Touring season is here! Yeah! For most musicians this is the start of the most fun time of year. But the price of gas… ouch… that can really put a hole in our wallets. In the end, we have to accept that paying for gas is part of the cost of doing business for Christian bands. The expense must be added into our budget for each gig and tour. We do not, however, have to spend more than is necessary.
There are some specific things we can do to cut our Christian bands gas expenses:
Choose which vehicle to drive carefully
The greatest increase or decrease in most Christian bands gas costs is determined by what we drive to and from gigs. Years ago everyone wanted a bus. But for most bands buses were more about status than practicality. They can be very difficult to maneuver into the alleys and parking lots of many smaller or city venues and they almost never are easy to park at house parties. Additionally, when a bus breaks down not every mechanic can fix it. So, because of the rising costs of diesel, parts, and repairs buses have fallen out of favor with all but the largest acts.
Some bands have substituted RV’s for buses. But RV’s have some serious drawbacks. They were designed to drive for a while and then be parked for longer periods of time. So, RV’s tend to break down more frequently than buses for bands that play in a different city each night. Getting great gas mileage is not a high priority for most RV designers either. Bands can save some money by sleeping in their RV, but parking in a campground where there is electricity and water plus paying to empty the septic system can offset the savings. RV’s are still fairly difficult to maneuver into the load in area of many venues and they difficult to secure, so they are targets for thieves. Additionally, RV’s are not designed to haul the weight or the size of band gear. If your band travels with a sound system you will need a trailer, which puts more strain on the engine and decreases gas mileage.
Now most bands prefer to use larger vans coupled with a trailer when needed. My husbands band found that a 15 passenger van with the back 2 seats removed and a 12’ trailer suited our needs best. If we packed carefully we could do without the trailer for gigs that did not require us to bring sound or lights. Shows that required more equipment or longer tours required the trailer. The van is relatively easy to maneuver, park, and secure. The gas mileage on the van is not great but it was the most cost efficient option for us.
Some bands choose to drive multiple vehicles. Usually, this choice is made because the band cannot afford to purchase a van so everyone drives their own vehicles separately to the gig. Most of the time band members are not reimbursed for their gas. If you have to start out this way, do whatever it takes, but understand that this is very expensive in both gas and vehicle maintenance. Serious musicians who want to play in a band should consider purchasing a van as soon as possible. In the case of my husband’s band, I purchased a 15 passenger van personally, which I then drove as my personal vehicle. Whenever the band needed the van they paid for the gas and from time to time contributed money towards repairs. When I needed to drive longer distances without the band, one of the members traded me their car for the van. It would have been more ideal if the band could have purchased the van themselves, but most Christian bands simply cannot afford to do so.
OK, so we can’t exactly ride our bicycles to gigs to save money on gas. We have to drive to shows and to tour. But the #1 way we can decrease the amount of miles we drive is to not get lost. Know where you are going and how to get their efficiently. Use a GPS or at the very least swallow your pride and stop and ask for directions when you need to (not an hour later). Make sure the band has a correct address to the venue and confirm that the show is still on before hitting the road.
Routing your tours is critical to save gas money. In fact, tour routing can make the difference between a tour that makes money or one that costs money. Spend extra time on booking shows that make sense geographically and financially. The exposure from playing that one big prestigious show is not always worth it.
Maintain your Vehicle
We know our vehicles run better when we do this stuff: tune-ups, tire inflation and rotation, and oil changes. The trick is to actually do it. How many break downs could we have avoided if we would have taken the time to have the maintenance done (and needed repairs spotted) BEFORE we hit the road? We can save the time wasted breaking down and save money on gas by keeping our vehicles in good condition. We all agree with this, we even remind ourselves to do it as we are reading this article. But somehow this task is frequently forgotten in our busy schedules. So, stop right now and make an appointment to have the work done and them come back to finish reading.
Buy Cheaper Gas
Gasbuddy.com is your friend, but the app only works if you actually take the time to plan ahead and use it. Do not wait until the gas tank is on E before starting to look for a gas station, you will then have to buy from whichever gas station is at the next exit no matter what the price. Instead, develop the habit of starting to look for a less expensive gas station when your tank is at 1/4.
Buy gas during the week before the show. Statistically, Wednesday is the least expensive day to buy gas. But, this is not always true. Gas prices can jump up at any time. Gasbuddy has an app you can get to alert your phone when gas prices are going up in your area. Fill up when the prices are lowest, even if it is a few days before your gig.
Drive like a Grandma
Maybe that was a bad example… my Grandma had a lead foot. But you know what I mean. Slow down just a little, accelerate and stop more slowly. It does not have to be an extreme change to get better gas mileage. Remember that your band vehicle is carrying quite a bit of weight with the people and equipment. Be safe and put a few extra pennies in your pocket at the same time.
The primary reason most of us speed is because we are late. It seems like someone, often the same band member is consistently running late. So, we start the trip late and try to make up the time on the road. But, if you save even an average of $3 in gas per show and play 100 shows a year that comes to $300 (you could buy a nice bit of equipment with the savings). The person who is habitually late is not only inconsiderate but is costing the band money and is putting pressure on the driver to speed up, endangering everyone in the vehicle. Allow plenty of time to load up and confront a band member who has a lateness issue.
Carry Less Weight
A heavy vehicle burns more gas. So, lighten the load whenever possible. You do not need to take every piece of equipment the band owns to every show. Needed equipment should be discussed during the booking process. Bring what you need but try to cut back whenever possible, especially on the heaviest gear. If you are doing a longer tour and will need some heavier equipment at only a few venues, call ahead and check the cost of renting what you need upon arriving in that city. The expense of renting may be worth it especially if it means the band can leave the trailer home.
Gas is an expense your Christian band will always have. But why pay more than you have to? Cutting gas expenses consistently over a year could allow your band to play one more free show, buy some needed equipment or help pay to record your next song. Be smart, don’t throw your money away at the gas pump; keep it to further your Christian bands ministry.