Tour Guides from Hell

Fallujah Vocalist Alex Hofmann’s Tips for Touring in Europe

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Background artwork by Thibault Fischer
Background artwork by Thibault Fischer

FallujahThe Contortionist’s MetalSucks-sponsored tour with Revocation, Fallujah, and Toothgrinder kicks off this Saturday, February 7! This bill is incredible — you really, REALLY do not wanna miss out on these shows. Get dates here!!!

To celebrate the tour’s kickoff, Fallujah vocalist Alex Hofmann graciously volunteered to share the knowledge he and the rest of the band have amassed while touring in Europe. Any of you who happen to be in a band that is going, or hoping to go, tour in Europe will find this invaluable. Anyone else… well, you’ll learn a lot, too! Alex, take it away…

Hello all, My name is Alex and I sing in the band Fallujah. We’ve been able to tour the grand ol’ continent of Europe a few times now, and I remember wishing that there was a resource for how to prepare for such an arduous and expensive journey. For your band, I guarantee that when you get that first email with an offer, a certain degree of notable excitement will wash over you; as for Americans, Europe is the next step for a band thats been around a bit stateside. While the excitement is justified and the task may be logical, you must understand that there are significant hurdles and inconspicuous factors that you will have to prepare for. Being on the business side of Fallujah, I’ve learned some things the hard way, the easy way, and sometimes just by pure luck, and thus I’ve compiled a list of things you should look out for when preparing for your very first European tour. With this list, hopefully you will know what to expect, and avoid having to ask your Grams and Gramps for the few grand that you could owe. 

Your Band

One thing that you have to wrap your head around first, no matter how well things are going or how many kids you draw in the States: your first time in Europe, you are still babies that no one has heard of before. Your offer from the agency will most likely reflect this. I’ve heard of extremely popular bands that do not draw shit in Europe, or bands that no one likes in the States being huge in Europe. Europeans tend not to jump on bandwagons as swiftly as Americans, so when you get an email offering 100 Euros a night, don’t take it personally. You will be playing first, sometimes for just twenty people, none of whom have any idea who you are, all of whom will promptly tell you whether they enjoyed your set or not. Your first European experience will be humbling — and necessarily so to prepare you for the other hurdles. 

Culture

When you are visiting twenty countries in a month, you begin to realize that the culture of a country is pretty pivotal in how they communicate and respond to your band. You will most likely spend a lot of time in Germany, as it is Europe’s biggest metal market, and you’ll begin to see their tendencies and social differences pretty clearly. You will hear statements such as, “I heard you on the internet, you are not as good live, perhaps you should practice?” or “Your lead guitarist was quite great, perhaps your other guitarist will be better next time.” These are not things you are used to hearing in the US out of politeness, but in Germany and surrounding countries, the population and culture are extremely blunt and to the point, which Americans may be misconstrue as rude or confrontational.

Perhaps one of the most frustrating things about European crowds is that the standards and regularity of crowd participation is pretty dull compared to the US. You will see a headliner play to a crowd of five-hundred kids, everyone cheers, everyone loves it… but you will not see anything close to a moshpit or crowd surfer to save your life. In regions such as Scandinavia, Holland, and Switzerland, don’t expect kids to be going apeshit for an opener the way they would in the US. The pattern tends to be that the richer and nicer the country is, the less they get down at shows. You go south and east, you’ll begin to see some more enthusiasm. 

Remember also that you are a visiter in someone else’s homeland. People tend to speak English pretty well in most places, but try not to be an asshole at McDonald’s when they don’t know what the hell an “extra large fries” is. The eastern and southern countries are the hardest from a communication standpoint, but never assume people speak English. The most valuable things you can learn to ask in other languages are “Do you understand English?” and “Thank you.”  Learn a few phrases before the show begins, learn “What’s up?” or “How’s it going?” or “I don’t understand”  in their native language.

Also, learning numbers helps for the merch table. I speak Spanish pretty well and my German is alright too, and one thing you learn is that people are way more willing to help if you at least attempt to speak their language. 

Hospitality

One of the first things you will realize when you arrive at the venue is that catering and standards of hospitality are unprecedented when all you have known is American tours and promoters. Depending on your tour, expect endless beer, three to four bottles of booze, endless cheese, endless cold cuts, water, fruit, veggies. There’s a good chance you will never want to eat a cold sandwich again by the end of the tour, but its better than nothing. You will have food at a get-in, then a dinner which is either made in-house or from catering outside. The food hotspots are undeniably Germany and France, but we’ve also have some good luck in the Netherlands and some central countries. 

The places that are on par with the States are the UK and Italy. The UK isn’t exactly known for its culinary excellence, and they have an extremely low standard of hospitality in regards to bands in our genre. So you’ll find your self eating Cheetos and some packaged baked meat pie contraption that looks similar to what you give your dog as a treat.

As Americans, you grow up with the notion that Italians have quite possibly the richest food culture on earth, which in many ways is true — but the issue is that in Italy you are not eating in people’s homes, and the promoters will try to barter to give you the bare minimum. I remember being excited to go to Italy the first time strictly for the food, and all the other guys on the bus who had toured before all told me that everything you’ve come to expect so far will end the minute you get into Italy.

