With thousands upon thousands of bands, it becomes difficult to promote anyone's band these dates and get them noticed or in front of the pack of thousands and thousands of other bands trying for the audience's attention. These are one of many issues when it comes to just getting noticed. However, there's some barriers to even getting out there: bands trying to travel from gig to gig these days encounter high costs, especially with the recent rise in oil.
With breaking into the music business only getting seemingly more difficult as the weeks and months pass, there have been a number of DVDs out with "experts" trying to suggest different ways for musicians to gain, hold and then expand their fan base. These programs also take a look at touring more effectively, with aspects like routing (probably an especially big aspect of many tours these days) covered.
Martin Atkins certainly has a history as a musician, playing drummer in bands like Public Image, LTD, Ministry and Nine Inch Nails. Now a professor who teaches a class on touring and the head of a record label, Atkins has now written both a book and provided this DVD to discuss his thoughts on touring smart.
One of the biggest faults of the otherwise fine program has to be discussed at the start: the presentation. While I understand that this is a low-budget effort, it's low-budget to the point where it looks as if it was done with Atkins in his house with a friend holding the (what appears to be consumer quality) camera. Much of the program is Atkins speaking in front of a black background, and while I didn't dislike the music playing behind much of the program, it is loud enough in the audio that it is a little distracting from the points that Atkins is trying to get across.
All that said, if viewers can overlook the primitive presentation, the quality of the information is generally good, as Atkins goes over quite a few different stratgies for touring bands. The drummer discusses his experiences with trying to plan tour routes, and leads viewers through using Excel to map out both distance and cost. Along those same lines, Atkins provides a fine course in driving long hours (a family member's band recently played a gig and then somehow managed to drive a good 10 hours all through the night and into the next morning to go back home.), as well.
On the merchandising end, Atkins provides discussions on his experiences and thoughts regarding how to approach packaging your release, as well as a particularly interesting segment showing viewers how to use screen printing for T-shirts. While some of his merchandising recommendations - if a certain product isn't selling, Atkins is otherwise knowledgeable in areas like planning, audience interaction, presentation (a lengthy pair of featurettes on how to be a better opening band) and technical aspects (the last segment is on drum recording tips.)
Overall, I found aspects of this program really informative - Atkins has some great ideas on packaging and touring - but for someone who has great ideas about presentation, the presentation of this title could use some work. Some simple steps could have really made this a more enjoyable watch, such as putting the music at the beginning and end of the segments rather than putting it through the entire program and also, a change of venue (why not head to a nearby concert hall to point out some of the points in person instead of doing most of the program standing in front of what appears to be a sheet?) Additionally, Atkins also gets a little pushy with the book version of this program - those who bought the DVD will find that he promotes the book several times during the running time.
The best DVD in this genre I've seen remains, "411 On the Independent Music Movement", which offered 3 discs worth of information, including DVD-ROM supplemental features. While "Tour Smart" offers some good tidbits, there are certainly some missed opportunities here in terms of making this a more in-depth and interactive presentation (there isn't even a "play all" option - or a main menu, for that matter - you have to play all the different segments separately.)
VIDEO: 1.78:1 widescreen presentation that's soft and frequently shows mild-to-heavy grain. Colors look a bit subdued, but that's likely due to lighting and the camera used.
SOUND: The stereo soundtrack suffers from having the background music being a little overpowering. Audio quality is otherwise decent.
EXTRAS: Nothing. Again, a missed opportunity - if Atkins wanted to promote the book version, he could have included a selected section or two of the book as a supplement.
Final Thoughts: "Tour Smart" offers up some great advice about planning the journey and trying to get your band in the minds of the public, but some of the tips seem a tad common sense. Presentation quality is where the program definitely comes up short. Overall, a mild recommendation for bands just starting out.