The Touring Musician's Tips

by Chris O'Hara

If you are lucky enough to have someone planning and managing your tour, you can relax (a bit).  If not, here are some things to think about.

Touring Tips

1. Logistics and Planning are important! 

Make sure that you check all of your details.  Double check things like driving routes, drive times, concert start times, hotel reservations, vehicle maintenance (or rental reservations), and any other things that you are responsible to handle.  You don’t want to get started and realize that the details haven’t been worked out yet.

2. Sort out the money issues before you leave.

Sort out the money issues before you leave.  Know exactly how you are getting paid and how various expenses will be taken care of.  Are hotels covered by the group, or are they your personal responsibility?  How about daily food?  Money concerns can be a big stumbling point for a touring group, so you want to make sure that everyone is in agreement and clear on all points from the beginning.

3. Traveling set-up.

Once you have your vehicle set, you want to find out who in the group is comfortable driving (This is not a “get-out-of-driving-because-I-don’t want-to” thing, but for legitimate reasons only – don’t be “that guy/girl”).  If someone isn’t, that is okay.  The last thing you want is someone who is not comfortable driving to be responsible for you, everyone else in the group, and all of your important possessions. Very often, touring means that you will play a show in the evening and then drive to the next location (assuming that it isn’t terribly far away), and since late-night driving can be dangerous I recommend the following set-up: whoever is the most comfortable/awake drives, and the next person is the navigator.  One more person is designated to sleep, so that if either the driver or navigator starts to feel sleepy, you can swap out.  If you are the driver or navigator and you start to feel sleepy – pull over and wake up the sleeper.  Safety first!  Here is a quick rundown of some other vehicle safety concerns:

  • Is the vehicle safe? – Make sure to check fluids, etc. often while on the road.
  • Always drive according to the road conditions – You want to make it to the gig on time, yes, but more importantly, you want to make it there alive!
  • Be prepared for an emergency – Make sure that you have things like jumper cables, first aid kits, reflective road triangles, a flashlight, and maybe AAA just in case!
  • Pack carefully – Make sure that if something unfortunate were to happen that you wouldn’t also be crushed by all of your luggage and gear. Some kind of cargo netting or straps might be a good idea.
  • Avoid drugs and alcohol – I know, it shouldn’t have to be said, but…there, I said it anyway.

4. Try to eat healthy. 

This is one of the hardest things to do on the road.  Whenever possible, avoid fast food.  If you have the option to cook from time to time, that is always a good thing.

5. Make regular deposits

If you are touring, that means that you are likely going to be dealing with large sums of money on a fairly regular basis (hopefully!), whether from gig fees or merchandise sales. You have probably worked very hard to make all of this a reality and it would be tragic if someone broke into your vehicle while you were playing a gig and stole a week's worth of profits. Since you probably won't be able to find your particular bank in every town, you might also want to invest in a safe. 

6. Hotel arrangements. 

In order to save money, many groups double up (or more) on rooms.  Make sure that if possible you can rotate.  If that isn’t an option, try to set some room ground rules before you get going.  Everyone’s personal space and personal needs have to be respected.  When booking hotels try to find places that provide free hot breakfast (one less meal to worry about!) in the morning, and places that have fitness centers or pools.  Any chance you get to do something healthy on the road is a good thing.  Also don’t be afraid to get your own hotel room from time to time if that is an option, just for personal sanity.  If the group can cover that from time to time, even better!

7. Make sure that everyone knows their job at the gig. 

Everyone needs to have a specific job once you arrive at a venue.  Whether that job is dealing with the presenter, setting up the stage, organizing merchandise, or setting up the dressing rooms, everyone should do something.  If you know what your job is before you arrive, things get done faster.  The same thing goes for after the gig.

8. Bring a little bit of home with you. 

One of the hardest things to deal with while on tour is being away from home, so try to bring something along (nothing extravagant – you are on tour and have a limited amount of space after all) that gives you that feeling of home.  For me, I always bring a pillow from home.  I have a specific pillow that travels with me in a Chicago Cubs pillowcase that has gone on tour with me every time I’ve hit the road.

9. Keep a journal. 

Whether or not you are the type of person that likes to keep a journal, keep one anyway.  While on the road you may have some amazing experiences, you may see or do some really cool things.  When you get home, you might not remember all of the details.  I make it a routine when on the road to get up early, have breakfast (usually the complimentary hot type), and write in my journal about what I did yesterday.  One time, while touring in Europe (several years ago), I stayed at a hotel in a little town on the Austrian/Swiss border.  It was right at the foot of the Alps, and I woke up that morning to an absolutely breath-taking view followed by a fantastic meal, it really couldn’t have been much better.  Off the top of my head, I couldn’t tell you where this place was if my life depended on it, but I wrote it down in my journal!  

10. Remember to have fun.

Even though you are working (and you will be working a lot while on the road), try to take time and enjoy all of the experiences that you are going to have.  Once of the easiest ways to kill a tour is to constantly complain.  Things will never be perfect, especially on the road, but try to keep a positive outlook and things will be better.  Remember, you are living a dream come true!

Join the conversation