A Quick Note: This is a guest post from my good friend and monster musician Ryan Skiles. He’s toured all over the world with various artists and groups, so I asked him to share some tips on making the tour experience more enjoyable. Take it away Ryan.
So you’ve landed the gig, congrats! Here are some tips to make your first tour even better than anything you could possibly imagine.
Let’s start with some basic math. (Apologies)
As it turns out, a lot of the time spent on tour is not on stage.
Let’s assume you’re playing 9 shows a week (a lot). At 3 hours per show (9 x 3 = 27 hours). And let’s throw a 2 hour sound check for each day of the week (14), plus 1 hour of rehearsal each day for good measure (7).
I called all the mathemagicians I know and they all agree, that comes out to 48 hours per week on stage. Now let’s factor in sleep, we’ll assume an optimal 8 hours per night (unlikely), which would be 56 hours per week. So, 168 hours in a week minus 56 sleeping hours yields 112 waking hours in a week. Out of those 112 hours per week, the 48 that you’re playing is only 42.9% (less than half).
Odds are, your tour schedule is not this rigorous (and if it is, you’d better be getting paid for it). So how you spend the majority of your time (offstage) is what will usually determine how enjoyable your tour experience is (also considering the 2/3 rule).
The following tips are all about maximizing the quality of the majority of your time on the road (and off the stage).
TL:DR Let’s have fun because of math!
Tip #1: Bring Something Fun/Active To Do
Most tours don’t fly from city to city (it’s too expensive) so you’ll most likely be spending hours driving on either a tour bus (congratulations!) or a Sprinter van or something smaller/worse. Sitting/laying down/trying to get comfortable for hours on end can get really old really quickly. So those short opportunities to get out of whatever vehicle you are held captive in become much more fun if you have a reason to get out and stretch and move around.
My favorite activity on the road has become Frisbee™-ing, for the following reasons: a disc is easy to pack and travel with, most people can quickly learn how to throw a Frisbee™ reasonably well in a short amount of time, and it travels slower than most thrown objects making it easer to catch (i.e. more fun). And inevitably someone will throw the disc in a tree/on a building (*cough* Gary *cough*) and it’s fun to make them go fetch it (and if they can’t, new discs are readily available sub-$15). They also come in a variety of colors and even glow-in-the-dark in case most of your stop-portunities are at night.
Tip #2: Bring Home With You
This can mean a lot of things. According to Dr. Wikipedia, “odor information is stored in long-term memory and has strong connections to emotional memory.” So find a way to bring a (preferably good) smell with you. There is an entire industry devoted to making things smell nice (even your garbage can).
I prefer a scented candle, though the trick when traveling is lighting it. Finding matches nowadays can be difficult, and the rules for packing matches in luggage on flights are a little stringent, though I’ve never had a problem doing it (…because I totally never have). Alternate solution: bring a lighter.
Be courteous to the other people around you, don’t impose smells (good or bad) on other people without asking first.
Tip #3: Bring Low-Maintenance Clothing
This may seem obvious, but on longer tours you’ll be re-wearing all of your clothes (especially your show clothes!). In order to avoid constantly having to find same-day dry cleaners or smelling awful (see Tip #2), check your clothes ahead of time and make sure they are all machine washable. I’ve even found slacks that I like to wear that are machine washable.
Also, before the tour starts figure out how many time you’ll need to do laundry and bring a container of enough dryer sheets and detergent pods. Many venues will have laundry machines you can use if you ask nicely, but sometimes you need clean clothes and it’s not a show day. The vending machines in the laundry rooms are way over priced, so bring your own.
This step will save you a little money, which leads me to:
Tip #4: Stretch Your Money
There are an infinite number of ways to save money, all day every day, so get creative. I’m going to assume if you’re a professional musician, you aren’t exactly rolling in it (nor do you have any real idea what you’ll be doing next month (I love this business!)). So treat your tour money just like home money. It’s easy to go crazy on the road and be irresponsible (unlike at home, where irresponsibility is super difficult).
Per diem is money so treat it like money! Just because you’re on tour and someone is paying for your meals, doesn’t mean you should treat per diem any differently than your pay; after all, you get to keep what’s left at the end. So if the hotel you’re staying at offers free breakfast (OMG), get your butt out of bed and eat that mediocre bacon and used-to-be-powder eggs. And if that hotel breakfast has easily transportable items (apples, bananas, boxed cereals, etc.) take some with you for later.
