By Maxx Brunet
As I write this, I’m just over three-quarters of the way through a 60-day North American tour. My life in the past six weeks has revolved around spending anywhere from 3 to 12 hours a day sitting in a van, loading in, hopefully getting a sound check, waiting around for the set, mixing, and then loading out, all fueled by little to no sleep and a questionable diet. I might not be a doctor, but I know from personal experience that this lifestyle can take a toll on a person’s emotional and physical well being.
The Guardian recently published an article highlighting the difficulties faced by some traveling musician Insomnia, anxiety, break-ups … musicians on the dark side of touring. As author Luke Morgan Britton notes, touring is very rarely about endless partying, and more often about long drives and the endless wait for your set to start. Touring veterans know that living a life of excess is rarely conducive to maintaining a healthy career: it is hard enough to get through a day’s tasks on the road without adding being hung-over to the mix. In a day and age where playing shows is the most efficient way for musicians to make an income, it is important for artists to take care of their physical and mental well-being.
As interesting as the aforementioned article was, it only touched on the struggles faced by touring musicians. While no one can deny that the talent faces their own issues, an artist’s support crew often have more tasks to accomplish before being able to rest – ultimately, they are hired to make the artists’ life easier, and don’t always get to prioritize their needs. How do crew members take care of their mental and physical health while working these long hours?
I reached out to six touring techs and asked them to speak about their experiences with self-care on the road. Specifically, I was curious to find out what they found hardest about touring, how they unwind and what comforts they find essential while on the road.
Jenny Douglas graduated valedictorian of Full Sail’s show production and touring program. She has been touring since 2006 and has worked as FOH/TM for In This Moment, Walls of Jericho, Stick To Your Guns, Amity Affliction, Relient K, New Found Glory and Helms Alee, as well as tour managed Saves The Day and been FOH for Russian Circles. She currently works as FOH/TM for Senses Fail and The Get Up Kids. When not out traveling the world, she lives in Los Angeles.
Jenny finds that the hardest part of touring is dealing with people. She mentions that this problem is amplified on the road “because you are dealing with egos, cheating on wives, and people doing drugs and drinking. I’ve learned that you just can’t take anything too serious with this job. You are going to be yelled at for situations that are beyond your control, and sometimes you just have to let the people yell. Lost baggage, delayed flights, broken down buses, traffic jams, the list, could continue forever, and you have to be the problem solver. Putting out all the fires is the hardest part about touring.”
To decompress, she likes to put on some headphones and go motorcycle riding: “warm sun and the wind in your face changes everything. Warm baths with LUSH bath bombs are a close second.”
As for tour comforts, Jenny says that she would take a bus bunk over a van seat any day – she’d much rather not have to sleep sitting up. In her backpack, you’ll always find flip-flops, a quick drying towel, a toothbrush and her computer. She notes that she “would probably die without reddit.com. It’s my only news source, and provides hours of entertainment, God forbid; I have to have a conversation with someone. Answering this question, made me realize just how much of a hobo I really am. I can honestly say, I have been constantly touring for so long, I don’t really bring anything with me from home that I hold on to, or snuggle with a blanket at night. (…) You reach this point after being gone so much that you start to find comforts in other cities. I always eat at the same vegan place in Orlando named Ethos, and try and get to the Vegan Hot Dog Cart there. Then in San Diego, I try to go to Heartwork Coffee Bar. You find comfort in seeing familiar faces across the world, as well as eating and drinking at your favorite spots.”
Jason “Loopy” Lupeituu has been working in live production since 1999. Originally from Minneapolis, he now lives and works in Philadelphia. He has been touring since 2008 and has been FOH for Red Fang, Escape the Fate, Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, Andy Mckee, Kylesa, Sabaton, Turisas, and The Contortionist. He is currently FOH for Mastodon and Baroness.
For Loopy, the most difficult aspect of touring is the lack of sleep and access to proper food: “I often find myself eating poorly, at odd times, and irregular hours of the day, sometimes only eating once or maybe two small meals a day. And then you have the empty beer calories. You need to have a balance and figure out how to feed yourself in adverse conditions… It’s harder than it seems a lot of times.”
When he’s looking to unwind, he likes to find a peaceful spot in the venue to sit or to take a power nap. He also enjoys taking walks around the neighborhood, as he collects oddities on the road.
