Are you a US or Canadian band? Do you manage or book such an act? Have you or are you about to play shows in the UK or mainland Europe?
You should consider the following information if you are considering touring in Europe.
Musical acts at all success levels are now able to tour extensively outside of their own country, thanks to the rise of the Internet, the expanding global music market and cheaper air travel.
Specifically, bands and artistes from North America and Canada have always found great success touring in Europe and the UK.
The Killers, White Stripes, Kings of Leon, The Strokes and Scissor Sisters are all examples of bands that honed their craft away from their own country and now have considerable success in both territories.
Although the process is the same, touring in Europe has certain unique distinctions from concert touring in the USA.
There are obvious language, currency and voltage differences. There are also legal and financial factors to take into account as well as obvious logistical concerns. You may have encountered some of these differences already.
As well as being frustrating, these differences can cost you money.
I have over 20 years experience of concert touring both in North America and in Europe. I have worked with numerous acts from USA and Canada and know what makes a successful European tour for North American acts.
Touring Europe – points to consider
The following guide is intended to give the North American touring musician a very general introduction to the obvious differences in touring the US and touring mainland Europe. Specific information can be obtained by clicking on the associated links or by contacting me directly.
Throughout Europe (and obviously in the UK) you will find that most people you meet who are involved with your concert will speak English as well as their native language. This all includes all the local sound and light crew, the promoter, your record company personnel and, to a certain extent, your fans.
Nearly all contracts, legal forms and communications will be in English.
Region and generation largely influence the understanding and use of English outside the ‘rock ‘n’ roll bubble.
France and Italy, for example, have a low use of English in the general population. Italian promoters will usually provide a translator to assist at shows.
Scandinavians, Germans and the Dutch have a high standard of English and are keen to use it. ‘Younger’ people understand more English thanks to the internet, YouTube, MTV and imported US TV shows.
Money and Currency
The use of the Euro throughout mainland Europe has certainly made concert touring easier, especially as the Euro and the US dollar are of similar value.
Not all countries use the Euro though and these cases you will probably be paid in US dollars.
You should be aware that all countries are now implementing strict rules about leaving or arriving with vast amounts of currency. You should bear this in mind if your tour is very successful, especially if you generate lots of cash from merchandise sales.
I can help to advise on any specific concerns you may have, specifically how to deal with large amounts of foreign currency cash (from merchandise sales for instance).
Electricity and Voltages
The standard voltage of US domestic equipment is 110v at 60Hz. European voltages range from 180v to 240v at varying Hz. There are also physical differences in the design of the plugs and sockets.
It is vital that you arrange the rental of good quality, touring step-down transformers for your US voltage equipment.
Most US cell phones and laptop computers have dual-voltage sensing, meaning they can accept voltages from 110-240 volts automatically. You will simply need to transform the physical plug to fit the sockets. For more information on European voltages see this very useful Worldwide Voltage Guide.
Internet & email
It is safe to say that traveling with a laptop is as easy as in the States.
Most modern laptops have voltage- sensing power supplies so will not be damaged by the 220V found in Europe. However you will almost certainly need an adapter to make the US style pug fit into European sockets.
Wireless broadband internet is common in all parts of the European mainland. Most venues, hotels, cafes, airports and fast food restaurants will have wireless coverage.
Mobile (cellular phones)
Europe has embraced the mobile (cellular) phone, making communication while on the road extremely easy. We have one standard, GSM, which works seamlessly throughout mainland Europe, the UK, South America, Australia, New Zealand and certain parts of North America and Canada.
Check with your phone network about roaming coverage overseas, especially if you own an iPhone. The roaming charges can be hideously expensive for a US-based cellular phone owner touring in Europe.
As a US resident you can buy an international GSM cell phone for only $49 from Mobal. You purchase the phone and pay only for calls – there is no monthly fee.
Another solution is to buy ‘pay as you go’ SIM cards for each country you are in. The advantage is cheap calls AND you can budget for your phone expenditure. The disadvantage is changing your number every time you are in a new country.
All countries have some sort of ‘foreign artist tax’ to claim a percentage of your revenue while performing in that particular country. Some charge higher levels than others.
For instance Germany, which is a big market for US acts, currently levies a whopping 24.9% on fees of 1001.00 Euros ($1000.00) or more!
As the promoter will deduct these taxes at source (i.e. when you get paid) it is vitally important that you budget properly for these expenses. Good practice is to specify all fees are ‘net and free of all local taxes’ and that you get paid in your currency.
A good reference is ‘Tax and Social Security – a basic guide for artists and cultural operators in Europe‘ by Judith Staines which is a very informative guide to the varying taxation rates for foreign entertainers performing in Europe.
Distances between major cities in mainland Europe are comparable with that of the US; daily travel of 6 to 8 hours is the norm. you will either be using splitter vans of sleeper buses, depending on your budget.
Europe is home to the ‘splitter van’ – an economical but safe way to transport people and equipment in the same vehicle. A splitter van is basically a large cargo van with a large passenger compartment (usually seating six to eight people) separated by a fixed bulkhead from a rear equipment compartment.
Splitter vans are comfortable with aircraft style seats, full audio visual entertainment systems (DVD, games consoles etc) for the passengers, tinted windows and air con. They are fast (usually based on Mercedes ‘Sprinter’ type vans), safe and very reliable. They are able to transport a full set of standard band back line equipment i.e. drums, bass and guitar cabs and heads, stands etc.
Costs vary between £120 – £180 a day, excluding fuel (diesel). This makes them a perfect way for small budget acts to travel, along with their equipment.
Splitter vans are usually self-drive. I can help you source good, experienced drivers who may also double up as back line technicians or merchandise sellers.
if the travelling band and crew numbers 8 or more I would recommend a sleeper bus. European sleeper buses are very similar to US style sleeper coaches with the exception of often being double deck. Lounge areas are often down stairs in the middle and rear with bunk areas being up stairs. Sleeper buses come complete with the usual audio-visual systems.
Sleeper bus prices start at £480.00 a day but include the driver as well as fuel and oil costs.
There are EU regulations concerning driving times and rest periods. These will greatly affect your touring schedule, making some planned routings impossible.
One major logistical and financial problem that you as a North American touring act face is transporting your musical equipment. You cannot easily or cheaply fly with your equipment on the plane unless your instruments are small, light and well cased.
Standard hold baggage limits of most US airlines is 20KG per person; a standard sized suitcase containing clothes for a 2-week trip can weigh 20KG!
DJ’s and laptop-based acts are obviously OK in this respect but what about everyone else?
For ‘standard’ rock/pop bands, classical musicians and others you will have to investigate either shipping your equipment over with a freighting company or renting/ buying similar items in your destination territory.
I have had a great deal of experience with both these scenarios and can advise you on which one will save you the most time and money.
I work closely with a number of music-industry friendly freighting companies. I also have excellent relationships with the top back-line rental companies in the UK and on the mainland.
In any case I always advise that you have a ‘pre-production/rehearsal’ period the day before the first show day. This is a good chance for you to assemble the rental and/or shipped gear and make sure everything is working satisfactorily.
I thoroughly recommends that you purchase ALL tour consumables (strings, sticks, heads batteries, gaffer/duct tape etc) in the US/Canada and bring them with you. Prices for all these items are on average 20-25% more expensive in UK and mainland Europe.
Cigarette smokers – buy cartons of cigarettes at the ‘Duty & Tax Free’ shops at your US departure airport, especially if you are going to be touring in the UK. A pack of 20 cigarettes in the UK is presently £8.90!