Tours come in all shapes and sizes, from loading up in an old beat up van for a week to being flown around the world on a private jet for six months. Regardless of the budget or length of the tour, there are certain steps you can take to prepare yourself for life on the road. Touring can be a lot of fun, but not if you’re losing your sanity because you ran out of clean clothes five days ago! From band rehearsals to healthy eating, prepping your gear to getting along with your bandmates, I’ve compiled some tips from my own experience that will help you feel your best and play your best every show, every night.
Tour rehearsals are the best time to get comfortable with the music you will be playing everyday for the next few days or few months of your life. They present an opportunity to really master your performance before you hit the stage, and fully understand your role in the music. Even if you think you’re ready to take the show on the road, well spent rehearsal time can mean the difference between a rusty start and a tight killer sound.
Before each Ingrid Michaelson tour, we’ll have one or two three hour rehearsals in a rented space in Manhattan. It’s important for each of us to review and memorize our parts individually before the first rehearsal so that we can spend the time together working out live dynamics, getting comfortable with tempos and allowing enough time for rehearsing harmonies. Preparing before rehearsal also makes the rehearsal easier and relaxing. I might spend time revisiting the recordings, listening for tempos, specific parts or patterns. I will make sure I have the new songs down verbatim, because I know they will be the focus of the rehearsals. Even though we play on the records, it’s important to review the recordings after the sessions. When everyone comes prepared, there’s less stress and we can also take the time to bond as people. When members of your band are involved in many different projects like we are, that kind of preparation is essential.
TIP: Practice is done at home, not at rehearsal. Practice is something you do alone, and rehearsal is something you do with others. Make sure you come prepared to play your part perfectly so the group can work together as one.
Preparing your gear for the road will require finding the right balance of preparedness and traveling light. At first it’s better to play it safe and bring too much, but eventually you’ll learn that taking care of your equipment and using professional and reliable gear relieves the need for backup instruments. It’s also a good idea to know the basics of how your gear works in case you run into a problem on the road. Even if you have a tech setting up or maintaining your instruments, when the downbeat hits, you’re the one on stage!
I use a Yamaha Oak Custom Kit, Sabian Cymbals, Vater Sticks and Evans Heads. I am fourtunate to have great relationships with all of these companies and get all of my gear directly from the manufacturers. Each company had different criteria that they used to decide if they were interested in working with me, but each company required a physical press kit to get the ball rolling. It takes time and patience to forge relationships with gear companies, but their service and personal attention has proved to be vital in helping me be prepared. I suggest you visit the website of the company you wish to work with and read their requirements carefully. If you think you fit the mold, you may want to reach out to them through the proper channels.
Before a tour, I make sure all of my gear is in working order and order plenty of spare drumsticks and heads so that I don’t need to worry about running out of anything or watching things fall apart after one week of shows. I have hard cases for all of my drums, cymbals and hardware to protect the gear during load in and load out. I also bring a small personal fan on tour to help me keep cool under the hot stage lighting.
TIP: Bring spare drum keys, guitar strings, cables, tuners, 9 Volts, ear plugs and all other “disposable” gear that you use. Sure, you MIGHT run into music stores along the way, but it’s better to have these things before disaster strikes. Also, some music stores won’t have these items. Your cable will always break when everything is running behind schedule, not when you have all afternoon to buy a new one.
Being Domestic on the Road
Although your gear may be in check, you also need to spend some serious time on your “living supplies.” Thinking ahead is important when you’re picking the right clothes for the job. Packing properly will help keep you stress level in check, your mind clear, and your budget low.
I always pack so that I have a variety of outfits to choose from each night AND so I don’t worry about running out of clothes if I miss an opportunity to do laundry. There may not be many opportunities to do laundry due to time restraints or location, so I make sure I am prepared with some extra pairs of socks and underwear. I also don’t over pack, so it’s easy to find things in my suitcase. When we’re out for more than two weeks, I always bring clothes for both warm and cold climates, because chances are, we will be experiencing all kinds of weather as we travel. A hoodie, light jacket, a winter cap, and some durable pairs of jeans go a long way.
TIP: Go clothing shopping before the tour. Bringing a full wardrobe on the road gives you an incentive to NOT spend money when you’re window shopping in your downtime.
Food and Health
Eating nutritious, lean and tasty food is key to keeping the energy up and sickness away. Packing healthy snacks before leaving and visiting grocery stores along the way always helps control the quality of food. It also saves me money. It’s fun exploring for local fare, but it can also be risky, especially when the tour is a long one. Even if we opt to eat out several nights in a row, we pace ourselves, and keep the meals balanced.
This past tour, I worked out as much as possible, whether there was a gym around or not. I would run in the morning before my shower, or run before soundcheck and shower after if there was a shower in the venue. My workouts were always simple; I did push ups, ab exercises, and stretches. If I had access to a gym, I would also use free weights and some of the machines. I always carried water with me, and made sure I drank enough after the workout and after the gig. Our tour bus didn’t have a shower, so our tour manager arranged for a single day room at hotels in the cities we played for us to share. That way we had an opportunity to shower each day, even if the venues didn’t have an available shower. Hand sanitizer is always handy on the road. We’re all clean people, but living in such close quarters, playing late night shows, getting little sleep, and being around thousands of different people each week can get anyone sick.
TIP: Remember these five steps to healthy touring: Get enough sleep, drink plenty of water, eat right, workout at least 30 mins a day, and shower whenever possible. You’ll stay in strong, happy, healthy and pleasant smelling to your band mates and fans!
*For more information and tips on how I keep it healthy on the road, visit my blog The Healthy Musician.
Living and Working Together
As a musician, touring together means living together. Just as a live performance can be unpredictable, so can life on the road. You need to prepare yourself mentally and emotionally for the journey. You’ll be dealing with other people’s emotions, daily habits, personalities and more. Keeping a positive and professional attitude might be difficult in times of fatigue or frustration. Everyone has good days and bad days. No matter what, you will be up close and personal with the musicians you work with on the road.
Luckily for us, Ingrid, Bess, Allie, Chris, Dan and myself are all close friends. We work together and play together even when we’re not touring together. There’s a great vibe between us as people and that translates to how we interact together as musicians. It’s easy to make music together and we have a lot of fun on tour. Though as much as we love each other, everyone needs their space from time to time, and it’s important to respect that.
After we load in and set up, there is usually a few hours of downtime before soundcheck begins. We use this time to break apart into smaller groups, or even fly solo for a little while. After soundcheck, before the doors open, there’s usually a little more personal time as well. Some of us opt to nap, others will go out to dinner. Like a family or like roomates, we learn to take cues from each other as to when space is needed. We also lend a helping hand when needed, or try to cheer up each other if someone is having a bad day. It’s important to be thoughtful at all times.
Simple things like reading my favorite magazines, watching YouTube, calling my family and girlfriend, or taking a short walk while listening to my favorite music help me stay relaxed and centered.
TIP: Be polite to each other. Show respect for your fellow musician. Common courtesy goes a long way when you’re in close quarters with your band for extended amounts of time.
Being prepared for a tour is a personal responsibility. Although people can help you out, ultimately no one else can take care of it for you. It may seem daunting at first, but if you make a list, set small deadlines and break it down into steps, you will be ready. If you give yourself enough time before the tour to prepare, you’ll get the job done and be ready for almost anything. Almost…