The life of a touring musician is just as stressful as it is fulfilling. There’s no feeling quite like playing your favourite tunes to a receptive audience night after night, and most professional musicians will tell you there’s no career quite like it. Still, there are plenty of things that can cause minor and major annoyances when you’re gigging from city to city.
Being a touring musician is about more than just playing music. There are tons of logistical and practical concerns you’ll need to get your head around if you want to pursue this rewarding yet ephemeral career. Before you embark on your musical journey, make sure you’re prepared. Here are 7 things you’re going to need before you become a touring musician.
The first thing you’re going to need as a touring musician is reliable transportation. How can you expect to get from city to city if you’re driving (or being driven around in) an old, clapped-out car? It simply won’t do for the world’s greatest guitarist. Instead, find yourself a good, solid vehicle before you begin. This is more important than having a good instrument in many ways.
As a musician, one of your biggest problems is going to be financing new equipment. When it comes to a vehicle, there are plenty of options you can look into. You could check out logbook loans if you’ve got a car already. That way, you can secure the loan against your current vehicle and use it as a stepping stone to pay off the one you want. Get the band to chip in and make sure you’re getting quality before value.
If you’re playing guitar in a band and your amp is a monster that just doesn’t sound good at lower volumes, it might be time to change your equipment. Many of the venues you’ll be playing – especially early on in your career – will be smaller and won’t be able to accommodate the massive tones and huge volume your amp can kick out. The same goes for massive banks of effects pedals.
We’re not saying you can’t build Tom Morello-style boards of crazy effects, or that you can’t have a huge amp. Just make sure you’re buying something that’s appropriate for your gigs. For the most part, musicians don’t actually need the size and power of equipment that they think they do. Buy smart, and you might be able to save some money into the bargain.
It’s an old adage, but you really do need to be dedicated to be a touring musician. While you’re on the road, it’s not easy to make time to practice, but this is definitely something you’ll need to consider. Your audiences won’t like it if you’re showing up rusty and unprepared. Practicing the songs and making sure you know them off by heart requires dedication and commitment.
While you’re touring, it pays to create a diary and allocate time to things like practicing and making sure your instruments are well-maintained. These aspects of a touring musician’s life do require a lot of thought and planning, but they’ll pay off in spades. It’s no good taking badly-maintained equipment or a lack of knowledge into a gig. Dedication helps you prepare.
A love of music
If you just picked up the guitar as a hobby and don’t really care whether you improve on the instrument, the life of a touring musician definitely isn’t for you. Audiences, band members, and management personnel will be able to spot someone who doesn’t love music from a mile away. If you want to be a touring musician, you’ll need to love what you do.
That’s also due to the fact that you’ll be playing the same songs night in, night out, not to mention during rehearsals and soundchecks. You’ll really need to love those songs and feel like the audience needs to hear them. If you don’t, you’ll sound bored, feel tired, and wish you were doing something else. Music is a fulfilling creative endeavour, but not if you don’t put in the love you want to get from your audience.
No, really. Touring isn’t actually that fun most of the time. Sure, when the night of the gig comes, it’s pretty electrifying to be up on stage singing or playing your heart out. How do you think most musicians spend the time between each gig, though? For the most part, there isn’t enough time to go see the sights of a city or do anything meaningful. Lots of touring is just driving or killing time.
With that in mind, it pays to find something to do. Try to work on some sort of long-term project while you’re on tour. You could work on a book, a creative endeavour, or perhaps even a new album with your band if you’re not musically burnt out. Whatever you’re doing, make sure you’re making time for yourself and keeping yourself entertained.
The best moments at gigs happen when you least expect them to. Any band can adhere to a setlist and play the hits just as they’re supposed to be played. It takes real magic to be able to transform a song. Those extra solos, improvised lyrics, and moments of frisson between band members make a gig feel unforgettable for its attendees.
Improvisation and practice go hand in hand. It is possible to learn how to improvise without learning specifics like scales and chords, but you’ll have a much harder time of it. Keep up your musical discipline and make sure your mind is sharp before each gig and you’ll feel fresh every time you take to the stage. Any instrumentalist or vocalist can improvise with enough time and patience.
Last but not least, you will of course need some money if you want to be a touring musician. As someone who’s providing a service, it would be ideal if you could only ever take gigs that you were paid for. In reality, however, some promoters will probably offer to pay you “in exposure” or similar. When this happens, a reserve of cash can really help.
There are plenty of ways to make sure you’re always stocked with enough money. You could sell old equipment that you’re not using. Your band members could pool together and create a communal fund. You could ask family and friends for a little help while you establish yourself. However you decide to pull together some cash, make sure you’re OK for money or you’ll find yourself struggling.