Bands go on tour. All music artists who make it big do. We all know the basic gist of it: groupies, going from town to town, a show every other night, travel…It seems straightforward, but it isn’t. Touring is not easy and often leads to the breakdown of major bands and music artists.
What goes on behind the scenes of a typical band tour probably isn’t what you’d expect. In fact, you might not even realize how much work a band tour can be. Here’s the truth of what typical bands deal with when they go on tour.
It Might Be Out Of Pocket
I have friends who have record deals, lots of them. Most of them, when they go on tour, do so with money they have in their bank account. The days where record labels front money for tours are, for the most part, gone. If you get money fronted to you, consider yourself lucky. Most artists don’t!
Artists get signed for legal protection and additional promo. Getting fronted money is generally something that only happens to major artists who have already been around for a while. If you see bands selling merch with a desperate look on their face, that’s what’s going on. They legit might need those sales to make it to the next town.
The Tour Bus Is Not Comfy
Touring is not a luxe affair for most artists. Bands usually get stuck in a bus that gives them little space to move, and are basically forced to share it with the rest of their group. Pit stops are rare, and of those, they aren’t exactly stopping at the Ritz-Carlton for dinner.
Of course, not everyone has a tour bus. If you’re a solo artist, you might end up sleeping in your car while you travel. Some DJs I know take Amtrak to venue cities. This isn’t glamorous, but it’s often what ends up happening in order to save a couple bucks.
Most People Won’t Care About Your Music
Unless you’re Britney Spears or similar, being a member of a band or a music artist won’t elicit squeals and screams. Most of the time, people are at the venue you’re playing to see new talent or to just get drunk.
Going on tour is about winning over the audience. For the most part, they won’t care you’re there when you’re first starting off on your career. Touring is your way of winning them over or solidifying your fan base when you first start.
Yes, Partying And Groupies Are There
Though a lot of the rockstar lifestyle isn’t as glam as you’d expect, I’d be lying if I said there weren’t parties and groupies. Going on tour requires a decent amount of fans. If you don’t have fans, you won’t make money touring. It doesn’t make sense to tour when you don’t have people showing up to your gigs.
The fans are what make touring so wild. If you are on a national tour, you have a serious number of fans. This leads to a lot of groupie opportunities, crazy backstage parties, as well as a couple of wild moments. After all the travel, blowing off steam this way almost feels mandatory.
You will get homesick.
The time you spend on the road is fun, but it also takes a toll on yourself and your relationships. Most artists I know who toured the US from another country remark on how much they miss their friends and family back home. This is normal, but hey, it’s part of life as a musician.
A lot of professional musicians, DJs included, will do six months of touring per year. This is their way of balancing their home life with work.
Your relationships often suffer.
You’d be shocked at how many musicians end up going mental over relationships while on tour. When people hear that you’re doing a national tour, they immediately treat you differently. It’s a status symbol to know you now…and that means people crawl out of the woodwork to ask for freebies or photos.
The bigger you get, the less you know who your real friends are. People want what they can get from you at that level. Many major DJs I know struggle with this, or otherwise cut off people who weren’t with them from the start. You can’t blame them.
If you have a lover who lives at home, you can expect serious strain on your relationship. The temptation to cheat is very real, and well, it can be a matter of “out of sight, out of mind.” This is one of the leading reasons why major artists end up breaking up with longterm girlfriends.
It’s All About Business
When you’re on tour, you’re expected to network. In fact, you have to network. Touring is a form of promotion. In the world of music, who you know is more important than what you sing. When you tour, you need to know who’s there and show your best side.
A lot of business work goes into going on tour. You have to have a plan when you go on tour, as well as confirmed bookings. You have to have promo. You have to have fans ready to see you. You also have to go in with a plan, and that plan is to get further in your career.
Oh, The Places You’ll Crash
A good friend of mine lives in Pittsburgh. When he tours in New York City, he sleeps in his best friend’s home. He’s lucky like that. Most people who tour end up AirBnB’ing their squatspace until they can afford a hotel.
Sleeping in a stranger’s home is scary. You better hope to have connects who will put you up for a night. Oh, and if it comes to sanitation? It can be a major crapshoot. I’ve seen DJs sleep in four star hotels, and I’ve also seen them knock out in warehouses.
Your music buddies are your homies, but I assure you, you don’t know them until you tour with them. They’ll get on your nerves while on the road. When you’re sleeping in close quarters, the guitarist’s snoring will drive you nuts. The drummer’s drinking habit will piss you off. The singer is being a diva, again. Ugh, right?
If you thought diva behavior from a bandmate was bad, hold on. Wait until you experience the awkwardness of them getting lucky in the tour bus right next to you. You might need a therapist after that.
You Will Love Baths
Tour busses don’t have showers or baths. You will be performing quite frequently, and that means working up a sweat. You will be bored, tired, and worn out in most cases. Self-care becomes a luxury, especially if you have to get your hands dirty with sound equipment and other gear on tour.
If you’re like a lot of new bands, you will reek. You know what you will learn to love? Small creature comforts like baths, deodorant, and a hot shower.
It’s An Adventure
At the end of the day, bands that tour are living the dream. They are traveling the world, making music, meeting fans, and experiencing something most only wish they could. That’s what makes the rockstar lifestyle addictive, and why everyone should tour at least once in their lives. After all, isn’t adventure what life is all about?