Loopy doesn’t need many comforts while on the road but does enjoy having a bunk to return to on the bus. He thinks van tours can be fun, “but there is nothing like a bunk on a bus to crawl into after a long night and hectic show.”
Eric Stecki is a graduate of the OIART recording program. He was the house technician at the Drake Hotel from 2009-2013. In 2014, he picked up his first small van tour. He now works as FOH for Keys N Krates, By Divine Right, and Rich Aucoin, amongst others. When he’s not out doing short road runs, Eric works as FOH and Technical Director at The Mod Club in Toronto, Canada.
Echoing the feelings of other crew members I interviewed, Eric believes that the hardest part of touring is having to communicate with different people every day: “power-tripping, gate-keeping, and harboring deep resentments that you personally have nothing to do with can really make your show or your day or your tour incredibly difficult. Communication is key and despite it being easier to do than ever in life, because of cell phones and Internet and all, it can be frustratingly difficult with some people. Of course you’ll also meet a thousand people that will save your day/show/tour, too.”
Touring with Rich Aucoin has taught him that getting to the venue and making sure the show is well put together should be a priority, but that it’s also important to make time to enjoy yourself: “yes, make it to sound check on time… but bring a bathing suit, and stop at the water park on the way too.”
When he’s on the road, you’ll always find a book in Eric’s bag. He finds that touring “can be disorienting at times, even on short runs, and the option to disappear for a little into a book and silence can be really welcome.”
Jen NW is a Chicago born and raised engineer who learned sound reinforcement while completing her BA in poetry at Columbia College. After graduating, she worked for ten years in various venues across the city. In 2014, she moved to Los Angeles, where she currently works as FOH, monitor engineer and house production at The Regent Theater, The Echo, The Echoplex and Disneyland. She tours as the monitor engineer for Wet, and as the FOH/TM for Speedy Ortiz.
For Jen, the hardest part of touring is having little to no time and space to decompress, particularly physically. While at home, she maintains an active lifestyle, and misses having the time to go to the gym or to do yoga. She notes: “with greater opportunities, bands are able to expense additional accommodations. When that’s unavailable, I try and be as disciplined as possible when it comes to physical wellness on tour. Sometimes it is a real challenge – still doing a lot of DIY tours just now!”
To stay relaxed on the road, she eats a primarily organic, vegetarian/vegan diet and does not over-indulge in partying. She also values quiet time: “I like to sneak moments alone with myself and sometimes listen to chakra balancing streams on YouTube. Everyone in Speedy Ortiz likes to read or self-engage, so our van time is pretty mellow. (…) Separately, indulging in a pastime of “poeting”: i.e. zoning out into headphone jams, reading poetry or bios or science / meditation/astrology texts, letter writing, texting my lovely friends across the globe, writing, or just closing my eyes and feeling nature around me – help me stay grounded while touring.
Jen’s favorite way to relax on tour is taking as long of a shower as possible, which refreshes her both mentally and physically. She also values having time to practice guitar and write songs and hopes to one day have more time while on the road to pursue her own musical projects.
Dave Clark got his start in sound by recording experimental albums with a four-track reel-to-reel machine. He has been touring extensively for the past 20 years and has worked for the likes of Melvins, Voivod, Wolves in the Throne Room, Sleep, Down, Superjoint Ritual, Pallbearer, EyeHateGod, Unsane and Bright Eyes, amongst others. He is currently FOH for Neurosis and Kylesa. When he’s not on the road, he works at venues in Portland.
Of the people I interviewed, Dave has had the longest touring career. He was quick to point out that although certain aspects of touring have changed since he got his start, others have not: “it was a much different story when you had to actually use a paper map and stop to make calls on a pay phone. I’m glad that now I can make a call or send stage plots and things from my seat in the touring vehicle. Although the ways of communication have changed greatly, the general lack thereof between the management, promoter, in-house reps, and local sound crew hasn’t. It’s very frustrating when you spend time putting together input lists, stage plots, tech riders and other such things only to discover that the person who has been asking for these things is going to be in freaking Timbuktu when you arrive for the show, the other actual workers for the venue having no clue as to what is happening, it’s maddening.”