If you’re from the West Coast, forget about Mexican food — they have it in Europe, but quite honestly, it’s an abomination. You’ll get your “mission style burrito” with things like peas, green beans, or euro “salsa” which is basically chunky ketchup. You will learn to love Doner Kepab, it’s everywhere and it’s Europe’s quintessential drunk food. Its the best in Berlin and most places in Germany but pretty shot in eastern Europe. You’ll find yourself craving it when you’re stateside. 

Eastern Europe has been good and bad. The ultimate truth is that each tour is different, but generally, things are better in Europe than they are in the US. 

Merch

Your merch game in Europe is sometimes a matter of life and death. With the cost of flights/transportation/gear/management, your merch will be the only medium in which you will have hopes to make a profit the first time you go. You will discover that Europeans do not like the same sort of swag that Americans eat up, so do your research and choose designs carefully. Your best seller in the US will gather dust sometimes. Do not even think about bringing a shirt without a back print (unless it’s an awesome cat shirt). And for some reason, they love shirts with tour dates on them. In America, it’s rather uncommon and possibly arrogant for a band that isn’t a headliner to sell tour date shirts, but in Europe, it’s the standard.

Also, do not expect to sell exorbitant amounts. Bring what makes sense, because you don’t want to have ship boxes back home at the end of the tour.

Try to bring as much of your merch supply from the States as possible, as the rates for printing are significantly cheaper than they are in Europe. It’s worth it to pay for and extra bag or two instead of having tons printed there… but due to space, it’s inevitable that you will have to have a European company ship merch to either the venues or the bus company. 

Be prepared also for the most shot merch setups you’ve ever seen. There are no grid racks, no neatly organized boxes by size or design. What you have is cardboard boxes that by the second week are falling apart. Scrounge for some tape and some coat hangers and try to situate the designs in a way that’s halfway pleasing on the eyes. 

Money

The best and most convenient aspect of touring Europe is that you will have to deal with twenty different currencies… fun, right?? Forget about the American dollar, it doesn’t exist nor does it matter to anyone in Europe, and all things will be based off the Euro as standard currency — the cost of all things will be based of the Euro equivalent. Research the cost equivalent in different currencies, because you will get $20 equivalent in Scandinavia and $12 in Romania since the economy of a country directly correlates to how much money they have to spend. You will be selling shirts for 450 Czech Korunas or walking out with 100,000 Hungarian Forins, which is about 380 American bucks. Learn to manage all the currencies, have a chart with their exchange rates, and try to at least get some pounds and Euros converted before leaving. 

Travel Costs (Flights, Bus, Sprinter)

These costs are the biggest hurdle, and they can make or brake how the tour plays out. If there is a bus, expect to pay at least 15,000 to 20,000 Euros per band for the tour. The bus will limit the amount of people you can bring due to bus space (so no merch guys or crew), but even purchasing plane tickets for five band members will cost between $5,000 – $9,000, depending on the time of year. You will also have to pay for the backline, which is between 500 and 1,000 euros. You will most likely want to bring your own guitars, cymbals, and rack units, which will require some strategy with distribution and weight. We payed 400 bucks each way last time for gear and merch alone, but it was worth it.

Your guarantee will determine the chunk of these costs that gets voided. Our first tour short fall was actually less than our second one despite the guarantee being twice as much, as there were less bands on the bus and the bus was much nicer.

You’ll learn to love and hate the bus. It’s awesome not having to drive or worry about parking, but it can feel like a prison sometimes, and if you happen to bring a chick on the bus, the bunk is not exactly the most romantic or spacious environment. You also can’t crap on the bus, so make use of gas station stops… but make sure you don’t get left behind!

The glamour of a tour bus can quickly be undermined by the fact that there are no shower facilities and no laundry, and not every venue has enoughshowers or laundry to sort out a whole tour’s worth of guys. The Euro tours we’ve done in terms of laundry and showers are almost always way grosser than American tours, where you can shower at motels or a friend’s places. 

The tour details that the agent sends your way will always change, and you will be expected to make payments throughout the tour to pay for the bus and booking fees. Remember all those currencies you have? You can only make these payments in Euros, so unless the TM has his own European bank, you’re gonna have to pull some strings to get people their money on time. Paying for the bus also includes the cost of gas, tolls, ferry fees, work permits and driver costs. Doing the sprinter sometimes makes way more sense, but driving yourself can be treacherous in a foreign land, especially in the UK, where they drive on the opposite side of the road. 

In the end, your guarantee hopefully takes care of a significant chunk out of your overall cost, but the first few times you go, don’t expect to be paying rent by the end. Fallujah ate it a little bit the first time, but in the grand scheme of things, not by much. There’s bands you’ve all heard of that haven’t made a dime in Europe until the third or fourth time they went, so we feel pretty fortunate that wasn’t the case. 

This should comprehensively wrap up most factors to expect when traveling to Europe for the first time. Be prepared, be nice, bring extra socks, and ask your friends who’ve been over there for advice. We will be taking part in the European festival circuit this year, which I hear is another totally different ball game, so perhaps a Part 2 to this colum will come out of it! Thank you and good luck. 

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