Don’t leave food behind if you can help it. Have catering at the show? (congratulations!)Take what’s left at the end and save yourself a few bucks that you would’ve spent on a meal or snacks.
Tip #5: Frequent Flyer Programs
Bonus: go make a note on your iPhone with all your new frequent flyer numbers in it.
If you’re just getting into touring and playing around the country/world, you’ll probably see an increase in the amount you fly. Even though someone else is paying for the flights, YOU still get to collect the miles as the passenger. Whenever you get your flight details to go add your frequent flyer number to it so you get credit. Do this before you fly. Collecting the miles after the flight has happened is much more difficult.
Be aware that nearly all airlines are associated with an airline alliance, of which there are three: Oneworld (American), Star Alliance (United), and SkyTeam (Delta). You should be able to use partnering airlines Frequent Flyer numbers to keep your miles all in one place. Example: If you are flying on LAN airlines to Chile, you can and should provide them with your existing American Airlines number since they are both a part of the Oneworld alliance.
The only airline that is not a part of an alliance that is worth signing up for (in my opinion) is Southwest.
I’m getting married next year and my fiancée and I already have the miles saved up for 2 round trip tickets anywhere in the world, from tickets other people paid for. Enough said.
Bonus tip: Converse
Talk to the other people on your tour about things other than music. You never know what everyone else knows or where they are coming from. Get to know the people you are working with and get their input on the things that you’re working on (professionally or otherwise) and offer your own insight to them if they ask. You have a captive audience. so be open and respectful. You’ll be surprised where simple conversations will take you.
Example: I have a great friend whom I’ve known and played with for years. One day I ran a brief business idea by him and what I was planning to do. Within two minutes he had a very clear and specific 8-step business plan for me, and it was much better than the plan I had. I did not expect it from him or even ask; it was just information he had in his head that he freely offered to me out of his own experience. Talk to the people around you about anything and everything. Get to know them and let them get to know you.
Double Bonus: Pack well
So, if you’ve traveled as an adult and packed for yourself, chances are pretty good that at some point you’ve forgotten something. This is why hotels will give you toothbrushes and toothpaste for free. The best way to avoid this is make a packing list, keep it on your phone and keep it updated. It takes a while to make your first list, but once you’ve used it a few times, it should be fairly comprehensive. Below is my list:
• direct boxes
• sustain pedal
• expression pedal
• thumb drive with show files
• midi controller
• stereo 1/8 to 1/4
• long usb
• midi interface
• w/2+ cables
• picks for the guitarist
• audio interface
• drum key for the drummer
• germ-free microphone
• beard trimmer
• nose trimmer
• extra deodorant
• board shorts
• yoga pants
• running shorts
• running shoes
• show clothes
• laundry bag
• power supply
• power supply
• hand towels
• business cards for all the connections
you’re going to make
• sd cards
• neck pillow
• power converter
• power strip
• glasses case
• headphone splitter
• hand sanitizer
• garment bag
• iPad mount
• hdmi cable
• camera connection kit
• candle w/matches
• laundry detergent
• dryer sheets
Feel free to copy/paste this and add/remove what you like. When it comes time to pack, open up the list and start grabbing things. I’m not hardcore about sticking to the list, and I will pack with weather in mind (I won’t take a jacket if the weather in the 90’s), I just use it as a guide to make sure I don’t forget things. And if I do forget something, I immediately add it to the list so I don’t forget it next time.
There is a lot of good advice out there for packing lists and plenty of clever tricks for packing in general, but that’s better left for another post.
Morale of the story
Most of these tips fall under one umbrella goal: keeping morale up. Depending on the tour, this may not be an issue, but if the people on your tour are happy it makes for a much better tour. Going out of your way to make sure other people are enjoying the tour will reflect back on you (and probably result in you getting called in the future).
Remember all the math we did at the beginning? Well that 10-30% of your time that’s spent on stage is the most important part, don’t neglect that. Your primary responsibility is to show up early with a good attitude knowing, ready to put on a killer show.
I hope these tips come in handy and help improve your tour experience. If they did, or if you have your own tips to add, let me know!