Your Journey as a Touring Artist

by Tash Cox

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
~Lao Tzu

If you're just starting your journey as a touring artist and are wondering if it's even possible, I'd like to be one of your cheerleaders and encourage you to know that yes, any artist can tour, even if you're not on a label.

The fact that you're reading these words right now means that you have some level of interest, and I like to think of interest as a beginning spark of what can turn into a massive, fiery inspiration that can drive you forward.

Why Tour?

One of the first questions I like to ask myself before embarking on any endeavor is “why?” What is your why? Do you want to expand your audience, visit new places, meet new people? Perhaps you are friends with other people who have toured or have simply longed to know what it's like to be on tour. Whatever your reasons are that may adjust along the way, I highly recommend that your why is something you remind yourself of as the touring adventure begins.

I find a great deal of joy and satisfaction in the touring life, but making tours happen and being on tour requires a high level of commitment and hard work. My personal whys make all of the responsibilities well worth the time and energy that it takes to make the tours happen. I get to make music with my band family and spend precious time with them, make new friends, meet new people, see friends and family, experience different cultures, and support the live music community.

“Leap and the net will appear.”
~John Burroughs

If you are new to playing live, I would advise trying either a local show or a livestream. You might try simply doing some videos simply on your phone to share out online. More involved live streams do involve technology, so a local show can be an easier way to ease yourself into playing in front of people and getting an idea of what a live show can feel like, if you struggle with the technology. I myself started out doing open mics at coffee shops with just myself, my keyboard, and my voice. I found the open mic community that I encountered in my home state of Texas to be highly supportive, and I had people who really encouraged me to come out of my shell and share my voice and my music.

In these environments, I was able to try out material I had written or covers I was exploring. I was soon asked by other musicians to jam with them, and while I was terrified at first, I found great joy in getting to play with other people and exploring what it was like to share music….very different than just singing to yourself or your cat in your bedroom (though pets really can make the best audience members ;)

When I first started exploring the live open mic environment, I got a feel for what it was like to sing into a mic and also the hazards that come along with live music. Turns out hearing yourself through the monitors (or not) really does make a huge difference! In an early jam with a blues band, I couldn't hear a single note I played, not fully understanding how to properly monitor my own keyboard. So I had to fly blind and visually play my keyboard, hoping that I wasn't playing all the wrong notes…not exactly the most fun way to play music. These kinds of experiences are what helped me develop as a live musician. I also got used to playing in front of people I didn't know. While it was always nice to play in front of familiar people, it also was enriching to get accustomed to playing in front of people I had never met. Growing up in classical music, I had been used to playing in concerts and recitals, but live original music is a whole different beastie.

I find that when you're really putting yourself out there and sharing music that feels very deeply connected to who you are that it's definitely a feeling of vulnerability, honesty, and letting go. The live stage I find is one of the most honest places in the world and a place in which you can honestly connect with people in a really raw way. The people I've encountered who share my love of live music either as musicians or audience members often share the same kind of feedback in that it feels like a real and visceral way to experience human emotions and the human condition…to bring us back to who we are in our most vulnerable states. One of the things I absolutely love about touring is that over time and space you start to realize that there is truly a universality in the language of music and that it's a way to connect people, no matter what language they speak or culture they come from. Another big why for me.

If you are new to touring, I highly recommend starting small so that you can get a feel for what tour life is like. Starting off with weekend shows in cities that are between 2-4 hours away can be one way of getting started. Depending on the size of your project, pick your most reliable vehicle that can fit your people and your gear. I'll be honest here in saying that I learned this lesson the hard way. My first out of town shows with MKIO were done in an SUV that squeezed 5 of us with a trailer dragging our car. We had our share of vehicle troubles in the middle of the tour that culminated with us missing a show in the middle of Montana in a super sketchy situation that had is in the middle of the woods in the middle of the night as we were trying to get water from the lake to cool down a smoking engine….definitely material for a future horror movie and also made for anecdotes later on…however, not something I would advise to other bands. Our second tour vehicle was in not much better shape. We traveled in a van we called “Red Thunder” in which there was a hole in the floor of the driver's side, no AC, no working windows in the back, and best of all…it couldn't make right turns. We did what we could just to be on the road, but again, not recommended for safety. I will say that our subsequent vans had AC and were much more reliable. And could turn right!!

If you're like me, for every positive reason to tour, you can perhaps also have an opposite voice that may give you so many reasons why you can't tour. Maybe there are financial reasons or logistical ones. Whatever those reasons are, they are valid and don't have to just be dismissed. Trust me when I say that for me personally even after years of putting together tours and actively living a touring musician's life, I still have those inner voices of fear that tell me that maybe who I am as an artist or person isn't enough, that maybe people won't like me or my music, that we will come home broke and destitute and that I won't be able to take care of my people. I think it's important to acknowledge all those fears but also know that you are not alone in those feelings. Just remember that there is a community of people who are happy that you're going to be out there sharing your music, happy to meet you, and happy to support you. I know that not everyone may share the enthusiasm and optimism, but you will find and meet your kindred spirits. There are so many different kinds of genres and cultures, and I think one of the beautiful things about art and music is that there really is something for everyone.


  • Figure out your why
  • Start in small steps for live playing online and locally
  • For touring, start by aiming for weekend shows in cities close by
  • Get a designated, reliable vehicle
  • Fear is normal