James Rushin's "Stuff You Might Not Have Thought About" Before Touring: A Guide
(ShackMan | Posted 2011-06-23)
Okay, so itís getting to be summer time, and for us musicians, that means tour time, especially if itís your first tour. How did I know youíre doing your first tour in the summer, you ask? Because youíre probably smart enough to realize that you A) wonít have to pack nearly as much as you would in the Winter, and space is crucial (more on that later), and B) that $1500 Chevy Astrovan has probably seen too many winters for its age, maybe more than you have, and taking it out into the snow just isnít a great idea anymore. Besides that, there are few things more fun than loading and unloading a van in below zero temperatures, not to mention the happiness that comes from pneumonia, the flu, or the all-too-common cold.
So now youíve gotten this far, and youíve (presumably) booked your shows for your week, weeks, month, or however long of a tour youíre going on. Actually, if you havenít booked your shows yet, you really might want to reconsider your tour (as well as your work ethic). But assuming youíve got shows to play, letís make sure youíre ready for the hardships of the road. Itís not as easy as just ďriding the open roadĒ can sound. Just ask anybody who went through the 60ís, if they can remember.
Before I start this list, however, there are two things I should address:
First, be certain that you get along with the guys youíre with. Donít just think that you can handle it for the next 4 months and not bring up whatever problems you have, because in 4 months of living and working and playing and living and working and playing and living and working and playing together all the time (even sleeping together), things will come out. So make sure youíve got a crew that you approve of and can trust for starters, and the rest of your tour will go 10,000% easier for it. Trust me. Iíve been there on both sides. Friends first, then bandmates.
Second, on the topic of going on tour and leaving a girlfriend/boyfriend behind, Iím not going to say it isnít doable, because Iíve done it, but I donít recommend it unless you are in a serious relationship with the happily ever after in mind. Touring is a serious test of trust, fidelity, and communication, and even with Skype, it isnít easy. I would only recommend it for people who have been dating a long time or are engaged to be married already. Notice I have NOT mentioned actually bringing your significant other along, because ... donít. Unless that person is a part of the band, itís just another mouth to feed, more space in the van, and itíll just make everyone else uncomfortable. That said, even though you need to keep up communication with your significant other, donít let it hurt your adventurous side on tour. Go exploring. And donít forget to keep up communication with your bandmates, because they can feel left out and get annoyed just as fast. Yeah. Itís tough to have the relationship baggage. Itís doable, but definitely, absolutely tough.
Now that Iíve got that out of the way, on with the list of some major things you might not have thought about when going on tour:
1. Have a stash of money saved for emergencies while youíre out, or a band pool. Put cash aside to do laundry, too, although some nice fans might let you use their washing machines. More on them further on in the list...
2. Have a cancellation fee worked into your contracts in case your show gets dropped. There are few things worse than driving 300 miles to your next show only to find out that youíre not actually going to play or get paid.
3. Play shows with other bands, and you might not have to pack as many shirts. Many of them will thank you for playing a show with them, especially local bands without much money, with T-shirts. This is good for you and having clean clothing, and itís plenty good for them to get some advertising across the country.
4. Bandmatesí family members and local bands are (usually) your friends. You really donít always need to book hotels on tour. You can, if youíre nice, find people who will house you for the night (often in local bands or with their friends). I have saved thousands on tour by doing this, but, and I must stress this, Do so at your own risk, and use your absolute best judgment. If anything seems slightly out of place or strange, donít donít donít DONíT sleep there. And even if you do decide to sleep there, make sure you keep all of your valuables, particularly your wallet and such, locked in the car. Iíve heard too many horror stories of people waking up in an empty house with nothing, or even waking up and getting arrested for trespassing because whomever brought them there didnít actually own the house. That was a bad day for them...in jail.
