Monday, December 24, 2012

Top 10 Rules of the Road

I'm often asked what the touring experience is like. Most people are shocked when I tell them it's an awful, miserable time. But, like with most things in life, the most difficult endeavors reap the sweetest rewards. So, in that respect, touring can be one of the most amazing experiences of your life. The payback for investing your time, your money and your sanity can be measured by much more than dollars. Traveling the globe, meeting new friends, making connections, and, most importantly, sharing your passion with the world. What we get to see and experience is something most people will never get to do.

The majority of those asking are, as would be expected, young musicians looking for a bit of insight. New kids on the block trying to get their feet wet and hoping to get a few tips from those who've been in the trenches. I wouldn't consider myself a successful artist, because what the hell is success, anyways, but I have definitely been at this for a while. So for those who have asked, those who've been too afraid to ask, and those who don't really care, here are my Top 10 Rules of Touring.

1. Know Your Role

This is probably the most vital rule of all, yet for some reason, most people don't seem to grasp it. Whatever level you are at in your music career, you are always dependent on other people. You may be headlining a tour and pulling 500 people at the El Corazon in Seattle or The Bottom Lounge in Chicago, but seriously, no one cares, and it doesn't give you the right to be an asshole to the local crew. The local crew are there to help you, not wipe your ass. Be courteous to them. If you're not, you may just get that busted microphone or DI Box, maybe your monitor mix will mysteriously change. Fact is, the success of your show depends on a lot more than you.

On the flip side, if you're the opening band, don't act like an entitled prick because you have 5,000 likes on (insert current social media favorite here), do not waltz into the backstage and eat the headliner's catering, don't drink their booze. I can't tell you how many times I have come offstage wanting nothing more than a cold beer, only to be greeted by an empty fridge and a drunk opening band. In fact, stay out of the headliner's backstage all together. When you stay out of the way, you will be appreciated, and that appreciation often turns into an invite to the backstage for drinks.

2. Keep It Simple

Why do local bands feel the need to bring every piece of gear they own to their gig opening for a touring package that already has 4 bands on the bill? Do they feel like the fact that they brought 4 guitar cabinets and 10 synthesizers validates them in the eyes of the audience? Whatever the reason is, I can promise you, the audience isn't impressed, and neither is the touring package that has to try and accommodate your massive space requirements. All your rats nest of cables and wires and racks of guitars serves to achieve is making the crew hate you (both local AND touring).

Keep your live rig as stripped down as possible. Be efficient, make sure you can set up and tear down the entire thing in 10 minutes or less. When you can set up and tear down quickly and efficiently, people will recognize your professionalism, they will remember that and they won't roll their eyes when they see that you're opening for them on their next tour. Think of it this way: When your changeover time is longer than your set time, you're doing it wrong.

3. Watch What You Eat

That Catfish Burrito you just ate from the gas station in the middle of New Mexico WILL come back to haunt you. The Chinese Food everyone got at the strip mall in Phoenix will make your next 24 hours very unpleasant. Do yourself, and everyone else traveling with you, a favor, and eat as healthy as possible. Eat simple, basic foods that will keep you alive, otherwise you'll be running for a toilet every 30 minutes. And be warned, toilets on the road are few and far between.

4. Get Blitzed (After You Clock Out)

You know that video of me on YouTube where I'm wasted? Oh, really? There's more than one? You don't say. Here's the deal. People video tape all the crazy shit I do when I'm drunk because it's (arguably) entertaining. What people never film is the eight hour drive we did, the load in, the set up, counting merch, counting money, breaking down or loading out. All of this happens before me or my crew does any serious drinking. Why? Because counting seven thousand dollars while completely annihilated is impossible. Trust me, I know. If you are drunk, you are useless. Make sure everything is done and everything is packed BEFORE you get the wise idea to pound a bottle of Jaegermeister for twenty seconds and then vomit all over yourself.

P.S. I, for one, am (mostly) against filming drunken shenanigans, but that's a whole other blog post.

5. Pack Light, Pack Right

Nothing like the first day of tour when some witless amateur shows up to the van with two giant suitcases, a backpack, a trolly and a laptop bag. What makes you think I want to load and unload those two monsters in and out of the trailer every day? What makes you think that being on a thirty-five day tour means you need to bring thirty-five t-shirts? Thirty-five pairs of underwear? And once we're underway, why didn't you zip up your backpack? Because when Tim hit the brakes the contents of it spilled all over the inside of the van and now your iPod is missing. Which you didn't realize until two days later.

Space is valuable, so is keeping track of your valuables. Bring a weeks worth of clothes with you in one small trolly bag and do laundry when you can. Organize everything and know where it is at all times. Keep your luggage constantly zipped up and for the love of god, put your dirty rainbow toe socks in a plastic bag and put them in your backpack, they're stinking up the van and making me question your sexuality.

6. Take A Shower

Please. Pretty please. I know the venue in Tulsa didn't have one, but the one in Columbus does, so use it. Being on tour is not an excuse to be foul. Brush your teeth, too.

7. Understand That You Will Lose Money

You're going to lose money, A LOT of money, before you make any. And once you start making money, it's not going to be a lot. This is an investment. Buy onto larger tours, make merchandise, eat the cost of gas, take every opportunity you get without worrying about the finances. In my eyes, the determining factor of success is how determined you are. Those who try and fail and try again are more likely to make something of themselves.

8. Stop complaining

Stop whining that you're tired. We're all tired. Stop complaining that the crowd didn't rage enough. They never do. Stop bitching about the fact that you didn't sell enough merch. We all want to sell more merch. Shut up about the drive from El Paso to Dallas. We all know it's brutal. We're all suffering, we're all stressed, we're all trying to keep it together. Your shrill barrage of grievances isn't helping the situation, it just makes me want to leave you at that WaWa's in Richmond, Virginia.

9. Do Your Job

If you sign up for a job, make sure you know how to do it. The tour manager shouldn't be explaining to the merch guy how to run a merch booth. I need to be setting up the computer for soundcheck, not nagging the promoter for bottled water. Load your own gear out of the trailer, because if I have to do it, I'm going to hate you. With that said, when someone else isn't doing their job, step up and make sure it gets done. Never forget that everyone in the crew is paying attention. They are sizing you up constantly and their opinion of you could be the difference between getting that next tour, or not. I can guarantee you that no one is going to hire the guy who, when the shit hits the fan, puts up his hands and says "not my job".

10. Don't Let the Vodka Spoil

Once the bottle is open, vodka tends to go bad very quickly. Ingest it before the mold forms.

That pretty much sums it all up. Every single reference I've made here is lifted from an actual experience I've had. Some of them are mistakes I've seen other people make, many of them are mistakes I've made myself. The funny thing is, I know that some of you out there will read this and think you'll consider what I've said and put it into practice. The truth is that none of you will take anything away from this but a chuckle or two. When you're on the road, you'll have to learn these lessons yourself, the hard way. Because really, the only way to remember not to mix beer and vodka and Jaeger and a joint, is to wake up in your bunk, covered in your own vomit in the sweltering heat of Bryan, TX with sandwich meat shoved into your pockets and socks. That, and, of course, the ensuing $150 bill from the bus company to replace your puke covered mattress.