The 7 Best Countries & 3 to Avoid for Traveling Musicians

Hello friends. My name is Brett Newski. Since 2010, I’ve made a living as a nomadic songwriter playing around 1000 gigs on six continents and 22 countries. While the road brings hard lessons, the glory and the novelty of seeing new places is truly invigorating. Below is one mans’ analysis of experiences playing these select countries. Hopefully this brings you insights on where to route your next international tour.

THE BEST:

Switzerland

Exploring Basel, CH, pre show

Exploring Basel, CH, pre show

Hats off. One of the wealthiest countries in the world, no wonder they treat every artist like the Rolling Stones. Best hospitality on earth, hands down. The locals all look like super models. I’ve never had a soul-crushing gig in this country. It’s almost always open bar for performers and great pay. The clubs curate nights with passion and the sound guy is never a chump. The promoter cooks up a premium dinner, and we’ll sit around with the staff and eat family style. People here are reserved, but incredibly nice and stoked on live music. Nice hotels free of bed bugs. Lodging is almost always provided.

  • Artist Pay: 5/5
  • Hospitality: 5/5
  • Crowds: 5/5
  • Transit: 5/5

Germany

The third biggest music market in the world, Germany is a touring bands paradise. The most forgiving audiences I’ve ever seen. Dudes that would get booed off stage and pelted with tomatoes in the US are given a fair shot in Germany. There are so many cities that a band could play seven nights a week for a month if they wanted to. Pay is usually fair and listeners understand the value of art and contribute generously in pass the hat situations. Unlike Americas endless stream of jabroni promoters, Germany consistently has the best promoters in the world. Even the small towns have quality venues with promoters that take pride in getting people to your gig. Germans are notorious for timeliness and organizational skills, which makes their music industry ace. Mega.

  • Artist Pay: 4/5
  • Hospitality: 5/5
  • Crowds: 4/5
  • Transit: 5/5

 

Norway

Driving from Bergen to Oslo, Norway

Driving from Bergen to Oslo, Norway

Notorious for its government arts funding, socialist politics and blonde super babes, Norway is virtually unbeatable for gigging. The landscape looks like a myth. Every sight line could be a post-card. The air is just fresher up there. Locals are excited to see touring bands and the pace of life is slow and healthy. Norwegians spend lots of time in nature and it keeps them noticeably more human than us Americans who’s attention spans are fried by tech hyper speed. “Zen” would be the word I’d use to describe Norway. Pay is incredibly good, the food is deluxe, and artist hospitality is above-average. The only negative is that cost-of-living is absurd, so it’s best to be gigging every night. Roads are smooth like gravy, but pricey tolls.

  • Artist Pay: 4.5/5
  • Hospitality: 3.5/5
  • Crowds: 4/5
  • Transit: 3.5/5
First trip to South Africa circa 2012

First trip to South Africa circa 2012

South Africa

This is the first country I ever toured solo and probably my all-time favorite. The most welcoming people of all-time. Way above-average arts culture. Pace of life is sloth snail slow. Live first, work second. South Africans are genuinely happy campers in my experience. The indie music community is small but very loyal. Go there once and you’ll always be welcomed back (if you’re not a dickface). The touring circuit is generally a 7-8 markets for smaller bands. Bigger acts will come and play Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban. Food is fresh, tasty and dirt cheap. South Africans have massive hearts. Crime can be a problem but it’s easily avoided if you follow the guidelines. Recently, the currency in ZA has really plummeted, which makes touring more difficult these days.

White Mountain Festival, South Africa, 2013

White Mountain Festival, South Africa, 2013

  • Artist Pay: 2/5
  • Hospitality: 4/5
  • Crowds: 4/5
  • Transit: 2/5

 

Ireland

Sweet crap! Irish people are cool. I’m obsessed with them. The world’s top accent and they back it up with their kindness and character. The first tour I did there they were in a big recession, but they’ve since climbed out and morale is back up. People get hammered drunk, in a good way. Pay is generally fair, but not stellar. One doesn’t tour Ireland to make boat loads of cash, it’s all about the mythical green landscape and magical experience. The best beer in the world has got to be Guinness. It’s freshest here. Crowds are appreciative and amped on live music. Artists must keep ticket prices low, as there’s not a ton of cash to go around. Very short drives between gigs.

Ireland tour circa twenty fifteen

Ireland tour circa twenty fifteen

  • Artist Pay: 2.5/5
  • Hospitality: 4/5
  • Crowds: 4.5/5
  • Transit: 5/5

 

Austria

One of earth’s hidden gems. A hot bed for indie music. One of the few countries I’ve ever crowd-surfed. Austrians are reserved until they start partying. Then it’s game on. Respectful, smart listeners that love songwriting and guitars. The people understand good music and the government gets behind the arts as well. I have nothing bad to say about this country.

  • Artist Pay: 4/5
  • Hospitality: 5/5
  • Crowds: 5/5
  • Transit: 5/5

 

Belgium

Belgians ARE NOT pussies. They love alternative music with an edge. You even hear it all over the radio. Friendly and unpretentious, Belgians are prolific beer drinkers as well. In my experience, the promoters are legendary. AB Brussels is one of the best venues in the world. The market can be tough to get a foot in the door but it’s certainly worth doing a few DIY shows there to get started and build up from there.