5. Have a laptop to get online. Also have some online marketing device, like social networking sites, e-mail, etc. etc.. Have a listserv or some kind of e-mail blasting advertisement setup. Advertise ahead for your shows. Have a press kit, CDs, and any paraphernalia ready in advance for EVERY show. If you need something shipped to you (like, say, more CDs) have them shipped to a venue (who should agree to take your package) a week in advance. Many venues will help you out in this. Do as many of the above as possible to get maximum attendance for each show and make your fans remember you.
6. Do a pre-pack job to make sure you can actually FIT all of your stuff. Check, double-check, and re-check your gear. And make sure itís packable to where it can get jostled and shaken and come out fine. That means having as much of your gear in hard cases as possible for safety. Sure, itís heavier, but itís worth saving your guitars and amps on the long haul.
7. Be judicious with your packing space, because there wonít be much of it. Sure, youíll need clothes, a pillow, a sleeping bag, but face it, bringing a portable grill or an Xbox 360 is just not worth the room it takes up.
8. One of the best ideas my father had before my very first tour was to get a power inverter for the van. Most any vehicle you can get with the bandís hard-earned cash (unless youíre in a rich family) isnít gonna have a power outlet to charge phones, laptops, etc., or power a portable DVD player for those really long trips. Power inverters have several outlets for this and are powered by a simple cigarette lighter. Face it, you wonít be in houses or hotels enough to charge them there, and getting a charge onstage not only looks unprofessional, itís a recipe for disaster.
9. Have a GPS or really good directions. The last thing you want is to miss a gig because you didnít know how to get there. And whether itís a long or short trip, cruise control is your friend. Set it exactly to the speed limit to save gas, too. Plus, letís be honest...do you really have enough money for a speeding ticket? I didnít think so.
10. Debit cards are your friends; more so than credit cards, unless you have someone back home paying for you. So is a way to do online banking. This way you donít have to worry about paying a bill each month while youíre out on the road, you can still get interest off of your savings account (and maybe youíre checking account too, if you pay bills with that), and you donít have to carry hundreds in cash so that youíre good for the whole tour.
11. Tissues tissues tissues. And cough medicine, Tylenol, Advil, etc. Personally, I recommend Zycam tablets (they dissolve and donít make you sleepy, and they can suppress a cold in minutes), Allegra D, and Mucinex (which is an expectorant, so the tissues come in handy). I also recommend orange juice, a healthy diet (or at least as much as possible on the road with no money), and sleep. Definitely sleep. Which reminds me...
12. SLEEP SLEEP SLEEP SLEEP. I canít stress that enough. No matter how much you want to party, sleep is necessary, especially for the driver. There are few things more good-show-killing than trying to perform half-asleep. Itís bad.
13. Drugs arenít worth it. For the amount of money it would take to get weed, E, speed, or whatever your pleasure, you could also buy food for a few days, have some extra cash to spend if you need emergency repairs on your van (likely), or go SEE a show on one of your off-days. I actually got to go behind the scenes at an Explosions in the Sky/Deftones show with a bandmate one night at half price just for showing up while the other half of the band went to try and find marijuana and almost got arrested. Oh yeah, did I mention drugs are illegal? Real easy way to end your tour quick.
14. On that same note, resist the urge to sleep somewhere away from the rest of the bandmates, especially if itís to ďget itĒ with a member of the opposite gender. There are so many who will go through with everything and seem perfect only to rob you blind before you wake up. And you might even find that this person led you to someone elseís house (see #4). Try explaining your way out of that one to the police when youíre up for trespassing, intoxication, and/or public indecency. Getting caught naked at someone elseís house isnít exactly something you want on your record. Stick with your bandmates. Then a dead cell phone doesnít mean youíre stuck and/or completely lost. Or kidnapped.
15. Bar fights, brawls, etc. can happen any time, any where. Travel in groups, donít start any argument, and just be kind to those around you. If you want a repeat gig, or if you donít want to lose money on the gig paying for new glasses, drink stock, or tables/chairs, donít start something. As a matter of fact, just be nice to everyone. Even the jerks. You never know where a windfall might come from, or who can bad mouth you and get you dropped from the bill that night with no pay.
