FEATURE: Ten things I learned as a tour manager

Maciek Pysz at CovJazz, 26 November 2015. Photo Credit: Gaz Hodge.

Recently, guitarist and composer Maciek Pysz completed an 18-date tour of England and Wales. Mary James arranged most of this tour and helped out with PR and tour management. Here are 10 things she learned.

1. Don’t hire a venue unless you are well known. We hired two attractive spaces – one big, one small. It all seemed such a good idea at the time, filling in those gaps in the schedule with a hired venue. But the risk was high and did not pay off. The only way you can make hired venues work is to have ‘boots on the ground’ – people who will put up posters in the town and bring their friends. Don’t expect a local promoter to have any loyalty to you – he has his own schedule, and even if he is interested in your artist, his regular audience probably won’t be or they’d have asked him to book your artist anyway.

2. Get some funding and then watch every penny. Honestly, we could not have toured without it – we paid each artist a decent fee, covered travel costs and provided hotels where it was too far to get home. We could not cover these costs on fees alone. There were unexpected expenses like an amp which developed a fault. We stayed in very modest hotels. It was a daily task to list all expenditure/income and keep on top of overall projections so there were no surprises at the end of the tour. It’s very satisfying to get to the end of the tour on budget (we did), but this won’t happen unless you work at it.

3. We didn’t put enough in the marketing budget. Social media is not enough. A mailing list is not enough. Venue websites are not enough. Radio interviews on the day of the concert were enjoyable and resulted in some good Facebook traffic, but did they translate into ticket sales? Well probably not, but the experience was good. How to quash that middle-of-the-night nagging thought, “Have I done enough?” – the answer comes back hollowly, “You haven’t”.

4. Promoters – please help us to help you. Send us a simple document with arrival details, parking, mobile numbers, a map to show where the rear entrance to the venue is, places for dinner, a list of recommended hotels that we may not spot on booking.com, local press details, the wifi code for the venue, and tell us how we will be paid. Then we won’t ask you for all this detail in emails cluttering up your mailbox and you can concentrate on booking your next act.

5. Stress and hunger is reduced if there is some food and hot/cold non-alcoholic drinks provided by the promoter, or a meal voucher for a local recommended eaterie that will serve food quickly. Think about it – you arrive for 6.00pm (usually you aren’t allowed to arrive earlier; in any case, you are probably doing a long drive and it’s rush hour), unload the car (there are nearly always steps up or down to the room), unpack, set up and soundcheck. It’s gone 7.00pm and the sound is still not quite right, doors open at 7.30. How will you be able to go out to eat, change and be rested by 8.00pm for the start of the concert? It’s very difficult. So if there is some simple food (agreed in advance) available, it will be gratefully eaten and the artist can provide what you are paying him for – a good performance, because he is relaxed and not hungry. I know some bands like to eat after a concert but, in most places, the venue has to be cleared by 11.00 or 11.30pm.

6. Promoters – provide a warm, secure green room for bags, coats, instruments and for changing in. Band members need to warm up in private before performing, make last minute phone calls and check their messages.

7. Promoters – meet and greet the band, show them around like the venue is your home. Give a warm, enthusiastic welcome at the start of the concert – let the audience know why you booked us (because you love our music and you hope they will too). Make sure the band has a table to sell CDs during the interval. Offer to help do this. And at the end, see us off the premises (checking we have got everything like phone chargers left in sockets) and wish us a cheery goodbye – we want our last memory to be a happy one.

8. If on a long tour, have a ‘daily details’ spreadsheet with address and postcode of venue, promoter’s name and mobile, arrival time, parking detail, set times, the fee, the address of that night’s hotel. This document can be easily viewed on a phone and saves trawling through emails.

9. As tour manager, have a Plan B for all eventualities from car breakdown to missed trains. But keep these plans to yourself – musicians are optimistic and don’t take kindly to being told things can go wrong. Keep some emergency rations and preferred mineral water in the car.

And finally…

10. The unexpected is often the best moment – the unassuming audience member who asks if he can take photos and creates one of the best images of the tour. He also helped load the car after a gig and was genuinely thrilled to do so and to chat to the band (and even me!). We must never forget how important these moments are to the people we make the music for, they make us humble and grateful to be doing what we love.

Mary James, who lives in Gloucestershire, is a jazz promoter and artist manager. Twitter @maryleamington

A Journey CD review
2015 interview with Maciek Pysz

Categories: miscellaneous

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