Down They Fall is a pop-folk project by Gage Vota of St. Clairsville, Ohio. The band recently embarked on a tour around the United States this Summer which Gage himself booked by himself. Today, we are very happy to bring you an introspective article Gage wrote regarding his experience as a DIY band. Check it out below.
Hey I’m Gage Vota from Down They Fall, we are a collective from St. Clairsville Ohio. That being said, I am the only full time member in the band due to members not being able to tour as much as Down They Fall does. In three months we put 30,000 miles on my small, cramped, mini van. I self-book all of our show.
Six years ago if you would have told me that I’d currently be sitting in the back of a van with my best friends doing things our way, I would have laughed. I never really knew what DIY touring was, but once I figured out you didn’t need a big record label to tour I thought I was going to be unstoppable. Each tour lost money until 2014, which was the first tour I broke even on. The first successful tour I was on was in 2015 when I realized that starting out, you’re not going to get big guarantees or any guarantees if you happen to play a sub genre of folk-punk like we do.
What I did realize is this: To make gas money/not lose money on tours, you have to take your merch very serious. Heck our merch booth looks like a clothing line. Merch works if you are smart about it. You have to keep your fans in mind with every shirt, hat, wristband, button, sticker, shorts, hoodie, crew neck, etc you make.
Touring as a band at our level, which is basically the bottom, can be trying at times. We try to hit the same areas at least three times a year so we can build small fan bases in each town. Not every town is going to be the same. You won’t always have the same luck in certain scenes, towns or even states. I can’t count how many western Ohio shows I’ve played to nobody, but when I play Northern and Southern Ohio we bring people out. I’m using Ohio as an example because I always hear people say “You can’t tour until you can sell out shows in your home state.”, which can’t be further from the truth. I think as long as you have something recorded, at least some form of merch, and a reliable vehicle then it’s never too early to start touring.
I always see articles from bigger bands talking about money on tours and how it’s hard. I 100% am not knocking it because I bet it’s still very hard at any level of touring, but I’ve never seen an article from really small bands who tour, probably because nobody knows who bands like us are haha. It’s crazy when you think about it, I know small DIY bands where the band is their full time job and they make money off of it. You don’t have to sell out venues to live your dream. I quit my job and toured all Summer. You 100% have to make the band your number one priority if you want to do this.
This is how I do it and is what I suggest doing: If you have a steady job that isn’t going to let you tour book a tour 3 or 4 months out, don’t tell your job until two weeks before the tour, put in your town weeks notice, do the tour and as soon as you get back start looking for a new job. Make sure you save up enough money so you’re not dead broke when you get back. I’ve basically been doing that since 2015.
If you aren’t a larger band, you will basically be trying to make gas money. You will have to feed yourself cheaply. Go to a dollar store and get canned food. DO NOT GET A HOTEL. So many bands get hotels and it blows my mind, I would literally rather sleep on the ground on the side of the road than pay for a hotel. We play a lot of house shows which provide venue, a place to sleep and a place to shower. If you play at a venue, most local bands will offer a place to stay if asked. However, a lot of bands ask the crowd for a place to stay during their set. This is something I don’t recommend because it makes it harder to decline if someone sketchy offers.
At this level, you’re basically living in your van, spending all your free time at truck stops, etc. At these types of random places sketchy stuff will happen. People will try to mess with you. Don’t fuel the fire unless there is literally no alternative. I always bring a knife on me. I’m not a violent person at all but it’s better to be prepared for the worst. I also suggest bringing pepper spray.
Don’t don’t bring drugs or unopened alcohol in the van. Cops have never been cool to my band and we are just in a mini van. I 100% guarantee that if a cop pulls you over and you have a van and unmarked trailer you’re getting searched!
With all that said, there are also so many great people in the music community and in the world who are always down to help. A lot of fast food workers will hook you up with a discount or even free drinks and food. I’ve even sold merch to fast food workers!
Touring is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in my life. Unlike what most people think, it’s not all partying. It’s a lot of work but well worth it. I hope what I’ve written here can help anyone who’s never toured get an inside look of what it’s like.You don’t have to be the most popular band in the world to get on the road. It’s not a glamorous life at all but if you grind and grind until you want to die, then grind some more, it’s a possibility that you can make a living off of your music.
For more information on the band, check them out on their social media:
Facebook: Down They Fall