So, your tour is in the diary. Your band got a support slot with a band you love. Or perhaps you’re going out on the road as a sound engineer for the first time. Whether you’re performing, selling merch or a member of the crew, the unspoken rules of touring remain the same for almost everybody in the team. Unfortunately for most people, these rules really are unspoken, and you end up learning from your own, often “please let the ground swallow me whole” kind of mistakes. There’s lots of little things about touring that I often wish I had known from the get-go, so I spent some time curating a list of advice, drawing from my own experiences and some input from my touring peers.
1. Be organized.
Before you leave, really think about the things you need for the tour. Is your passport valid? Do you have the right visa if you’re travelling abroad? Did you pack enough underwear/guitar strings/Advil/deodorant? Personal hygiene is important and as much as some tours can feel like an everlasting stint at Glastonbury, regular showers and clean clothes are paramount. Bring things that make you comfortable too, especially if you’re away for a while; scented candles, portable speakers, pillows.
2. Pack as light as possible, you’ll be the one carrying it round.
Whilst you do want to bring some home comforts, don’t bring the kitchen sink (I struggle with this one personally)! It can also help to have separate totes as a ‘bus bag’ or ‘venue bag’ - things you just need for that one place so you’re not taking up a tiny dressing room with a huge suitcase.
3. Never assume anything.
This one comes from artist manager Joe Stopps, and he adds, “this applies to management, the entire music industry, to life!” This rule is helpful to everyone, but especially tour managers and those involved with the organization of the gig. Don’t assume there will be a house drum-kit, or enough dressing rooms for everyone, or even a stage. Make sure you have contacted the venue beforehand to reduce the element of surprise. I had a friend advise, “don’t assume the local crew have set-up everything right for you. Double check it yourself!”
4. Don’t burn yourself out by partying too hard.
On your first tour, the whole experience can be so exciting, you just want to party all the time. It’s what we assume to be the done thing; sex, drugs and rock and roll. It seems like an obvious piece of advice and I know it can be hard to heed, but don’t party hard every single night. You will get a rider (drinks and snacks provided to you by the venue) but just because the beer is free, cold and tempting, it doesn’t mean you need to drink it all. You can actually take it with you for another night (bring a cardboard box or tote for carrying your rider out). You need to be able to do your part on tour well; especially if you are a hired member of the team and are getting paid. Days on the road can be long and arduous and getting enough sleep often makes it easier. Not to say you shouldn’t relax and have a good time, but the optimum time is the night before a day off or travel day. Some nights, you just need to take yourself to bed. Your body and team will thank you!
5. Give everyone the space they need.
This applies especially if you are the opening band for a headliner. I learnt this one the hard way, when I kind of got in the way of the headliners in a corridor as they were coming off for their encore. I got a true angry, Scottish telling off from their tour manager. I feel like he might’ve been stricter than most, but for me it’s definitely set the bar for how to treat headliners, and as time goes on you can learn how they like to run things. For soundcheck, check the stage is definitely yours before loading on your own equipment. If you’re sharing a dressing room, make sure that you respect the space and do indeed share it. Check which rider is yours - don’t end up drinking the headliners beer!
6. Be polite, have a flexible attitude and remember people’s names.
It seems like simple advice, but it can go a long way. After many days of shows, tiredness can be sure to help manners slip, and you need to remember that it isn’t the people at today’s venues fault that you had a shitty show last night/your bus broke down/you missed your partner’s birthday party/your drummer didn’t shower today and you’ve been in a van with them for five hours. If you are polite, they should treat you well, and maybe even give you some extra beers at the end of the night. Better yet, invite you back to play again.
This also applies to the people within your team. Acts of kindness are always helpful. Offer to make cups of tea (especially with British crew!!), buy a round of drinks after a tough show. You need to be a person that can brighten the mood if it’s needed, but also give people the space to be alone when they need to.
7. Don’t screw the crew.
It’s also sensible to apply this rule to not only your crew, but other crews you’re touring with too. It only complicates things and makes everything awkward. If you fall in love and think this person is marriage material then perhaps then you can approach the situation, professionally! I also had a peer send in this piece of advice: “Don’t meet love interest in point A, then convince them to come with you and the band on the bus to the next show at point B!”
I think touring is always so much fun, and if you consider these survival tips whilst touring along with a healthy dose of common sense, the whole experience can really run smoothly. It should be memorable and some of the best times of your life. I’m totally addicted; I hope you will be too.
Guest Post by: Vicky Warwick
Vicky Warwick is a British musician and songwriter living in New York City. She's worked in the music industry for the last ten years appearing on stages and TV screens, playing to thousands of people across America, Australia, Europe and Asia with the likes of Charli XCX, Tom Bailey (Thompson Twins), Cyndi Lauper and Cee Lo Green. Read more about Vicky in The Crush's own feature on her here, and be sure to follow her on her socials @ainsliemusic on Instagram and Twitter.