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Tour Manager

Understanding Tour Routing and Drive Times

There are two different ways you are going to come about a tour routing. Your tour is either going to be self-booked, or it is going to be booked by someone else, typically a booking agent. Being able to look at a tour routing and understand what it’s going to take, along with identifying trouble spots is going to go a long way in helping the tour to succeed. An experienced tour manager is able to be able to offer expertise and suggestions on situations that have the potential to derail a tour.

There is nothing worse than watching a band get worked too hard while on the road. Rest is important. Remember that. Rest is important. Watching a band get chewed up on the road because they have shoddy tour routing, and an impossible press schedule is one of the most frustrating things in the world. Not getting enough sleep, and pushing it too hard on the road quickly leads to fatigue and sickness. Ultimately the live performance is impacted, and in the worst case scenario, performances are sometimes cancelled.

I am not saying to be lazy and turn down press events. Press is an integral part of growing a band, and sometimes it’s simply going to be difficult with scheduling. You mean, being in a band isn’t all glitz and glamour?! What I am saying is that if you have seven shows in a row, and on that 7th day, you are going to have to drive overnight to make three more press events on the 8th show day in a row (and this is the first week of a 6 week tour), maybe that isn’t the best approach for the long haul? It’s good to understand tour routing and scheduling so you know when it might be time to say no to something.

Tour Routing

Understanding tour routing.The first thing I do when I receive a tour routing is create a spreadsheet* with all of the dates, cities, clubs, drive time, mileage, timezones, show number, and overall number of days on tour. This is a document I typically keep open and readily available when advancing a tour. This helps me to conceptualize the tour as a whole, and begin to see where the tour pushes and pulls. How many shows in a row are there? Are there some crazy drives? Do we have days off? Where are the days off? Do certain cities have notoriously bad traffic? Are there timezones to think about? Are there any major holidays? Do we need to drive after show on any of the dates (on a van tour)? You are asking all of these questions because you have to keep the bigger picture and the health of the tour in mind.

Having the drive times in front of you will help with updating shared online calendars. It’s a good habit to list departure and arrival times into a city well in advance, along with how long the drive actually is. This is helpful for the entire touring organization. It also helps to save time in flipping back and forth between emails, or a Google Maps tab. It’s important to remember that certain elements and timings will not be available until closer until the show date. Sometimes this could come in the form of a set time at a festival.

*If you need a spreadsheet software, I recommend Open Office.

Drive Times

In my experience, I’ve found that any drive over 6 hour on a show day begins to noticeably affect a band and crew. On a van tour you’re typically going to be loading in around 3:00pm. For a 6 hour drive, it’s good to build in 2 hours for stops and traffic. That means for a 3:00p load you are leaving at 7:00a to make it to the next city. Assuming you got to the hotel at 1:00 – 2:00a the night prior, you can quickly begin to see how a few consecutive nights of 5 hours of sleep begin to negatively affect everyone. If you are support on a bus tour, and are chasing buses, 6 hours is likely on the lower end of the drive time spectrum.

On a van tour it’s important to share driving duties if at all possible. Obviously a number of factors come into play here. Maybe someone isn’t a good driver, and it’s better for the sake of everyone’s anxiety to avoid putting them behind the driver’s seat. Maybe you are touring with an international band, and they don’t have the proper license to help split the driving duties. Unless you have a dedicated driver, having someone drive for the duration of an entire tour is going to leave them utterly exhausted and unable to perform their other duties while on the road (or at least at an extreme disadvantage).

It’s also important to remember to allow yourself enough time for stops. As I stated earlier, sleep is important, and it’s important not to run everyone ragged as there is definitely some leeway in how you build in time for stops. With that said, having enough time to comfortably stop and get lunch will go a long way to increase morale on the road. There is nothing worse than having not built in enough time, and sitting in traffic outside of Los Angeles as your scheduled load in ticks away. It goes without saying, but if you run into any kind of transportation issues, make sure to communicate that to where you are headed. It’s a professional courtesy, and I assure you that people appreciate receiving a heads up much more than radio silence.

