Tour Bus Driver
How To Become a Tour Bus Driver
Tour Bus Drivers “are the captain of the ship. They are in charge of everything that goes on inside and outside of the venue. They’re driving all night, getting in around 7 or 8 in the morning,” says Chip Huffman of Huffman & Rice Inc. and The Celebrity Bus Drivers Academy. While the Road Crew unloads, the Driver will clean up the bus and wipe down tables.
They’ll “check oil, do general light maintenance duties, grab breakfast, sleep all day. They’re basically on the night shift. The Road Crew unloads, the Driver will clean up the bus and wipe down tables. They’ll “check oil, do general light maintenance duties, grab breakfast, sleep all day. They’re basically on the night shift.
The Tour Manager will tell them what bus call is, generally between 10pm-2am. [They’ll] get the bus fired up and drive all night while everyone sleeps. The next day is repeat.”
Generally speaking, the Tour Manager is the road boss, although the Bus Driver may also report to the Bus Owner, Safety Director, a Leasing Agent at the office, or the Bus Captain if it’s a larger tour with over a dozen people on the bus. The Driver will also work with the Road Crew and Recording Groups.
On average, Tour Bus Drivers earn approximately $27,800 annually. The average salary range for Tour Bus Drivers runs from $20,000 to $39,000. However, Huffman tells us Apprentice Drivers start off making around $30,000 to $40,000, with first or second year Drivers moving up to $50,000 to $60,000 a year if they get to the point where tours are requesting them back.
After three to four years, a Driver can expect to make between $60,000 to $80,000. I know of “a handful of Drivers that made triple figures last year because they’re the best of the best,” he adds.
Drivers are usually paid per assignment, per day. They receive a daily fee for every day they’re on the road, and usually receive per diems for meals, etc.
Because of the skill set required and the intense nature of the work, Tour Bus Drivers can make a lot of money.
Tour Bus Drivers are often away from home. They usually work through the night, starting between 10pm-2am and driving through the morning. Their shifts are closely regulated, however, and they can “legally only drive for ten hours with an eight-hour break,” according to Huffman. For this reason, the main Driver will usually be working with a second Relief Driver to get between cities.
A Tour Bus Driver can move up in his or her career by working with bigger stars or taking on a supervisory position such as Bus Captain.
Tour bus driving is an extremely competitive field, so the best way for a new Driver to get a job is through a training academy that offers job placement services. It’s also important to live in a city with a thriving tour bus industry.
With around 1,000 entertainer coaches currently running in the US, Nashville is the hub. Huffman says someone could move to Nashville and approach companies with their resume, but without the necessary connections and experience, “your chances of getting hit by lighting are slightly better than getting a job that way.”
- “If you don’t drive a big rig, go to trucking school.
- If you drive a truck, apply at your local seated bus company and get the feel of how a bus is slightly different than a truck.
- Learn how to drive smooth and gentle. People are sleeping and will work in the morning.”
Experience & Skills
To get a job as a Tour Bus Driver, “every company would ask for three years of entertainer coach experience, so I started this [training academy] and it has gone over very well and been very successful,” Huffman says.
It’s also necessary to have “at least three years CDL experience, so you really have to know how to handle a big rig and deal with people.” Much of the experience a Driver needs will come from working with seasoned veterans while on the road. “I try to get them out with an experienced Driver as a Relief Driver,” he says.
A working mechanical knowledge of the bus is essential since problems could arise anywhere, and other Mechanics won’t necessarily be familiar with the way the bus runs. “These guys are gone for days, weeks, even months, so they either have to fix it themselves or find someone who can.”
In regards to the biggest skill needed for the job, Huffman says, “probably the number one is personality skills. People skills. You just have to fit in and get along with these people and not push your way in. It’s really hard to teach [this skill], but it’s important.”
He adds, “You’re part Chauffeur and part Scullery Maid,” so cleaning skills are as important as mechanical skills. “You have to be on top of everything on that bus. There is just not one of these kinds of buses on every corner” so it’s important to know how the bus works. Also important are “paperwork skills, because we’ve got DOT (The Department of Transportation) regulating us heavily.”
Not everyone who thinks they’d make a great Tour Bus Driver actually will.
The ideal candidate is someone who’s “not too pushy, yet is friendly and approachable and has a good sense of humor and is able to tolerate all different kinds of personalities. Because in this business, you might do a country artist for two weeks, then a heavy metal band for two months, then a reggae band for two days, then a rap artist,” Huffman says. It’s important for the Driver to not get rattled about people, bus problems or schedules.
The Driver must also be dedicated to his or her job, and not simply looking for a way to live the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. “The artist doesn’t want a fan. They want someone taking care of their bus so they can go to sleep and know they’re going to wake up safely in Denver” or wherever the next tour stop is, Huffman says.
Education & Training
Before applying for jobs, Tour Bus Drivers must already have attained a CDL (Commercial Driver License) and gone through a truck driving or bus company training. Tour bus training programs, such as Huffman’s Celebrity Bus Drivers Academy, are very helpful in terms of job placement and gaining the necessary skills and experience.
“We teach what they need to know to deal with the entertainer personality,” he says, but applicants must already come with driving experience.
Tour Bus Drivers do not have a union, although some loosely-organized online organizations do exist.
What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?
“If you think you’re going out on the road to hang out with stars, hang out backstage and chase girls, this is not the job for you. This is not a job for a fan. It’s a job for someone who loves music and driving, but knows it’s hard work.”
What’s the #1 mistake people make when trying to get into this career?
“Driving rough. It’s the number one mistake. Often, [with] drivers who don’t make it in the industry, it’s because they drove too rough.”
If you could describe in one word what makes you successful, what would it be?
“Tenacity. Staying with it, not taking no for an answer. Staying with it and making it happen and being proactive. You really have to promote yourself, take care of yourself and do it for yourself.”
Chip Huffman is a founder of the Celebrity Bus Drivers Academy and a partner in Huffman & Rice, Inc. He has worked as a transportation executive for over twenty years. As the former President and Founder of Nitetrain Coach Company, Inc., he provided buses and Drivers for artists such as Taylor Swift, Kings of Leon, Brad Paisley, Carrie Underwood, Korn, and Tool. The company was sold in 2010.
His work with the Celebrity Bus Drivers Academy has been featured in Business Insider, Billboard, The Wall Street Journal, Metro Magazine, Entrepreneur, Pollstar, Bus and Motor Coach News, and Music Row.