[Editor’s Note: This article was written by Angela Mastrogiacomo. While the outlook on touring in 2020 remains bleak, remember that we’re all going through this together. Fans, venues, artist teams – it isn’t great. However, we wanted to share this piece as artists begin to think about their future tour dates and soak up some critical words of wisdom from artists and tour managers with on-the-road experience.]
Hitting the road for the first time can be one of the most exhilarating, exciting, and exhausting experiences of a musician’s life. While the freedom to see parts of the world you never expect, to meet people who love your music as much as you do, and to have the opportunity to truly do what you love for weeks on end and nothing else—it’s a moment to be treasured.
But ask any new artist and they’re likely to say that while their first few tours were something to remember, there was a lot they wish they’d known. Obstacles they inevitably ran into, hardships they faced, and confusions they’d rather not relive.
Luckily, there are tons of seasoned artists out there who have made the road their second home and were more than willing to spill their tour secrets.
So whether you’re brand new to touring or you’re just looking for smoother sailing next time, this is for you.
Expect to hit a few bumps
“No matter how thoroughly I planned things out, unexpected bumps in the road and obstacles were bound to pop up.” explains Matt Lukasiewicz, tour manager for The Exchange, who were featured on NBC and performed throughout North America, Asia, Australia and Europe, including the European leg of the Backstreet Boys ‘In a World Like This’ tour.
“My job was to plan and then execute said-plans to get the band from point A to point B, but the main skills I would need in abundance were adaptability and improvisation. And I think that goes for the artists as well, needing to be able to go with the flow and understand that things happen. With that said, it’s better to be way too early just hanging out in a lobby, airport, or a tour bus or a green room, than to risk being late at all. When in doubt, just be early, give yourself and the schedule a cushion for those unexpected flight delays, traffic jams, or whatever else the universe wants to throw at you to keep your life interesting.”
This one was undoubtedly one of the themes that came up time and time again. When you’re organizing something as massive as a multi city tour, with so many unpredictable elements like weather, delays, health, etc, you’re bound to run into a few hiccups. The key is to be nimble enough to still plan as best you can, while being nimble enough to adjust as you go.
Know what you can handle—and when you need a break
Touring is one of those things that pushes you to confront who you really are and what you can really handle.
“I wish I knew how much extrovert time I can actually handle,” explains Elissa Sun. “When you’re playing a ton of shows, you get used to making small talk, which takes a lot of energy. This is especially true if you’re planning to stay on couches/stay in other people’s houses, where you’re a guest. Schedule time for yourself to be alone, take care of yourself and do things you love that are unrelated to the music.”
And then, there’s the flip side.
“The thing that surprised me the most about touring is how lonely it can be,” explains Chyna Brackeen. “Even in a van tour, when you’re crammed in with the entire band and crew, people tend not to interact as much as you’d expect. Some immediately put on headphones, others are glued to their phones and social media, others nap. There is always someone who seems to want to talk all of the time, but it is either not the person you want to talk to, or you eventually run out of things to say to one another. On days off, it’s common for everyone to scatter. It’s kind of amazing how you can feel so crowded and constrained because you’re constantly surrounded by people – yet also feel so alone.”
You might even feel both of these within the same tour—just know both are a normal part of touring, and that with some focus on some of the other mentions on this list, you can combat it and create healthy habits that work for you.
Soak in every second
Sometimes when you’re in the heat of a super-stressful storm of moments, it can be really easy to get overwhelmed and lose sight of what an incredible experience and opportunity it all really is. By and far one of the #1 piece of advice that came up over and over from our experts was to truly enjoy the moment.
“I wish I had known how fast each tour goes,” says Ed Wimp an entertainment law attorney, who has also worked in tour management for international touring artists. “Starting out on a long tour can seem daunting and you don’t take the time to appreciate each day as it goes by. However, the time flies by and many times at the end of a long tour you will look back and wish you had stopped to enjoy it more.”
Don’t forget your must-haves
Everyone has a different list of must-haves for tour, but a few that came up regularly were:
All the business related goods. Angela Bray of Glow Campus who has put on performances for over 100,000 students at universities across the United States, advises to have contracts and agreements, signed by both parties, and for anyone involved (internal & external crew, performers, vendors, etc). She also suggests a spreadsheet that can be accessed from anywhere with travel details, day of show timelines, and contact info for all crew members.
The right mindset. This is everything from a positive mindset to surrounding yourself with good people and remembering to exercise and journal regularly. There’s a lot of down time and touring can be stressful, so making a conscious effort to have a positive mindset is everything
Your vice. Books, video games, whatever it is you pass the time with, bring it on tour.
Final words of wisdom
“Tours are incredibly challenging, especially when you’re just starting out, but they are also incredibly rewarding. It’s so cliche but enjoy your band mates, enjoy your time together. Lean on each other. And laugh at the rough times knowing that if you stick with it, it will get better.” -Matt Lukasiewicz
“The three most forgotten aspects of touring are brand partnerships, marketing and publicity. Every show is a trigger for starting these conversations in a new market, so if you’re touring and not popping into records stores with promotional content, setting up interviews with local newspapers, tv, and blogs or partnering with local brands for your show you’re just missing out on building a footprint in that market.” Nathan Dohse, Fight the Quiet and AGD Entertainment
[If asked what advice he’d give himself] “Take a breath and smile Matt, you are being paid (albeit not much) to travel the world, be with your friends, and be surrounded by music and music fans. Touring will give you some of the most incredible experiences of your life. Also, don’t mail your winter jacket back home just because it’s a pain to lug around through hot and humid Asia the week before the tour jumps to the Swiss Alps in their late winter.” (Matt Lukasiewicz)
Angela Mastrogiacomo is the founder and CEO of Muddy Paw PR, where her artists have seen placements on Alternative Press, Noisey, Substream, Spotify and more as well as the THRIVE mentorship community—an online community that provides indie artists with affordable year-round mentoring from music industry experts, and much more.