Days off and Fun Stuff

One of my favorite parts of a tour is figuring out some extracurricular options for the touring party. This could come in the form of a National Park, booking a hotel in a walkable area, oddball roadside attractions, a sporting event, you name it. Go ahead and take a look at your days off and see if you’re going to have to drive on them or not. Or, if you do have to drive on them, since you will have some more time off, look at the potential route you are going to take, and see if there are options along the way. Even something as simple as having a nice sit down meal with everyone can go a long way in adding some variety to your day-to-day. If you’re on tour in the USA, I suggest taking a gander at Road Side America. With all of that said, if the band and crew need to rest, please give them the option to rest!

How to Create a Backline Rider

What is backline?

Backline is the musical equipment that a band uses for a performance. This can include, but is not limited to amplifiers, instruments, effect pedals, drum kits, cymbals, percussion, keyboards, synthesizers, you name it.

Why would you hire backline?

At some point in time you are going to have a performance where it is going to make considerably more sense both logistically, as well as financially to hire backline locally. Maybe it is a one-off half way across the country, or perhaps you are finishing a tour and need to get to a press event quickly where there would be no way for your gear to make it in time. Perhaps you simply can’t afford to pay the cost of freighting your gear, or maybe you just want to try out a new amp. A number of situations abound, and this is where your local backline vendor is going to come into play.

How to put together a backline rider

Putting together a clear, concise backline rider is important, because this is what you’re going to service to the backline vendor, in an effort at getting exactly what you want. Emphasis on being specific. Don’t casually omit important information that the backline company needs in order to fulfill your order. Make, model, version, etc. The last thing you want is a surprise when showing up to an engagement on a tight schedule.

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Professional Touring Personnel – The Road Crew

The Road Crew

The term “roadie” is slang that is often used to describe touring personnel, and for many people it conjures images of a rag-tag bunch of drug using, hard drinking road pirates, dressed from head to toe in nothing but black. While this most assuredly existed at one point in time, this notion is something that now belongs to a by-gone era. Every once in a while you’ll encounter someone who stood next to a speaker stack for a tad too long, but I digress…

Behind every successful concert tour there is a highly skilled road crew working behind the scenes to make sure the show goes off without a hitch. They are the support network that helps to deliver that amazing performance by your favorite artist. These are the people who get into the venue first thing in the morning, and are the last ones to leave, long after the last note has rung out. Who are these people? What exactly do they do?

Below I’ve outlined some of the more common roles you would find on a typical tour. This is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of what roles you might find on a tour. With the increase in size and scale of the operation, you will typically find more specialized roles. On smaller tours you may find some of the roles doubling up to save money. Regardless, these are the people who work together on a day to day basis to make sure the artist and fans alike have the best possible experience.

Tour Manager

The tour manager oversees all departments and is responsible for the health and day-to-day function of a tour. The position is logistics heavy, and involves long hours. The tour manager handles transportation, hotels, press, hospitality, backstage, security, settlement, guest list, and most importantly, the needs of the artist. This is not a comprehensive list, as there is a minutia of daily tasks that inevitably arise. On smaller tours, you will find a TM wearing multiple hats. On a larger tour, certain tasks will be delegated with oversight.

Production Manager

A good production manager is indispensable. They are the ones who oversees all of the technical aspects of a performance. Sound, lights, staging, rigging, backline, power requirements, you name it. They work with local crew, alongside touring crew to build the show each and every day in a variety of environments. Attention to detail is paramount in this role, as the smallest oversight can lead to the derailment of the performance.

Front of House

The front of house engineer is in control of the mix that is coming out of the speakers that face the audience. If you’ve ever attended a show, what you are hearing is being controlled by the FOH. They have a deep knowledge of acoustics, electronics, microphones, and what works well in different situations. Different rooms have different acoustic properties, and watching a touring FOH engineer navigate the nuances of a difficult room is quite remarkable. By knowing the songs of the artist they are working for they are able to enhance the songs by highlighting key parts. You will more often than not find them located towards the back of the room, in front of the glowing soundboard.