Besides the difficulties in communication, Dave mentioned that he finds it hard to be away from home and his family and friends. He notes that he’s been lucky to have mostly worked with bands he likes as musician and people: “the road is your home now, and your travel companions are your community. You have to deal and adapt, or you should go home. This very nomadic lifestyle isn’t for everyone, and it can make you feel great and experienced or it will break you quickly (…) that Bob Seger song [Turn The Page] is pretty on point.”
To take his mind off work, he enjoys mixing or editing musical projects, taking pictures, watching movies, sending postcards to friends and buying magnets for his ever growing fridge magnet collection.
A seasoned touring tech, Dave doesn’t need much in terms of necessities besides a neck pillow, bourbon, his laptop and apple cider vinegar, which he finds to be good for maintaining his health.
Jay Eigenmann is an audio engineer and tour/production manager based in New York City. In his four-year touring career, he has worked as a monitor engineer for Neutral Milk Hotel and Aluna George and as FOH/TM for Betty Who. He is currently TM/FOH for So Percussion, Lee Ranaldo & The Dust, and Little Boots, as well as FOH for Timur & The Dime Museum and Toe.
Like many engineers who tour without their own production, Jay finds it difficult to work in different rooms with different desks every day. Yet, he ultimately finds the human element of touring to be the most challenging: “Sometimes you’re working with people you’ve just met, and suddenly you’re with them in a van, sprinter or bus day in and day out for an extended period of time. I’ve been blessed to have had amazing people on the road with me, but it can get really difficult quickly if you have the misfortune of touring with people you don’t jive with – I’ve heard horror stories from friends about this too. It also really sucks if you’re on a team of people, and not everyone is doing their fair share and pulling their weight. “
He adds that “some people find it really difficult being away from home for long periods of time and the company and comforts associated with that – In the last few years I’ve surprised myself in that I don’t mind the road life nearly as much as I think I should. Then again, hopefully, my days of sleeping in someone’s basement or floors while on tour are over!”
To unwind, Jay enjoys spending time with the band and crew post-show at a local bar or restaurant. He is a notorious food lover and loves exploring spots recommended by locals. His new favorite off-day activity is ordering pizza to his hotel room, which he finds particularly enjoyable during Game of Thrones season.
As for tour comforts, Jay is a fan of receiving per diems and always being near a Wi-Fi zone. He also enjoys having access to a nice food and drink rider. Yet, for him, “the biggest blessing and comfort is being surrounded by good people!”
Much like many of the aforementioned touring techs, I find that maintaining a healthy diet on tour is difficult. I’m a vegetarian, but too often, my touring meals are mostly carb based. When you’re short on time and money, it’s not always possible to find a healthy option. By the time I get home, I’m craving all the green vegetables!
Communication is also something I struggle with – it can be hard to show up to a venue after a long drive, and find that the house tech is unhelpful. I’m not always sure where to draw the line between showing a new(er) tech a helpful trick, and being the overly aggressive touring tech. I’ve learned a lot from working with visiting techs, and generally appreciate their tips, but I can also remember how frustrated I was when I started working bigger shows and had guest techs talk down to me. There’s a fine line between sharing knowledge, and discrediting someone’s skills.
My favorite way to relax while on the road is to go for a walk alone after sound check is done. I’m lucky that I don’t have to tour manage, which makes it possible for me to wander around the venue’s neighborhood in search of a nice coffee shop. If I have time, I’ll usually sit and enjoy a cup while catching up on emails or reading. A close second is to ask friends to come to the show – no matter how awesome your tour mates are, I find that it’s always nice to catch up with other people.
I don’t need much in terms of comforts while I’m away, but a good cup of coffee and a treat always make my day. I have quite the sweet tooth, and when I’m sleep deprived, I end up craving sugar. I also always try and have a good book in my backpack, so I can sit and read if I’m feeling like I need some quiet time.
Touring is hard work, and it’s important as crew members to remember to take care of ourselves, and each other. Yet, as my friend Keeks told me: “if it feels good, do it. If it doesn’t, it’s not worth it”. Touring should be an enjoyable experience – if it isn’t, it’s probably time to look for the next opportunity. The best touring techs I’ve seen mix are calm and collected, not only because they are hired by an artist they enjoy, but also because they have found a way to remain grounded even when faced with challenging conditions.
Thanks to Jenny, Loopy, Eric, Jen, Dave and Jay for taking the time to answer my questions.
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