  • Artist Pay: 4/5
  • Hospitality: 4/5
  • Crowds: 5/5
  • Transit: 4/5

MEDIOCRE:

America

Things in the USA have improved slightly since this post

Things in the USA have improved slightly since this post

Ah, the land of the free. The US has the greatest amount of opportunity in the world. The ceiling is infinite. There are countless venues, media outlets and listeners to reach. It’s extremely easy to book gigs and Americans are generally open to new things. Adversely, the clutter in the US is out of control. Everyone and their mother is in a band and the barriers to entry are almost zero. Audience attention spans are very low, so bring you’re A-game on stage. It’s certainly the most manic music market on earth, but if you can navigate the mayhem and persevere for some years, it can be the holy grail of rock n roll.

One-man Garage Band tour circa 2016 At Fort Kurz Iowa, USA

One-man Garage Band tour circa 2016 At Fort Kurz Iowa, USA

  • Artist Pay: 3/5
  • Hospitality: 2.5/5
  • Crowds: 3/5
  • Transit: 3.5/5

 

 

Australia

No place has kicked my ass more than Australia. All in all, flights to Oz are brutally expensive, local competition is fierce, and the exchange rate is terrible for the Aussie Dollar right now. The first time I went there was to visit my girlfriend and play a few gigs. She broke up with me on the second day and I ended up mucking around by myself for a week, drinking malt liquor out of a paper bag. Eventually I would forge a medical document to get a free flight home. The second visit to Oz came with a couple crappy club shows and ended with me getting kicked out of my friends house for stealing her bed. Fair enough.

On the contrary, Tasmania is part of Australia, and the MONA FOMA Festival is one of the coolest gigs I’ve ever played. Primo hospitality and appreciative, smart crowds. I played for several hundred people in a dark, twisted art museum that felt like Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory on a double dose of Mushrooms. It was the greatest.

  • Artist Pay: 3/5
  • Hospitality: 3.5/5
  • Crowds: 3/5
  • Transit: 2/5

 

Netherlands

NL is perhaps my favorite country in Europe to visit, but toughest to play. The Dutch are totally legendary people; tall, friendly and attractive. But when it comes to buying merch and concert tickets, there’s a reason the term “going Dutch” exists. Taxes here are absurd so there’s a fair excuse for tight pockets. However, arts culture is fairly high. The festival circuit is extensive for such a tiny country and the government injects cash into some truly nice venues. There is a broad appreciation for more straight-forward pop music and cover bands. I’ve had my all-time lowest selling merch days in NL. But I did buy a bicycle for 12 euros from a junkie in Amsterdam, which is a victory that negates any bad gigs. ;)

  • Artist Pay: 1/5
  • Hospitality: 2.5/5
  • Crowds: 2.5/5
  • Transit: 5/5

WORST

Vietnam

Don’t get me wrong, I love Vietnam. I loved it so much that I lived there for two years. But Asia in general is a bitch for indie music. It simply hasn’t developed yet. The war truly killed the arts scene in Vietnam, as communism relocated the artists out of the cities and crushed creativity. I can’t talk smack about Vietnam, because it simply hasn’t had time to develop musically. I have played a few epic landmark gigs in Saigon, but all in all it is a cover bands paradise with minimal original music landscape. It’s been 3+ years since living there, so assume it’s improving.

Post-show, “In Between Exits” Asia Tour 2011

Post-show, “In Between Exits” Asia Tour 2011

Hard Rock Café Saigon, Vietnam 2012 - "Tiny victories" album release show

Hard Rock Café Saigon, Vietnam 2012 - "Tiny victories" album release show

  • Artist Pay: 3/5
  • Hospitality: 2.5/5
  • Crowds: 2.5/5
  • Transit: 1/5

 

Sweden

As the creators of Spotify, no wonder nobody buys records here. The Swedes have incredibly high intellect and breed incredible bands, likely due to generous government arts backing. Crowds appreciate a good live band, but I’m not sure they respect it. Artists must keep ticket prices low even though income is good. Taxes are mega high, which likely plays a big roll in the tight-pockets of audiences here. Toughest country to sell merch. Long ass drives and expensive petrol. Cool people but dismal artist hospitality.

  • Artist Pay: 2/5
  • Hospitality: 2/5
  • Crowds: 2/5
  • Transit: 2/5

UK

Outside of my home state of Wisconsin, the British are the drunkest people I’ve ever seen. Generally they are cool but the ratio of meatheads to common folk is extremely high in my experience. Architecture is amazing and there’s great exploring to be done. There are loads of places to play, but patrons have seen it all and attention spans are almost as low as America. I’ve had a few glorious gigs in the UK, but competition is fierce and pay is dismal. Riding the train in London is mad pricey. It presents the same challenges as America, but drive times are shorter.

  • Artist Pay: 1/5
  • Hospitality: 2/5
  • Crowds: 2/5
  • Transit: 2.5/5