Monitors

Located on the side of the stage is the monitor engineer, or MON for short. They are the one who is in control of the mix that the band hears on stage. Sometimes they are mixing wedges, other times they are mixing in ear monitors, or sometimes they are mixing a combination of both. If the band can’t hear themselves on stage, understandably this is going to impact the performance in a negative way. When you can tell that a band is really enjoying themselves on stage, they likely have a great monitor mix.

Lighting Designer

The lighting designer is in charge of all things visual relating to the performance. They will consult with the artist and management prior to the start of the tour and design a light show that compliments and enhances the artist’s live show. On a daily basis they work with local crew to set up the tour’s lighting rig, supplementing what is already available in house. Once completed they will focus the lights and make sure there is appropriate coverage on the stage. They are typically stationed alongside the front of house engineer, at the back of the room. Click here to see an example of a professional lighting designer’s work.

Backline Tech

Backline refers to all of the gear on stage. This could include instruments, amplifiers, drums, pedal boards, synthesizers, etc. The backline tech’s role is to set up, maintain, and tear down the backline on a day to day basis. On a smaller tour, you might have one backline tech setting up all of the gear on stage. On larger tours, these roles become more specialized and you might have a guitar tech, drum tech, keyboard tech, etc. They will help to line check, and prepare all of the gear for the band’s soundcheck. During soundcheck trouble spots are realized and fixed. During the performance they will watch the stage, handle instrument changes, and fix any issues that arise on the fly.

Merchandiser

The merchandiser sets up the artist’s store on a day to day basis. This position involves foreseeing inventory needs, discussing product designs with the artist, ordering stock, setting up the store, interacting with fans, settling merchandise rates with the promoter, hiring and managing local sellers, and counting out at the end of the night with a fervor. They deal with cash and credit transactions and are very much the face of the tour, as they are the ones who are interacting with fans on a very personal level.

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There are a number of touring roles not covered here. Bus drivers, personal assistants, massage therapists, carpenters, personal security, catering, etc.. Also integral to the daily operation of a tour (but not covered here) are managers, day-to-day managers, booking agents, business managers, publicists, radio reps, label folks, the list goes on and on.

How To Advance A Tour

how-to-advance-a-tour

What is advancing?

Advancing is a process that begins weeks before a show or tour ever begins. It’s the period of time where needs are expressed and logistical pitfalls are overcome, in order to prepare for a successful day of show. No two advances are the same. Each one is different, and must be tailored to meet the needs of the situation you’re in.

Advancing can include, but is not limited to discussions on parking, labor, load in, load out, scheduling, audio, lighting, hospitality, merchandise, venue amenities, guestlist, meet and greets, press, security, hotels, settlement, the list goes on.

As outlined in the pre-advancing lesson, organization is key. You are opening the flood gates of your inbox, and having a solid base for how you are going to stay on top of information and requests will drastically improve the quality of your life once you’re in the thick things.

You know that thing about first impressions? How they tend to last? Think of that when you’re sending out your advance. It’s the first contact you’re making with the house, and it sets the tone for how your show is going to be run in a few weeks. Venue staff and production can smell a turd in their inbox. Equally, I’ve learned when I’m about to step into a pile myself. Don’t be that turd.

There are an infinite number of situations that could arise day of show. No advance will totally full-proof your day, but it can tighten things up significantly. Think of something very simple, like arriving to a major metropolitan city while towing a trailer. If you express your parking needs before arriving, you will more than likely arrive to the most beautiful looking coned off spots, where you will easily be able to pull in your rig. Onlookers will gasp and swoon as you pull in. Who do these parking spots belong to?! My friend, they belong to you, because you advanced it.

Below I’ve included a very general advancing template. It is going to be overkill for an open mic night, and likely not enough for a larger situation. The questions you actually end up asking will depend greatly on who you’re touring with, the crew you’ve hired, what you’re traveling in, what kind of gear you’re bringing (or not bringing in), if you have support on the tour, and what style show it is (club, festival, something else).