16. Many places will offer you a free drink tab or even free food. Donít abuse it, no matter how willing they are to offer you service, and do remember to tip your waiter/waitress even though your food was free! They will be much more inclined to bring your band back if the serving staff is much less inclined to slash your tires when you return.
17. KEEP AN EYE ON YOUR GEAR AT ALL TIMES! Do not leave it unattended, EVER. EVER EVER EVER. Think about how much that custom Suhr guitar cost you. Think about that Diezel half-stack or your pedalboard. It can all grow legs at the slightest provocation. So donít leave it alone, because itíll walk. Did I mention you kinda need that stuff to keep playing? Yeah. Keep an eye on it.
18. Speaking of gear, again, be judicious! Bassists can get by with a 4x10Ē or a 1x15Ē (probably even a 1x12Ē) cabinet rather than a full stack. Guitarists can work just fine with that 1x12Ē Fender tube amp and an amp stand to raise it off the floor. Remember, youíll likely have soundmen and PA systems already set up at your shows, so donít feel like you have to make a wall of amps to get a wall of sound. Likewise with guitars, bringing your 7 Telecaster Specials just so you have ďbackupsĒ is not a good use of space. 2 guitars is plenty.
19. DO bring strings, though, and plenty of them. Those can break any time, and once you use a set, restock at the next music store. Many stores will give you a discount for buying by the box instead of by the set (especially money-saving for bassists), so think about that on your initial stock-up.
20. Once youíve figured out your road setup, pack it so that itís clean, with nothing exposed from your pedalboard or amplifier that can get damaged on the drive. I have always had a solid rack case (hard, not padded) and a pedalboard (also hard) to carry my gear. The cables are coiled and ready to go in my pedalboard case so that I plug one into the start of my board and into my guitar, and the other one going out of my board and into the amp. Likewise, with the amplifier rack, have your whole setup prewired so you can just open it and connect a speaker cable to your cabinet and be ready. Also, if youíre using a rack tuner or racking effects, make sure you use your amplifiers tuner output or effects loop instead of putting them in your signal path to save on fuzz and hum in your sound. Just read the reviews of various tuners to see what I mean. Youíll save your sound and your setup time.
21. Drugs arenít worth it Part II! The aftereffects. The morning after. Finding your wallet. Your performance the next day. This is especially bad for vocalists...but really, itís no good for anybody. Then thereís the other side effects...and Iíll speak directly and outside of a list on this...
To any and all band-members out there...drugs are not worth it. Imagine youíre excited and on tour and having a ball. Youíre being looked at by a few record companies even, with serious money coming along with it. Youíve got months of gigs booked and a trip across the country. Now imagine youíre a week into it...youíre getting high, and you get paranoid. In your drugged state, you freak out and start to wonder about your bandmates and think that they donít really care for you...they just want the rights to your songs, your money. This tour isnít worth it. And you book a flight home by taking all of the money that the band has made to do it. You leave. And there goes 8 months of gigs and a big shot at bigger things. There goes an EP and two live albums, as well as a few thousand fans nationwide. But you got high, and right then, that was the important thing. True story. I got left 9 hours from home, because one of my bandmates got high and freaked out. So I will repeat the two biggest tips I will ever give anyone who wants to get into a band or go on tour:
- Drugs are NOT worth it.
- Drugs are NEVER worth it.
Oh, and stay creative. Keep pushing boundaries and being inventive. Always be friendly, and always stay on the bright side (thank you Monty Python). Peace and good luck!
James Rushin is a bassist, keyboardist, writer, and composer living and working in the Greater Pittsburgh area. He has performed with Selmer artist Tim Price, Curtis Johnson, guitarists Ken Karsh and Joe Negri. His compositions have been featured in and around Pittsburgh, at West Virginia University and Valley Forge Christian College.
Got questions? Comments? James can be reached as ShackMan in the Music Gear Review forums, or you may e-mail him at James.Rushin@MusicGearReview.com.