How To Become a Tour Manager
The job of a Tour Manager is to make sure that life on the road runs smoothly for everyone involved. This means getting the band safely to venues and hotels, managing money coming in and money going out, and dealing with Promoters and Venue Managers. Tour Manager David Norman says that his “day consists of moving the artist and the band from city to city. Along with my Travel Agent, booking flights, ground, hotels, etc. Doing day sheets (info on what your day will be like including departure times, show times, soundcheck times, travel after the show, etc.)”
Tour Managers work with Venue Managers, Promoters, Travel Agents, Band Members, Sound and Lighting Techs, Instrument Techs (Guitar Technicians, etc.), Sound Engineers, Tour Bus Drivers, Tour Coordinators, Production Managers, Tour Accountants and the Road Crew.
The best way to advance in this career is to have a handle on several different aspects of touring so that you can work in varying capacities. Norman says that “when I was coming up, my mentor advised me to learn EVERYTHING about touring, so I did. I can tour manage, production manage, [do] tour accounting, Promoter Rep, etc. Learning all of these different things will make your phone ring with more jobs over being just one dimensional. For example, this year I was the Tour Manager/Tour Accountant for John Legend (finished in February after 5 ½ years touring with him). Then I filled in as Tour Manager for a one-off date for Aaron Neville and then was Tour Director for the Brit Floyd tour and then Production Manager for Prince. In two weeks, I’ll go out as Tour Accountant for Avicii (filling in for a friend) and then I go out with One Direction as Promoter Rep August – October.” Advancement also comes from experience and building connections; most Tour Managers start with smaller, lesser-known bands before hitting the road with Grammy-winning, millionaire Rock Stars.
Education & Training
”Learn everything you can,” Norman says. “Read everything you can and above all, find a mentor to help guide you. College would be great to learn people and life skills.” Although higher education isn’t a requirement, an understanding of finance and budgeting is.
Experience & Skills
Norman, like many Tour Managers, started off as a musician himself. This experience gave him an understanding of what tour life was like, and what band members would need from their Tour Manager. He also has experience as a recording studio Sound Engineer and Mixer. After working with the S.O.S. Band on an album, they asked him to come along on tour with them as a Front-of-House Engineer and Tour Manager. In general, Tour Managers have experience in one or more music industry careers before heading out with a band. Skill-wise, they must be able to handle finances, stay on schedule and handle all kinds of people with varying temperaments.
Working as Tour Manager isn’t for everybody. Norman says this is a good career for “someone who’s patient, is proactive instead of reactive and is a forward-thinker and can multitask!”
Tour Managers have a lot of responsibility, and not a lot of days off. Norman says, “I generally work at least 8 – 9 months out of the year. I’m a workaholic and need projects to keep me motivated.”
Like so many music industry careers, networking and word-of-mouth recommendations are the best way to get a job as a Tour Manager. Many Tour Managers start off by working with a friend’s band or in another music industry career. UK-based Tour Manager Bob Slayer says, “There are so many ways to get into a career in music but like any creative field most of them involve working for next to nothing for quite a while, this is because a lot of people want to follow this path, so if you won’t work for nothing there are plenty of other people who will and they will get the breaks. If you have some aptitude for what you do then there comes a time where the experience and knowledge you have picked up working endless free or low paid hours begin to make you a scarcer, more valuable commodity.
Back in 2002/2003, I was trying to get into music journalism. I was reviewing bands for a bunch of fanzines and just starting to get the odd bit of work from magazines. I interviewed a band by email – Electric Eel Shock, a Japanese band who were touring America at the time. One of the questions I asked them was “Do you have any plans to come to the UK?” and this was the only one they answered! “You get gig we come”. And so I did. A few weeks later they came and stopped on my floor and did a few gigs around London. They blew a few people away and were asked to support a couple of larger bands. The band then, impressed with what I had set up, invited me to go back to [the] USA with them and to SXSW. There I set up an interview with MTV for them and managed to get the head Booker from Roskilde Festival in Denmark to come see them live. She immediately booked them to headline a stage… This sealed it and they asked me to be their Manager. This I did for the next 6 years solid as well as tour managing and also acting as Agent in some territories. I still work with them and just set up a European tour with them. Working and touring with Electric Eel Shock led to working with a number of other artists such as The Bloodhound Gang, Public Enemy, MC Devvo, etc.”
Tour Managers are paid week-by-week, and payment varies based on the tour budget, the length of the tour, the stature of the band, etc. Usually, a Tour Manager gets a base salary, plus expenses (meals, for example), and sometimes a per diem for incidental expenses that come up on the road.
Unions, Groups & Associations
There are no unions for Tour Managers, although UK-based Tour Manager Bob Slayer recommends the Music Managers Forum for those interested in artist management.
- Start at the bottom. Get experience in different facets of the live music industry.
- Network. Get the word out that you’re available to work as a Tour Manager.
- Be willing to work for free or very little.
- Brush up your budgeting skills.
- Stay responsible and don’t get sucked into partying! You’re the one who needs to see that everyone gets to the next location safely and on time.
What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?
Bob Slayer says “Get whatever experience under your belt. Bands always need to get to gigs, if you want to make yourself indispensable, buy yourself a van and offer yourself for free, or for expenses, or cheaply to bands. Maybe you don’t always want to tour but it will give you an insight into the goings-on of bands and you should be able to go from there into other areas. One fan of Electric Eel Shock used to come to all their gigs and so when I couldn’t tour manage them for awhile I asked him if, in return for us taking him to the gigs, he would do some production. He said yes and became their Tour Manager for a while. Another fan got Electric Eel Shock a feature in his local newspaper. I encouraged him to do some more and he got us features in several other local newspapers on the tour. I introduced him to other bands he could also help out and within a year he packed in his job and started a PR company.”
What’s the #1 mistake people make when trying to get into this career?
Slayer: “Being a dick!”
Norman: “Thinking that it’s all glamorous and so easy. It’s definitely NOT. Also, people who think they know it all. I learn stuff each and every day from people who know less than me, to people who have much more knowledge and wisdom than myself.”
What is the question people should ask about this career but rarely do?
Slayer: “What the feck am I doing?”
Norman: “Do you think this would be right for me based on my personality?”
What is one thing I should have asked which I didn’t?
Norman: “I’ll have to think on that one. GREAT QUESTION!”
If you could describe in one word what makes you successful, what would it be?
Slayer: ‘I am far from successful—but I am happy!”
Extra Credit: The Beatles or Rolling Stones?
Slayer: “There was a time when this was a polarizing question. You were in one camp or the other. There have been many other this band v that band. But I think it is hard to say anything other than both.”
Norman: “Beatles. The Rolling Stones are SOOOOOOO overrated.”
David Norman is a veteran Tour Manager who has worked as a musician, Recording Engineer and Mixer, Tour Accountant, and Production Manager. From 2008-2014 he worked as the Tour Manager/Tour Accountant for John Legend and recently worked with Prince on his European/UK tour. Norman has worked with stars like Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, Toni Braxton, Arcade Fire, Joss Stone, Alicia Keys, Green Day, and They Might Be Giants.