Be mindful of who, and what you’re dealing with while advancing. There is a balance of getting the information you need, and over advancing something. This is only a template. Use it as a reference. Find it below the break.

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How to Pre-Advance a Tour

Before beginning the advancing process, I strongly suggest taking the time to pre-advance your tour. Well, hell! I don’t even know what advancing is yet! I know, I know. In the coming weeks, this is all going to make so much more sense. More articles will become available, and you will be able to click right here (live soon), and find out exactly what advancing is.

What is the pre-advance? It is a necessary step of organization that will end up saving you time, grief, and make you a more effective communicator.

Think of it this way: pretend you have a 30 date tour, and within each and every one of those dates is a task that takes 5 minutes to complete if you don’t pre-advance. If you do pre-advance you can save yourself 2.5 hours of repeating this task. I don’t know about you, but that seems appealing to me. IE: Did I already send the shop list? Hmm, scour, scour, scour. Aha! I have! Wish I had made note of that!

The needs of your tour will dictate exactly how this looks, but for simplicities sake I’ve included a very general checklist of how to pre-advance your tour.

  • Create an advancing template. This is what you’re going to be sending out to promoters and production.

advancing-template-photo

  • Update all riders, stage plots, input lists, backline lists, and tax documents. So much can change in between tours. It is important to be working with current documents. Imagine one change on an input list. Doesn’t seem like much, right? Wrong. By sending out that incorrect input list, you’ve now created one additional task for yourself every single day of the tour. IE: You need an extra line run stage right for a second guitar cabinet. Instead of sending this along from the get-go, now you must walk to stage, find the audio personnel who needs to receive this message (who may not be around at the moment), deliver the message, and now your workflow has been interrupted. Let’s conservatively estimate this takes 10 minutes. That’s 5 hours of your precious life squandered over the course of this hypothetical 30-day tour.

How to Make a Stage Plot and Input List (coming soon)

  • File all of these documents in the same folder on your computer. This way when you are ready to advance, you aren’t opening up multiple folders, constantly looking for files. You can open one folder, select all the files, and attach them to the email. Make sure to include the artist’s name, what the file is, and what time period the file pertains to. You have to imagine the inbox of the person likely receiving these files. They are inundated on a daily basis with stage plots and input lists. Make it as easy as possible for them to find yours.

advancing-folder

  • Create a spreadsheet that is going to help you organize the status of your advances and travel arrangements. It should include when the advance was sent, when a follow up was made, if you’ve heard back, and what outstanding issues require attention. This is one of the most important parts of the pre-advance. This is the sheet you quickly glance at to figure out if a task has been completed or needs attention. I must again drive home that one size does not fit all in the advancing world. Festivals have different needs than a club show. Fly dates have different needs than a van or bus tour. Customize! Download an example here.

pre-advance-spreadsheet

  • I like to add drive times and time zone changes when I’m building my pre-advance spreadsheet. It is helpful when coordinating logistics and saves repeated visits to Google Maps. It also becomes helpful when reviewing bus quotes.
  • It is important to share the status of advancing with your crew and management. Sharing a document on Google Drive tends to do the trick. It’s not another email in the inbox, and people can log on at their leisure to check on the status of something. Doubly, it lets people know that things are being worked on, and reduces the chance of someone attending to an issue that’s already been dealt with.
  • Zero out all cash float sheets, expense reports, and income documents. Again, file these in one folder.
  • Create files and folders on your desktop that pertain to the current tour you are working on. As information and attachments come in, file them away. Deal memos, receipts, tech packs, etc. You never know when you might get stuck without wifi on site.
  • Depending on the email client you’re using, I’d suggest creating a label for the specific tour you’re working on. Less chance of missing something, and easier to find something after the fact.

The idea behind all of this is to create organization and structure for a ton of information that will begin to come your way once you actually start advancing. If you have a good framework from the get go, you will save yourself a great deal of time and frustration, along with having a more pleasant experience once you get into the thick of it.