Herding Cats The Art of Tour Management

Herding Cats The Art of Tour Management
Tour management is about organizing chaos. Keeping people, gear, vehicles and finances on track is a major challenge. Good tour managers are hard to come by, but you can self-manage a great tour by planning ahead.

As soon as the dates are booked, get in contact with the team: band members, the artist manager, the booking agent, the label and publicist. Each player will have different expectations of you and of the tour. The band should tell you whether they're going out with full personnel, gear and backline. (Backline usually means big gear like drums, amps and pianos.) If you're working as or with a supporting band, sharing backline might be the best option. If so, square that away among the musicians. Keep the band's gear list with a record of serial numbers in case of theft or loss.

What merch is going out with you? For longer or bigger tours, it might make sense to ship merch from city to city. If the budget allows, consider working with a merch company to warehouse, ship and administer the sales.

The booking agent provides the itinerary and the performance contract with riders. You need to know, as early as possible, the dates, venues, fees, set position and length, and contact info for promoters and venues. A technical rider sets out the band's specific technical needs like a front-of-house sound person on site, as well as microphones, monitors, and backline. It should include a stage plot showing how the band sets up on stage, with things like DI boxes, mic stands and instruments drawn in. Double-check the technical rider well before the show: agents don't always have up-to-date riders when they pitch a show to a promoter, and you don't want to show up with an 11-piece collective to discover that the promoter thought they were booking a trio.

Hospitality riders should be part of your performance contract. They include dressing rooms, towels, food and drink. In your early days, don't expect to get buckets of beer and Smarties delivered backstage. If you are clear, reasonable and keep your rider costs down, promoters will be happier to book you. (Be aware that the cost of a hospitality rider will be deducted from gross receipts/ticket sales, so if you have negotiated a share of the net receipts, having an expensive rider only eats into your share.) That said, water and a few snacks backstage on your arrival cheer everyone up.

Find out if there is any FACTOR or other tour support in play, and what reports you'll be expected to file (such as merch sales) from the road and when the tour is completed. This will help you set up books and a receipt filing system in advance, which in turn makes wrapping and reporting much easier.

It's your job to manage the artist's schedule on the road, so you need to know when, where and how interviews are happening. The band manager or publicist should keep you in the loop on any press and publicity activities.

A detailed tour book is your very best friend. It contains the phone numbers, email and physical addresses of every person, venue and hotel you expect to meet on the road. It should also contain all the categories of information you'll need to "advance the show," which means phoning or emailing all the promoters and/or venues to get times for load in, sound check, doors opening, and set, and whether the venue has any age or curfew restrictions that may affect you. Ask about where to park and where to unload, and about accommodations (if any are provided as per the contract). Ask whether the venue provides a merch seller and/or if they take a percentage of your merch sales; get in touch with the venue's technical or sound person to confirm tech needs. Confirm the hospitality rider and ask whether there will be any dinner provided or a cash buyout (also part of the contract); how many guest list spots you have; and whether you will be expected to load out at the end of the night or if gear be left securely overnight.

Even if these details appear in the contract, never assume that people have read the thing. To avoid unpleasant surprises, confirm all the details directly with the promoter and/or the venue well in advance.

On the road, your job consists of executing the details of the tour book and communicating them to the band members and crew. Always be clear about where and when things are happening. You're also responsible for band finances. Keep track of the money by keeping a running in/out tally and balancing your cash float once a day. Never give anyone cash without getting a receipt in return. Keep the money on your person at all times, or deposit large sums to a bank whenever possible.

At the end of each show, you will settle fees and merch percentages with the promoter. If the band is entitled to a share of net receipts (aka "overage"), the promoter should show you a breakdown of receipts versus expenses. If things don't go according to your expectations, tell the promoter, but don't get irate about it: let the booking agent sort it out later. Above all else, your job is to help your artist walk away from every show leaving them happy to book you in the future.


Frequently Asked Questions

The tour manager we hired refuses to sell merch. Isn't that standard?
No. Selling, driving, coordinating, bookkeeping, teching, mixing, even catering or doing hair and makeup can be part of the job. It's up to you to be specific about your expectations before hiring someone.

The band I work with doesn't have credit cards, so I end up using mine a lot. I asked for interest on road expenses and the band got mad. Should I not charge interest?
Yes! You are acting like a line of credit, and if you were a bank they'd have to pay interest. To say nothing of the risk to your finances and good name if they don't pay you back. Charge what the credit card company actually charges you, and if they complain, tell them to finance their own damn tours.

Our tour manager crashed the van after one of the shows. It was a legit accident but we have to pay for some of the damage. Should we make him pay a share?
No. As his employer, you should cover the damages. If he was driving dangerously or negligently the answer might be different.