The Tour Survival Kit: Practical Tips For Making Life On The Road A Little Easier…
Life on the road is a very daunting as well as an incredibly exciting reality of professional musicianship. Ever since the dawn of musicians making a living at their craft, the need to travel to perform, sometimes for long periods of time, has come with the territory. Whether you are doing a small weekend tour in a minivan or going on an international Lear jet tour for 200 dates, some basic rules apply to all.
My goal for this piece was to try and give some practical tips and reminders for new musicians to seasoned players on how to survive and make life on the road more pleasant while keeping your health and sanity. It is very important to understand the realities of time distribution as well as how you will be interacting with others.
Etiquette and time management are both crucially essentially to any successful tour and one that will make the stress of long term travel seem something more fit for a career rather than a temporary fling.
1: The time you spend playing bass is miniscule compared to everything else, occupy yourself.
I had just come back from my first headlining US tour, 40 cities, 14,000 miles. And the one thing I can tell you after years of touring both on high and lower status are that touching my bass is a tiny portion of my day on the road. Commuting, loading in, sleeping, eating, and waiting are a much huger portion of your day-to-day life.
Occupy these down times and days off with useful educational literature and videos. As much as traveling is a physically exhausting endeavor, thanks to the miracles of modern technology you can now occupy your time with intellectually stimulating articles, videos, and social media outlets to keep the idle mind busy.
If you are a headliner, load in times are either very early (for big bands) or not until 6-7 pm for club acts. The other parts of the day are going to be occupied by the drive and the prep of performing. Idle minds tend to drive people to drink excessively or get into drugs in certain scenes. While I am not in any way fighting, having fun or a few drinks during a show, you can see how all the ‘Behind the Music’ documentaries all had a similar burnout theme by bands that indulged too heavily. If you are a hired gun, this could be a slippery slope that can easily get you fired depending on the attitude of the bandleader. Have fun by all means, but getting drunk because you are bored is a rough road to go down.
2: Make friends with your fellow touring bands and road crews
Life is filled with networking opportunities that you have to be aware of in order to succeed. Apart from a strategic business advantage of knowing fellow touring bands (you never know who knows who), it is also good decorum to be friendly and open during a long and arduous tour schedule.
Over thousands and thousands of miles you come to understand a certain honor-code and procedure for the working musician pulling long road stints. Some people can become your best friends and it might lead to more gigs or more touring with different acts. Sometimes the other band’s members will be difficult to work with, but if you meet someone halfway you are being the bigger and better person in these scenarios of keeping stress to a minimum. This is especially important decorum when it comes to tour managers and booking agents. A bad reputation with a tour manager or agency can lead to a compromised professional future and can be the determining factor in which someone hires you again for a tour/hires your band, or decides to take their business else where. Going the extra mile and helping people on the road is what it’s all about. If you see that you can help with equipment, help move something, or share something, it is greatly appreciated. People do not forget favors like those when thinking about your professional reputation.
3: Bring reliable equipment on the road, and enough of it
Bringing the bare minimum on tour is a recipe for getting seriously fucked over. If it is a cable of some sort bring at least 3 and if it something crucial at the very least bring one back up if you can. While this is very difficult with amps, always bring at least 1 back up bass and as many adapters, power strips, and other portable items. If you have an active bass absolutely always carry back up batteries, trust me your bass will be on empty when you least expect or need it, so watch out for that crap.
If a bass has a temperamental neck that moves every time the wind blows two degrees cooler, leave that shit at home. A bass for the road should be able to take a beating and deal with climate change with resilience. If you have a bass set up really well or have one with a properly reinforced neck, you might be able to go an entire tour without a single adjustment, which saves you an enormous headache.
4: For the love of God simplify your rig
On tour is where Murphy’s Law likes to laugh hysterically at your ignorance and revel in your misfortunes and miscalculations. If something can break easily it will, and I repeat IT WILL BREAK EASILY. Simplifying your rig as much as possible allows you to pinpoint easier any scenario in which an issue may arise. Rehearsals are not just for playing but also should be done with the exact set up you intend on using on the road down to the last detail. A simpler setup will also make your bass much, much easier for the engineer to sit-in the mix and to achieve your optimum tone. Remember that if you have a pedal train wrong or a small cable on the fritz it could cost you money and precious time you do not have. This should go triple if you do not have roadies.
5: Protect your ears:
Whether they are in ear monitors or earplugs, you need to protect your hearing on the road.
Some photos from the road…