[Editors Note: This article was written by Patrick McGuire.]
Call me old (I’m 33), but touring inspires about as much dread in me as it does excitement these days.
Yes, it’s an opportunity for me to connect with audiences, meet other musicians and share my art with the world, but even the thought of it makes me mighty anxious.
Where do you park and go to the bathroom in a big, unfamiliar city? What happens if my car breaks down or if someone steals all my instruments? If no one comes to my shows, how much money will I lose? Full disclosure: I’m a big worrier even on a good day, but my tour misgivings come from a reasonable place.
Even for established bands, tour is often an experience fraught with risks and challenges. I’ve been at it for about a decade now, and I still have the same overall feelings about touring that I did when I started, which can be summed up as it being the simultaneously the best and worst thing in the world.
This survival kit and guide is meant to give readers a few actionable tips and insights to help their own tours run as swimmingly as possible. Let’s start with a few items you might not have thought to add to your touring survival kit:
Raise your hand if you’re a deeply introverted person.
A little higher, please.
Ok, good. I see you and I’ve got some bad news: Touring is going to be a big challenge for you. Why? Because there are people around you literally 24/7, unless you’re at the point in your career where you can afford your own hotel room every night, in which case, why are you even reading this article? Noise-canceling headphones are a good way to shut the world out and create some emotional space for yourself by listening to music. They’re also great for sleeping on the way to shows.
Tour has a way of sucking musicians into bleak black holes of gas station junk food and fast food restaurant fare, sheerly out of the fact that there’s typically not much time to find healthier alternatives. Bringing some fresh produce with you won’t fill you up or keep you from eating garbage, but it will make you feel a bit better when you eat it in tandem with said garbage. Those bags of clementines are always a good bet, or you could go the grapefruit route if you’re feeling especially ambitious.
Workout clothes/gym membership
Bad food. Bad sleep. Probably lots of drinking and maybe some other stuff. Countless hours crammed in a car.
Touring is at odds with our bodies in lots of ways, which is one of the reasons it’s so difficult. Making a real effort to exercise during your time off can help reverse some of these effects, but it’s not easy. If you can, use your gym membership and bring your work clothes along for the tour. No gym membership? Try basic maintenance exercises like pushups, squats and jogging
Practical touring tips
Now, let’s run through a couple of tips to help you maintain your sanity and relationships on the road:
Take time for yourself
Introverts and more social musicians alike risk going batty without taking time for themselves on tour. Taking time for yourself could look like anything from taking a long walk alone, exercising or scheduling an hour during your down time to do something nice for yourself.
The longer the tour, the more important this is.
Do everything you can to maintain important relationships at home
Touring is not an excuse to get away from your spouse and kids, but it is a good way to put some space between you and your annoying roommate or boss. A couple of short tours most likely won’t impact your most important relationships, but longer ones can definitely take their toll.
Taking the time to call, text and video chat with your loved ones at home is your best chance at creating a sustainable touring situation over the long-term. Yes, this often means loud phone calls shouted over the noise of the tour van, but it’s far better than the alternative, which puts serious musicians at risk of damaging their most vital relationships.
When it comes to touring for long periods of time, extremes are not your friend.
Smart and sustainable touring hinges on mostly everyday common sense stuff––don’t drink too much, try to get enough sleep, avoid eating fast food for a month straight––but the norms a musician adheres to at home are difficult to uphold in a touring setting. Embracing moderation on tour means doing your best to take care of yourself. It’s about drinking three beers instead of eight, jogging before the show instead of sitting in the green room and ordering a salad instead of a hamburger now and then.
The benefits of moderation might seem small, but they add up, especially if touring is something you regularly hope to do throughout your career.
Patrick McGuire is a writer, composer, and experienced touring musician based in Philadelphia.