In the gamut of record-company marketing tactics, perhaps none is more routinely misunderstood than the promotional tour. Quite often, in a meeting to discuss the launch of a new album or single, someone will proffer the following suggestion: "Let's do a promo tour to get this track started!" A variety of scenarios can happen next, some infinitely more positive than others. Having cut my teeth in the biggest and oldest promotion department in the business, I have planned and participated in many a promo tour for a wide array of artists. Some have been very successful, and others have been considerably less so, but there remains a consistent theme through out all of them: If the song or project being worked, is not a bona fide "hit" from the outset, a promotional tour will not change that important fact, regardless of the amount of leg work or money a label puts into it.
What is a Promotional Tour?
Put simply, a promotional tour is the process of taking an artist across the country to push their music to radio stations. While this might sound obvious, it actually reveals one of the many strange facets of the music business: the absolute necessity of promoting product to the industry prior to promoting it to the consumer. Why is this required? Well, think about it for a moment. How do you first hear new songs? If you are anything like the rest of the country, you probably hear them on the radio before all else. The fact is, an overwhelming majority of record buyers are incredibly passive consumers. If they hear a song on the radio and like it, they will probably end up buying it. For the most part, people do not go out of their way to discover new music. When you consider that what people do not hear they probably do not buy, you begin to understand the labels' desperate struggle to get songs played on the radio. For unlike other product-oriented businesses, the record industry is reliant on an entirely separate industry to get its product onto the radar of consumers.