Let me start off by saying I wasn’t only a tour manager. On the same tour, I was also the tour bus mechanic, part-time chef, navigator, sound manager, bus driver and occasionally guitarist.
This has its pros and cons – the main pro is that I was blissfully happy with the variety. I did most of the management tasks before we left home. Booking our performance schedule solid across the 2500 miles we would cover. We played in bars at night, city squares and coffee shops during the day. We were paid well for the concert gigs and that afforded us the opportunity to set up free shows outdoors anywhere from city parks to remote beaches or camping spots. On the rare occasion the bus broke down or needed maintenance, one of my band mates and I put on our MacGuyver hats on and scavenged the area for scrap that could be used to fix it. (I love doing this! It’s a bit of a superpower of mine, so it was almost stress-relief rather than stressing me out.) Luckily, I had planned the schedule with enough of a buffer that these slight delays did not cause any problems. On the other hand, when our travel was smooth and error-free, we arrived in the next town with enough time to sight see and relax.
Once we hit town, I called the club managers who had booked us and we scheduled a time to visit the club, get to know the layout, sound equipment, etc. so we could start planning how we would set up our own equipment. This also gave the club employees a chance to see our faces in daylight, hear our voices and get to know us a little which makes things much smoother during the peak hours when we needed full access to the backstage and to be slip in and out of the club quickly without delays at the door. Especially helpful for performers in full makeup and costumes.
We hung out in coffee shops a lot in between shows which gave the bands a chance to mingle or learn about what type of town we were in. I used my laptop and the cafe wi-fi to secure details about the next show, maps, directions, road closures along the way and that sort of thing. A few of the artists spent the time drawing flyers for the next show or working on new music.
Depending on the setup we had decided on for the show, we might spend a few hours at the venue, handing up backdrops, decorating the space, setting up music equipment. Eventually it’d be time to get ready for the performance.
While the other bands performed, I remained in tour manager mode, even if I was in full costume. When it was time for me to play, I completely immersed myself in the guitarist role and the persona of the character I was playing. And I would play my heart out, until it felt like my fingers were bleeding. This was the ultimate release and, of course, this is what made it worth all the effort!
Believe it or not, the performance itself wasn’t even the highlight of the trip. But I felt like performing made it easier to be tour manager because I was able to fully participate in the glory, the audience, the fun and not spend the whole night watching from the sidelines.
I bet you’re wondering what the highlights were? Five bands who have been traveling together in close quarters for hundreds of miles, leisurely soaking in a hot spring big enough to hold 100 people, but nearly empty in the middle of the afternoon. Swimming in the Gulf of Mexico at midnight, under the a dark sky overflowing with a zillion stars and then realizing that not all the twinkling in the water are reflected galaxies but bioluminescent phytoplankton that has sprinkled my band mate’s long black hair with glowing sparkles as she rose out of the water, looking very much like a real mermaid. An acoustic black metal concert in the park in front of city hall with little kids running around and rocking out to “Work You Bastards” – a song about the enslavement of humans by corporate America.
As you can see, to be a tour manager (and this applies to any type of manager), you need to be comfortable switching hats as the need arises, comfortable with not being able to control everything while thriving on variety and changing priorities. If the idea of going with the flow and not knowing what challenge you’ll face tomorrow stresses you out, then this is not the job for you.
One of the qualities of a great manager is remaining calm when plans change, tackling problems with grace and ease and having confidence that you and your team will succeed no matter what comes your way.
These skills could also apply to a personal assistant, travel planner, event planner, vacation nanny (yep, that’s someone who babysits kids who are on vacation!) and more.