The Traveling Musician
As you may know, I travel a lot!! Per year, probably way more then the average person does in a lifetime. It seems to me, that most musicians these days travel tons in order to make a living. Personally I find this to be a welcome situation. I love traveling. Love every part of it. Airports, meeting people form other cultures, seeing the world. Especially playing with musicians from other countries. But if you are not used to travel there could be a few things I could pass along to make it a great experience. Some thoughts on questions people send on occasion. All based on personal preference and born out of necessity as a drummer of course. Ready for all the glamour fantasies to go away and be replaced by business sense? Here we go!
First thoughts – Pack light. Especially for tours with lots of flying involved. The thing is for us drummers, we have to remember that it’s almost impossible to pack light. A catch 22 which gets easier to live with as the years roll on. As a drummer, IMHO, this means minimal clothing. Just enough to function on gigs and to get around during the first days of a tour. Why? Besides avoiding massive excess baggage fees, drummers always need to take gear. Like accessories and sometimes main parts of our instrument like cymbals. All this stuff leaves very little space for non essentials. Accessories are always a must and there is no escape from them if you are into “Latin music” at all. The bells, cowbell mounts. An extra pedal and foot clamp for clave or bell parts with the foot. Of course sticks. All this will eat up luggage space. You will also need space for a few other most important items. CD’s and whatever other merchandise you can sell. On some occasions you might get lucky and producers of events may have proper back line. If you provide them with a complete gear list many times they will get everything right. But not always. Also, you will be playing on stuff that is not your own. If it’s a clinic tour you are doing or anything that requires a great deal of muscle memory to perform, it might be problematic to play on unfamiliar gear. So just take your most important stuff.
Airport Security – Remember as well….be 100% sure that airport security will pull you aside and ask to see everything. Especially if you are in the more exotic countries. Most of the time they will have no idea what sticks are. Let alone brushes. Make sure to leave plenty of time for this awkward situation. Arrive wayyyy early to the airport when you can. Especially if like me you sometimes stuff an extra pair of underwear in a bell. In the fight for suitcase space you might stuff anything in a bell. Airport security will pull them out and most likely tap on the bells, ask you questions and leave you standing there having to repack everything. Underwear in hand. (Make sure they are clean) I have seen the contents of many colleagues suitcases on the road. Just because we go through airport security together. Most of the time for a 3 week tour it’s 2 pairs of underwear, 2 jeans including the ones they have on, a couple of shirts and a massive 300 CDs for sale at events. Books as well if they have them. That’s the way it is. If I think about it, it makes sense. You are not on the road to hang out in fancy clothes, you are on the road to work. A good thing to keep in mind, is that you can buy clothes later. Simple t-shirts and such in whatever city you happen to be in. As the CDs and books get sold, more suitcase space is created. You have some cash now, you could even buy a couple of shirts made in another country, preferably in the style of that country. You will probably never find that at home. No doubt you will have a small pocket of time before sound check and you can usually do a little exploring in a new city. There will be many times where the venue you are playing will have shirts and would love for you to take one and wear it. Boom….problem solved. Sell those cd’s! That should be the main priority. Get your music to the people who want it.
Laundry – as silly as it may seem to bring this up…I get this question all the time. Get used to hand washing your clothes and doing a good job at it. It only takes some pre planning and should be very simple. Make sure your clothes are dry before you have to split to the next town though. If you have to wash something do it as soon as you check in to your room. If I have a few days at one hotel I just call the laundry service. But that gets expensive real quick. So keep it in mind.
Eating on the road – You may have been in a situation like this before. On the road for weeks at a time. Having to depend on road food. A very dangerous situation because your health will suffer. The best way I have found to deal with this is to NOT give in to the situation. With a little pre planning you can easily defeat the fast food garbage habit and keep yourself healthy. The absolute best advice I can give you is to study nutrition. Find out what works for you food wise and make some effort to eat correctly. In my case, almonds, peanuts, walnuts etc etc all are incredibly good. I take them everywhere. Baby carrots too. They are a very healthy alternative to junk. It might take some getting use to but it works if you try. Of course each person is kind of different. So research food and have a good idea of what works for you. Just don’t give in to junk food and keep in mind, you will be back in town sooner or later and you still have to fit into your normal clothes hahaha. A small amount of planning can help keep you healthy.
80 percent of being on a gig = your ability to hang on the bus – That’s a term used quite often and it refers to your ability to be with people for long periods of time. “Hang on the bus” refers to “Bus tours”- Bus tours especially make for long hours of constant interaction with your mates. But you can use this sentence for any kind of constant interaction that goes on for weeks at a time. This can be fatiguing! A good and kind disposition is essential in my book for being a pro on the road. You have to make sure you have your “Duck suit on” – Your duck suit means you should be like a duck in water. The water just rolls off your back. And that’s how all problems and annoyances should just roll off your back. There will always be snags in every area, whether it’s airport problems, hotel problems, gear breaking, road crew, managers etc. So you should be able to deal with it all in a calm way as much as possible. (I might interject on myself here and say that there is a time when it is better to freak out. But this is a matter for top pros at travel and requires familiarity with the territory you are in hahahaha. Don’t get steaming mad in countries where you could easily wind up in jail or in a fistfight.) people will want to call you again for another gig if they know you can handle yourself in any pressure situation. As far as I’m concerned, part of the reason you get hired for road gigs could be for your ability to contribute positively when the time comes. This means being patient when patience is required so that the road manager or whoever is doing their job or arranging for your travel can do their job in peace at maximum capacity. I even think of my own experience at being a band leader, and imagine I am in that position all the time. That way my empathy lights or on full.
Be productive everywhere!
Finally, I would say be set up to be productive no matter where you are. Make 100% sure you have yourself an iPad or computer to work with. On planes, in hotels, between flights, on flights, in cafés or wherever. There will be a time where you have to sit and wait for something. This is a great time to be productive and set up the next things you have to do. I am even currently writing this on my iPad from a cafe in Rome while waiting for the train to the my next destination. Hope you enjoyed this blog. Many more coming.
All the best and enjoy your travels!