Sunday, September 25, 2022

Five Tips for Mid-Level Touring Acts on How Not to S**t the Bed

Lauren Hart and Max Karon of Once Human

The “post-COVID” tour season is in full swing, and GOOD GOD is it an organizational shitshow out there. Here are some thoughts that have been rolling around in my head that I’d like to share with the mid-level touring acts in my orbit:

Have you invited press to the show? Given those people photo pit passes? Then make sure the first three songs of your set are photographer-friendly. This means no reds and no strobes – and absolutely NO red strobes! You want to see a great action shot of your band on your favorite website or in your favorite magazine, right? Then don’t leave a photographer with only 400 blurry red smudges to work through. Also, you need to actually give those photographers an image they will want to use – so pay attention to them! The photo of Lauren Hart of Once Human I’ve included above is a prime example of what I mean. In a split second while performing, she spotted me, stopped and gave me a pose. That’s a pro.

Tour managers are like combat generals; they work to keep everyone alive and winning while getting shit thrown at them from all directions. Very often, the tour manager has to keep the artist organized (no small feat), deal with the production aspects of the show/venue, deal with guest list management and oversee the logistics of the onsite interviews that the publicist has booked for the artist. (Hey, publicists: Please stop doing this. Trust me, EVERY artist on the road fucking hates it.) That’s a lot of patience and brainpower, and not everybody possesses them – especially while sleep-deprived. Make sure that any tour manager you bring on has the experience and brains necessary to rise to the challenge. I have personal experience with a frazzled tour manager who once went from musician to musician backstage to ask if they had any additions to the typed-and-printed master guest list in her hand. After scribbling down everyone’s additions, she exclaimed, “Oh, no, the master list is not in alphabetical order!” and scurried off to re-do it. Although she revised the list to be in alphabetical order, she forgot to add on the scribbled names from the previous list – thus leading to people standing shocked at the door as the person checking the list told them they weren’t on it. Don’t let this happen to you or your people.

News Flash: Tours these days survive on merch revenue. Do you want a fan to wait 10 minutes as the person behind your merch table frantically searches box after box for a shirt in the right size? What if they finally grab an elusive 2X shirt with the image of the nude woman in a Viking helmet riding a skeletal horse but your fan wanted a 2X of the bleeding skull with the rose in its mouth that - as it turns out - is now only available in Large? Congratulations – you just failed that fan! And considering that most people buy merch after the show – typically late at night during the week and perhaps moments before their bus ride leaves – you can’t afford to keep your supporters waiting too long. Organize your shirts by style and size before doors even open. And in the name of all that is holy, make sure your merch table accepts credit/debit cards. That $3.50 charge your fan has to pay to use the venue’s ATM could translate into $3.50 less they can spend with you – and $3.50 less in your tour vehicle’s gas tank at the end of the night.

Very often, whoever you have selling your merch will be your direct point of contact with your audience. It’s your job to make sure your merch people know your set time, any changes to the order of acts on the bill and any other logistical details that could affect your audience’s enjoyment of your show. Have your tour manager remain in constant contact with your merch people – and for fuck’s sake, NEVER have your merch people close up shop during your set! People sometimes need to leave early, so never lose an opportunity to sell a souvenir to someone who needs to duck out before the encore to catch a bus or get to their car before a garage closes. Your audience’s time and convenience is always more important than yours. Never forget that.

Not all publicists are created equal. There are extraordinary ones out there who will build solid relationships with media outlets on your behalf, and there are those who only hit “send” on a press release and never reply to responses. Media outlets want to receive replies to their inquiries, even if it’s a “no.” I have asked publicists to remove me from their contact lists after they failed to respond to too many of my emails back to them after they sent me a press release. Even if you know for a fact that you don’t want to do an interview (or are just too busy) or don’t want to add a certain person to the guest list (or simply can’t), still instruct your publicist to reply to the requesting party. You pay them to be your buffer, so MAKE them your buffer if need be. They should be skilled in the fine art of letting someone down easy without burning a future bridge. Additionally, you may want to look into how your publicist is communicating with potential press. How is their tone? Are they professional? Do they get your messaging across? What is their media placement rate? Are other acts in their roster getting the kind of press you want? Do they have basic things like time zones down? You’d be surprised how many publicists fuck up interview times because they somehow forget there’s a three-hour time difference between Los Angeles and Boston. They are the frontline, public-facing representative of your band. Make them work for it.