.
Ask for help (of the corporate sort)
One of the biggest sources of stress for an independent tour is the fundraising. I think I did my best on an organic level by saving up on my own, making tote bags and selling them, as well as having a couple of shows in Singapore before the tour.
A friend of my sister’s came to one of these shows and asked to meet with me a couple of weeks before I flew off. His profession is raising funds for corporations. During our short talk, he made me realise that even an independent musician like myself had something to offer to brands. According to him, a studio performance televised to 4 million households is a great marketing opportunity for them, where all I had to do was probably mention the brand during my set and include their logo on my marketing collaterals. My story behind writing these songs could be a good fit for their social responsibility mission objectives too. With their financial backing, I could’ve afforded to do much more.
Most importantly, he made me realise that I need to think bigger and better of myself. Perhaps he was being slightly over optimistic? Then again, if I don’t try, I wouldn’t know right? To position myself better to execute this for the next tour, it will be critical for me to start growing my audience and to regularly engage them.
The power of black tape and spares
If you have done National Service, you would know how black PVC tape was the go-to solution to fix anything. While setting up for my gig in Harsefeld, we realised that the pair of 1/4 inch to RCA adaptors had broken. That would’ve left us without a way to connect my laptop to the speakers, i.e. no backing tracks for the rest of the tour. By wrapping them in black tape, the adaptors were able to last through that night’s set. We headed back to Bremen the next day, where our main luggages (and a spare pair of adaptors) were.
Don’t forget to enjoy the moments
Technically it was a work trip, with a lot of stress coming from how much I had invested into it. Still, it’s important to remember to enjoy the beauty around me and laugh a little. A pinch of toilet humour here and there goes a long way in keeping morale high!
For example, Debra and I had a good chuckle about a train route’s final destination displayed on the board. I was too tired to realise it at first, but the pronunciation of a town’s name “Laufach” sounds a lot like “old fucker” in Singlish. In Munich, the hotel room we were staying at didn’t have a door for the toilet! You can imagine our arrangements to retain some level of privacy.
Thank God I’m not mono-lingual
One thing that kept me busy in 2017 was finally going for formal German classes at Goethe Institut. It hasn’t been easy working, writing music, planning a tour and learning German at the same time. However, my basic understanding of the language came in handy on this tour, especially when we ventured into smaller towns in Germany.
For example, eating at asian restaurants soon became an interesting recurring exercise in language skills. They didn’t have menus in english for Debra and they wanted the opportunity to practice their mandarin, so ordering food went like this:
Read the german menu
Translate it into english for Debra (telling her exactly what ingredients are in each dish, in case of allergies)
Tell the waitress that I don’t speak Cantonese in Cantonese
Finally order on her behalf in Mandarin
Become a better leader or Hire a tour manager
This tour was the first time that I had someone come along who wasn’t a long time friend. It was definitely a steep learning curve for Debra. At the same time, there’s still more I could learn about being a better leader, though it’s really hard to be both tour manager and artist at the same time. I haven’t found someone with the right package yet. If you think you can do the job, please write to me! =)
From bringing someone much less experienced in touring, I learnt that I need to make either decision for future tours:
Bring someone who has had sufficient experience as a roadie. Source corporate sponsorship or crowdfunding to sufficiently cover their month’s worth of work.
Bring someone less experienced, but be more flexible and patient. Working with the younger generation is very different!
After the tour officially ended, we got to spend three days in Amsterdam. Debra is a big fan of open mic sessions and she wanted to perform at one in a cafe there. I signed up as well, because I thought it would be a good opportunity for more people to hear my songs. Unfortunately, the worst kind of people turned up for the open mic - a group of teenagers who were only interested to see their friend perform - and talked over the other performers throughout the night.
They were so loud, the sound system couldn’t overpower them! In such situations, it’s usually up to the host or venue owner to manage. Sadly, other than one stern warning from said owner without following through, nothing was done. When it came to our turns to perform, I politely told the host that I didn’t want to anymore. Debra decided to do otherwise and go through the horrible experience of performing to these rude audience members.
On one hand, I can empathise that one should make the most of any performance opportunity. On the other, I was not going to let these youngsters leave a sour note at the end of everything I had accomplished so far. I believe that I did the right thing for myself. Hopefully I won’t have to make that difficult decision anytime soon.
Once again, I couldn’t have accomplished what I had on this tour alone. I’d like to take the opportunity to name some of the people who made it happen. This list isn’t exhaustive, so if I happen to miss you out, please forgive me!
From the bottom of my heart, a big thank you and hugs to:
My mother - for being my biggest fan and supporting me on days when I could not do so myself. I’m glad that I finally performed these songs with you in the audience.
Syarini - for helping to design the design collaterals. With your help, I managed to breathe a little =) #TeckWhye
Willy - for helping me create press releases, servicing them to media outlets. I’ve never made a social media content calendar before, so definitely learnt a lot!
Wei Yang - for taking my songs to another level. I hope we can be in the same city again some day.
Syaheed - for the great work. I’ve never had my songs on more than one New Music Friday playlist before!
Goose - for setting up my guitar, it still plays like butter!
Sharon - for the beautiful illustration.
Marilyn - for making the tote bags.
Martin, Joanna, Rachel and many more - for buying said tote bags.
Lee and Family - for the friendship and love you’ve shown me. Thank you for hosting me again, driving me to Lemgo and dealing with that cafe owner.
Bas - for opening your home to host a wonderful Wohnzimmerkonzert, a rarity in Singapore indeed. Singapore Music is lucky to have a superfan like you.
Artistry - for giving me one more space to perform in before I flew off. It’s sad that you’re gone. I hope that you’ll be back soon.
Debra - for being a trooper. I know it wasn’t easy, but I hope the tour inspired you with new songs.
Bruno - for opening for me in Munich. I was pleasantly surprised when you offered to. I’m a fan and am patiently waiting to hear new songs from you =)
Heiko, Julia and the rest of the Songs & Whispers team - for putting the tour together. Hope to see you guys again soon.
Lakeside Stories - for giving me my first show in the Netherlands.
You - for coming out to the shows, as well as listening to the songs online. I hope to hit the road again some time soon, once I finish writing all these new songs. Till then, let’s stay in touch!
Thanks for reading! If you want to pick my mind more about touring outside of your country, check out this article I wrote in 2015.