A beginners guide: 5 ways to get started in the live touring industry
So you wanna be a road dog? You wanna run on no sleep for weeks on end, eat poorly, be stressed out, overworked, underpaid, the whole deal? Yea, me too. Like I’ve mentioned before, this is the best job in the world. I fully understand the appeal. Look, I get it. For me at least, it’s not about the songs. It’s not about the money, or the attention, or even the lifestyle. I’m in it for those moments when an artist is on stage between songs and people are high-fiving and hugging each other. We are fortunate to facilitate a release for people. Some people have shitty lives. This is their only night out and they’ve been waiting for it for weeks or even months. We help them escape reality. Even if it’s only for a second, it’s all worth it.
Here are 5 steps to take to get into Touring:
1. Ask Yourself – “What am I in it For?”
This is the main point that I need to make. Get into the game for the right reasons. If you’re in this for the party, or the fame, or more famously put; sex, drugs and rock n’roll… Then I hate to tell you, you’re in the wrong era. Don’t be fooled, that all still exists very loud and clear on tour. But the game has went and gotten itself a lot more corporate than it used to be. It’s not the wild west out there like you see in the movies. There are rules these days. People are held accountable for their actions.
Make a list of things you are trying to accomplish in your life. Be honest with yourself. If you want to be a part of the white picket fence crew or have stability or a “normal” 9-5 life, you’re in the wrong spot. And that’s ok. If the list includes things like “I need a high-paced workplace ” or “experience culture in different countries” or even “I dunno, just can’t deal with the 9-5 grind”, then you’re at very least, on the right track.
Next, make another list of the things you absolutely need to live. Assess your priorities, then ask yourself are they gonna coincide with being away from home for months on end.
Listen, I’m not saying that you can’t have a family. I have a wife and kids. But those around you need to drink the kool-aid too.
2. Get to know the positions on tour
To make it in any industry you need to know the basics. You need to know what the job is, who plays them, and what they’re called (slang and real name). Link to a full article outlining the jobs on and off the road and their responsibilities here.
3. Get Educated
I’m gonna put something out there. If you went to school, it doesn’t mean shit. I did it and received a big thumbs up after I graduated. Please… for the love of god… don’t act like a know-it-all when you’re fresh out of school. Although you would have learned a lot of good information that will help you, as far as the industry is concerned, you don’t know anything.
You need to get your feet wet before you are valuable to anyone. I’m talking about interning at the local club as a stage hand or applying for internships at management companies or even contacting sound and light companies to try and get shifts in the shop unloading trucks. You’ll learn most of what you’ve learned in school at these places cutting your teeth. On top of that, you’ll start to earn a bit of credibility and meet a bunch of people that will help you progress. If you’re smart, you’ll start doing these as soon as you get into school. Before is even better.
I’m gonna strongly suggest you follow this link and sign up to Bob Lefsetz’s mailing list. His wealth of knowledge and passion is untouchable. We’re lucky to live in the same time as him. https://lefsetz.com/
When I first started touring I was just a house sound guy at a shitty club in my hometown. I went to school to try and become a producer and it just turned into me getting into real bad debt and building a home studio in the suburbs to record some rappers. A band that came through liked how I mixed them. I had to do monitors as well as FOH and the band said it was their first time in that room hearing themselves.
They had a song freshly on the radio and needed a sound guy to make sure they didn’t get boned being the openers. I had no clue how anything worked outside of the house gig. We only ever had a couple of guest engineers come through the club. To be honest, I was in over my head. It was awesome. These are the things that I wish I knew going into that first gig:
- What an input list is, how to make them, and why they’re important.
- Same story for a stage plot.
- The purpose and importance of doing a proper advance.
Link to full article on input lists and stage plots here.
4. Network, Network, Network
It’s no surprise that in the touring industry it’s all about who you know. They say a businessman (or woman) is a compilation of his/her last 5 phone calls. Think about how this applies directly to you. Is your circle a winning circle? Does it align with your goals? If so, fuck yeah. If not, get a new circle. It’s simple. If you don’t know anyone, go to all of the events, get yourself on the load in call, get to know the people at your local music shop and club. You can’t expect a culture to accept you if you’re not willing to put yourself out there.
More importantly than just knowing these people, you need to be setting a good example. Nothing will get you cut from a gig faster than someone asking “what about this guy?” and someone that saw you fucking around says, “Naw, that guy’s a punk”. You are a brand. Represent your brand. Protect your vibe… always.
Keep in mind, that if someone can’t help you right now, that doesn’t mean they forgot about you. It’s never been easier to stay in touch with people. I’ve reconnected with people after years of not seeing them because they are the right fit for the upcoming gig.
5. Go get it
Nobody is gonna hand this to you. More famously put, sometimes you need to jump off a cliff and build the wings on the way down. You need to wake up and start your hustle Every. Single. Day. This is a great lifestyle and there is a reason that it’s so hard to get into. It’s a gruelling process that filters out the people that don’t deserve it.
Believe in yourself. You’re a soldier. Get after it already.
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