A lot of great things will happen to you while traveling.
You’ll make lots of new friends, sell lots of CDs, explore local cuisine, hopefully go swimming at least once, develop your band’s sound, pull together a compelling live performance, and drive through some truly beautiful parts of the country.
However, at least a few of the following will also happen, and it’s best to be emotionally prepared for them.
- You will lose your phone charger.
You may lose it about once a month, you may lose it about once a week. I was on a tour for about a month when three people had all lost their iPhone chargers and were sharing one cord that only plugged into the cigarette lighter in our van for about TWO WEEKS. Our phones were constantly at about 6% battery life. Why didn’t we just buy replacements? Well….
- Someone will run out of money.
Hopefully it won’t be you, but a tour fund can evaporate pretty quickly if you have two or three shows in a row that don’t go well (which will also probably happen, but we’ll get into that depressing topic later). If your band runs out of money you’re in trouble. Make sure that you at least have money set aside for gas, a motel room here and there, and maybe some minor emergency car repairs.The best thing to do when someone in your band runs out of money is to loan them a hundred bucks (if you have a hundred bucks). If you don’t, they will slowly bum your cigarettes, bum your drink tickets, and ask you to buy them tacos. Then you will get mad at them and call them irresponsible. Then they will get mad at you (and probably embarrassed). Just lend them some money with a set plan for getting it back, which is usually easier to hunt down post-tour than twelve American Spirits, four whiskey gingers, and seven barbacoa street tacos. Besides, who wants to count?
- You will want to count.
Whose turn is it to drive? Whose turn is it to navigate? Who brought the most friends to a show? Who washed the dishes after breakfast yesterday? Who got to pick where you all had lunch yesterday? Who got to sleep on a couch last night, and who slept on the floor? Who took the longest setting up their instruments? Who was everyone else waiting in the van for at the gas station, and who pumped the gas? You don’t want to be the crazy person who’s keeping track of every minute inequality, but at some point you will be, especially if you notice that someone else is.
- You will gain weight.
You will drink cheap beers when a venue gives your band 24 of them instead of money. You will eat a pizza pocket from a gas station at 3am. You might eat at a fast food chain in the middle of a long drive because you don’t have time to sit down and have a proper meal. And you will spend a lot of time either sitting in a car or sitting in a bar. Playing pool is not exercise. Playing pinball is not exercise. You will gain weight. Drink water, eat green things, and buy some bigger pants at a thrift store. And don’t get too stressed out about it.
- Someone will be a dick to you.
Are you standing outside the promoter’s apartment window at 3am throwing rocks at it because, oops, he forgot to pay you and mysteriously vanished? Did someone steal your laptop/stick bag/everything? Did someone try to trade you a button and a piece of yarn for one of your CDs? Was the sound guy mean to you? Did the opening band go next door to a different bar and bring everyone from the show with them as you were getting on stage? Sometimes people are dicks. Try not to take it personally. Maybe they’re always a dick, maybe they’re just having a bad day or maybe they don’t know any better. If they don’t know any better, it’s up to you to educate them or to ignore them. But don’t let it get you down, because at some point…
- You will be a dick to someone.
Even if you’re not trying to. Maybe you’re tired or grumpy or hungry or drunk. Maybe you were an hour late to your sound check and are still stressed out. Someone will try to congratulate you and become your friend, and you’ll say “Yeah yeah, we get it” and walk away. Maybe you gave the sound guy some attitude because he didn’t look at your sound check info (or maybe you forgot to send it). Maybe you get irritated at the door person because they don’t want you to put all twelve of your drummer’s cousins on the guest list. Oops! You were just a dick. Try to remember:
- People who work at venues get treated like crap all of the time, and have to constantly be on their guard for minors trying to sneak in/folks trying to get in for free/people sneaking alcohol in/dealing with paying out the bands. Don’t treat them like crap! If no one comes to your show, it’s not their fault. It’s not the bartender’s fault if he or she didn’t look up your music before the show and invite all of his friends to come and see you, and it’s not the local band’s responsibility to promote the show and then give you all of the money from the night (unless some arrangement was previously made with them).
- Venues have different acts coming in every single night, and you don’t want to stick out as a rude one. Tip the bartender for your free drinks (and your un-free ones), thank everyone who’s working there, and be nice to the other bands. It’s not rocket science, but it’s easy to forget when you have numbers and gas station apps and set-lists running through your head every day.
- While you’re on tour, you’re representing not only yourselves and your music, but the town you come from. Don’t do anything that reflects negatively on you, unless you are legitimately getting screwed over in some way. Do ask about things like door split, drink tickets, any food vouchers or sleeping arrangements beforehand; do e-mail the bands you’re playing with ahead of time and express excitement about playing in their town and to meeting them. Try to be a good communicator to avoid potentially sad situations.
- No one will come to your show.
This is the worst. Maybe the promoter never added a local band to the bill, maybe the local band didn’t show up, maybe they didn’t invite anyone to the show. I once played a show in Eugene, OR with a band of 60-year-old gentlemen who not only insisted on playing their 80-minute rock opera first, but then loaded all of their gear out and went home immediately afterwards, leaving me with the sound guy and the bartender at 10:30 on a Tuesday night. If you have the energy for it, try to drum up some folks from outside or surrounding businesses, or if you don’t, try to treat your “set” as a rehearsal with a PA. Again, be nice to the folks working at the venue, it’s not their fault.
- You have no place to sleep.
Often a side effect of #7, sometimes there will be nowhere to sleep. If there are folks at your show, an enthusiastic-yet-desperate plea from the stage can do wonders to fix this situation. If there aren’t, ask the bartenders if they know of anywhere cheap to stay in the area. If you’re from the Pacific Northwest like I am, or just have your own healthy dose of passive aggressiveness, one technique that has worked well is asking someone if you can park your van in their driveway for the evening. If you can get this far, folks will usually at least offer a couch or floor space (the idea of hosting 4 or 5 musicians at the last minute is not super appealing to many people, believe it or not), but if not, you at least have a safe place for your car and yourselves. An emergency Facebook request works as well, but try to reserve it for genuine sleeping issues.If you find yourself in a legitimately disgusting sleeping situation, don’t be afraid to shell out the 60 bucks and move to a motel—sometimes it just isn’t worth it. I once stayed at a house in Buffalo, NY which the owner had affectionately deemed “Shit Mansion,” which was filled with mold, rotting food, and the lingering smell of cat urine. Everyone in our touring party felt ill for about three days afterwards. Sometimes you just have to treat yourself.