Being on tour, you will have a number of issues that will come up on the road. Long drives between gigs, little or no sleep, living on pizza and PB&J, baby-wipe showers, and the drummer puking all over the van. Having a tour manager to be the bad guys can keep tensions down, and allow you, as the musician, to do your job. All of these things can make the journey a bit annoying if you are not cut out for it, but this is the life right? However, you as a band and individuals are a representation of yourself and the band on tour or even just at a local gig!
I don’t know how many times I have seen bands that are on the road just throw their shirts on a table and not have appropriate signage. Merch is you lifeblood on the road, and if you aren’t set up properly to display or market your merch, what the fuck are you doing?
- Make sure to bring a table, don’t rely on the venue to provide one.
- Bring signage that states that you take credit cards and the prices of everything you are selling.
- Have a grid partition that you can quickly put up behind you for shirts.
- Bring lighting, a power strip, and an extension cord to light the shirts and table, even be creative with weird shit!
You are going to most likely be in a very dark club or venue, and having lights to showcase your merch is crucial. With an extension cord and power-strip, you are able to deal with whatever the venue has to challenge you with. Lots of fans will likely want to have signed CDs, and with everyone roaming around, it can be a pain to locate all the members, especially those sleeping one off from the night before, so have some pre-signed CDs set up for when people ask for them! Make sure that one member of the band is around at all time, except before going on obviously and loading on and off stage. The singer should go straight off the stage, get a drink, change, do what singers do quickly, and then get to the merch booth to meet and greet fans. It can also be advantageous to have a merch girl, but those dynamics have to be unique in cramped quarters and such on the road. And finally, roll everything you plan to sell, label it, and organize it, so it is easy to get to. There is nothing like digging through merch while people are waiting in line! Move it!
Being Present During The Show
I don’t care if you think you are God’s gift to music, it is always proper etiquette to check out the bands that are playing before and after you. Obviously during set up and breakdown directly before and after your set, that will not be feasible. Be sure to get to know the promoter, especially if he is a good one, and the owner. Talk with the security guards and bartender. You never know who could be a great connection next time you roll in, or your next major fan! One of the best example of this was on a tour I was on a few years ago, and they purposely would come to the van and say “First band is up, let’s go!” They did this for 30 days straight, supporting every local band that played on that tour. The result was the other bands supporting them, their fans creating pits during their set, and the networking that resulted from those bonds and connections. I always suggest to bands I am with that at least two members go out and support the local acts during their set (as some are getting food or watching merch), if not everyone. I also encourage them to talk with them and network. You never know which band or musicians will help you the next time you come through, or the next time they roll through your neighborhood. Building these relationships can hook you up with places to stay, connections to their fans on social media, and a network of friends you can call on while on tour.
The Van or Bus
Obviously a bus has different sets of rules like not shitting in the bathroom, keeping the kitchen area respectable, respecting the back area, and being utterly silent when walking through the bed hallway. Using comfortable earplugs on a bus can solve a lot of issues (including sleeping while people are a bit loud), and the ability to go in other areas to get away from people when you are stressed or annoyed help greatly.
The van is a different beast, as the quarters are cramped, and you really need to have road dogs that you are cool with. Finding an ideal seating arrangement can be helpful when you are sleeping up against your guitarist for hours on end each day. Sometimes it is necessary to mix up the seating arrangement and get a new cuddle buddy! Whenever you stop for gas, clearing out as much garbage is an ideal situation. Cans, wrappers, and garbage can make a sweaty beast smell turn into a rotten landfill smell! Clean that shit! Every time the van stops for gas or food, be sure to fucking piss, shit, smoke, or whatever the fuck you got to do. Excessive stops just piss the Tour Manager off when he or she has time schedules to adhere too. And lastly, don’t label the van with graffiti or logos. The reason? You are just basically letting the cops in each state know who to pull over…DON’T DO IT!
Understand that so many people would love to be doing what you are doing, touring. When tensions get high, and the long drives without sleep get to you…understand that this is what it is all about. Not everyone is cut out for the touring lifestyle, and that is cool. And sure fans don’t see the behind the scenes brutality that bands must endure to go on the road, but they would still love to be able to hit a new city each day, jump on stage, and let loose that shit. Whenever a band member has grumbled or bitched about something, I always remind them of that, and then drop, “I LIVE FOR THIS SHIT!”