The Tour Manager
Hello Donovan and thank you for talking with me. If you don’t mind – I’d love to pick your brain about the intricacies of touring life. I’m curious to understand all the roles and positions and who is in charge of what. In a nutshell – I want to know how a show gets put together behind the scenes. So with that said, what exactly does a production manager do and what are they in charge of?
The Production Manager is going to be the boss on all things production. He’s going to make sure everyone is properly loaded in. He’s going to make sure that the show’s very tight production schedule is kept in check and executed correctly. He’s making sure that the audio gets up in the proper amount of time—the lighting is up in the proper amount of time. Basically, he’s making sure the show gets up in the proper amount of time.
How about a tour manager?
A Tour Manager is basically in charge of the entire tour. He is setting the load in times with the venue and making sure that all touring vehicles are reaching the venue at that specific time. He is coordinating between the production manager and the venue to make sure that on the day of the show everything is running smooth. A lot of the time nowadays this is your tour accountant too, settling the shows with the promoters, tracking expenses, and paying crew etc.
Another important job he does is making sure moral among the touring crew, whether it be a band member or truck driver, is high. A Tour Manager has to be the most flexible person on tour – his job can range from being a bartender on the side of the stage to watching some band members’ kids during sound check.
Really the tour manager is the unsung hero on tour. He’s the first person up every morning and the last person to fall asleep.
Who hires these positions? Who is really the boss? Is it the band or is it the management company?
I suppose that really depends on the band. At the end of the day if you are a crew member, the band is paying your bills. I suppose that would make the band “your real boss.” BUT, the manager of the band is the actual boss. Just like the owner of a business is going to hire someone he trusts to manage his company and run it in a competent fashion, a band hires a manager that they trust to run their affairs. It’s the exact same thing in the music industry as it is in the corporate world.
The manager in turn does the same by hiring a Tour Manager on the road to help oversee all of the crew members. So really, if you aren’t the tour manager then your boss is the Tour Manager. If you are the Tour Manager then your boss is the manager and at the end of the day, the band is everyone’s boss.
If that is the case, then who fires you?
Haha, well one thing I can say is it’s almost NEVER the band. Typically it’s going to be the tour manager – yet again the unsung hero dealing with the BS**.
So please give us a run down of a typical tour day.
There really is no typical tour day, a tour day for an amphitheater show is going to be MUCH different then your club show. I’ll show what a typical club show looks like:
9:00am – Wake Up
1:00pm – Backline Loadin
3:00pm – Line Check
4:00pm – Sound Check
5:30pm – Openers load in
6:00pm – Openers take the stage for line check etc.
7:00pm – DOORS OPEN
8:00pm – Opener 1 Plays
8:45pm – Opener 2 Plays
10:00pm – Headlining Band Plays
11:30pm – Concert Ends – immediately start load out
12:15am – Finish Load out
12:16am – Start drinking Jameson
3:00am – Sleep
When the tour is over, what happens? Do you stay on retainer or do you have to find a new tour?
I’ve seen it done both ways. If you are amazing at what you do and the band feels they can not get through their performance without you, they will pay you anything to make sure you are at every gig. Most crew members I work with usually have one or two bands they work with a lot and just try to shuffle their time around as much as possible to make different shows work.
How do you find new tours? Are there industry job postings? Special boards? Or is it all word of mouth?
There are newer things like Crewspace that roadies use to help find work, but in my experience it’s all word of mouth. You just have to let your performance speak for you. I hear of some roadies who have trouble finding work and other roadies that are turning down work every day – fact of the matter is people that are good at their jobs typically work in this industry and the ones that struggle probably struggle at their job searches as well.
How big does a band need to be before they start bringing Production Managers and Tour Managers on board?
Tour Managers are brought on VERY early. Most of the professional Tour Managers I work with – BB from Slightly Stoopid, Coach from Pepper and Shaun from The Expendables – are all close personal friends with the band. They have all grown with the band, usually starting with no pay and with no actual experience, just touring with the band picking up their skills along the way. A lot of times the Tour Manager will also pull double duties – Tour Manager and Sound, Tour Manager and Merch etc.
Production Managers get brought on a bit later. It usually doesn’t make much sense to bring someone like this out until you are carrying some level of production whether it be Audio, Lighting, stage props etc. Seems like most bands on a club level don’t carry Production Managers as they are usually relying on the house audio, lights and production. Once you grow into a theater band then it seems much more common. Once you hit sheds and amphitheaters it’s going to be a necessity.
What are the most important skills needed to be successful at this job?
Patience and I recommend you don’t have a short fuse, it’s not going to get you anywhere yelling at someone.
How does someone learn all this? I can’t imagine that there is on-the-job training. Is there a mentorship thing or is just sink and swim?
There are schools like Full Sail in Florida and other schools that have live production programs. But the best roadies I work with usually started with their friends’ bands, toured the country and went to the “University of the Road.” There is NOTHING like on the job training in this field. You HAVE to f**k up to get better.
How did you get started in this?
I use to work for an online shoe company in about 2000. The shoe company had started to get into sponsoring bands and used me to contact some of these bands and what not. I was a big fan of Slightly Stoopid and The Expendables so I first approached The Expendables, a local band from Santa Cruz that I loved and got them an endorsement with the shoe company. One night while taking to the bass player of The Expendables back stage, I realized that there wasn’t anyone really handling the business side of things. We talked about it and I told him I would like to help. He was into it and I approached the rest of the band which was also into the idea. I immediately started booking shows and traveling with the band. For the first 3 or 4 years I was booking the shows, tour managing, doing sound and managing the band as well. We then brought on our Tour Manager, Shaun Logan, who had grown up with the band.
During all of this I had met Slightly Stoopid and we became close friends as well. In 2005 Slightly Stoopid asked me to go on the road with them doing monitors. In all honesty, I was just a front of house guy at this point, but didn’t want to miss the opportunity so I toured with them and cut my teeth as a Monitor Engineer. In 2007, I left Stoopid to focus on The Expendables full time but I still mix Stoopid on Front of House or Monitors whenever their engineers can’t make a gig.
I continued touring with The Expendables as their sound engineer through the beginning of 2011 when I left the road to focus more on the bands management side. Needless to say, it was a fun 10 years of touring with them!
I have also been working with an up-and-coming band in the genre for the past few years called Rebelution. I have worked doing “Dub Effects” on their last album and mix their live shows whenever they ask me too.
Any key words of advice to that crop of future managers?
Just keep doing it, it’s a slow road, trust me. If you stick with it and really work hard you will build a reputation and you will be successful! Just don’t count your success in dollar bills =)
Thank you so much Donovan! Thank you for taking the time out of your BUSY schedule to share all of your knowledge and insights.
Donovan Haney manages The Expendables and Pour Habit and has been a Sound Tech for touring bands for over 10 years now. He has also worked with Slightly Stoopid, Pepper, Rebelution, and Fishbone. The photo in this post is Donovan Mixing Rebelution @ The Ventura Theater. It was taken by Brandon Fuller.
This interview was originally published at: DONOVAN HANEY | Ultimate Ears