“A lot of people can’t stand touring, but to me it’s like breathing. I do it because I’m driven to do it.” – Bob Dylan
When asked what advice I might give to the aspiring touring artist, I consider my reply much the same as Polonius must have felt in passing on wisdom to Hamlet before the latter’s aborted trip to England with the ill-fated Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (Neither a borrower nor a lender be… etc.).
Here then are the ten most important things to remember as a touring musician that must be memorized in order to survive. There’s no trick to coming out healthy, wealthy and wise at the end of a tour (assuming you started the tour that way), as long as you follow these few simple tenets.
1. Assume nothing – call ahead. Frequently. Just because your plane is scheduled to leave at noon, that doesn’t mean that it’s actually going to leave at noon. Just because the morning hotel desk clerk assured you of a late check-out, that doesn’t mean that the afternoon clerk knows anything about it (and, of course, the hotel manager is gone for the day). And when the people you call get irritated at your insistence on double-checking, you should calmly suggest a few ways in which their lives could be improved by the addition of this rule.
2. Eat whenever you can. One of the reasons people burn out on the road is that they don’t eat when they should – and you should eat whenever there’s food available. Do not believe the idle promise that everyone’s going to dinner at some great place later; it probably won’t happen. If there’s food available and you have 20 minutes, eat it now.
SIDE BAR: The Ramones recommended eating only one kind of food while on tour so as not to produce and gastro-intestinal situations that occur when one samples the many varieties of regional foods encountered on cross-country tours. That one food should be: a) something that’s the same all over America, b) can be ordered (and delivered) 24/7/365, and c) that keeps its taste and consistency for hours (even overnight) without any refrigeration. That food is pizza. Think about it. Food for thought.
3. Sleep whenever you can. That’s the other reason people burn out on the road is that they don’t sleep enough, if at all. If there’s a place to lie down and you have 20 minutes available, lie down, close your eyes and rest. Trust me – you’re not going to miss anything. In any event: sleep is the key.
SIDE BAR: The Coffee Nap. Loughborough University in the UK, as reported in the online rag Vox, did a study about napping. According to their remarkable findings, the key to staying alert during the day isn’t a nap or coffee; it’s a nap and coffee, or colloquially, a coffee nap. Here’s how it works:
To understand a coffee nap, you have to understand how caffeine affects you. After it passes into your bloodstream, it crosses into your brain. There, it fits into receptors that are normally filled by a similarly shaped molecule called adenosine.
Adenosine is a byproduct of brain activity, and when it accumulates at high enough levels, it plugs into these receptors and makes you feel tired – apparently from too much thinking. But if the caffeine gets there first and blocks the receptors, it defeats the tiredness. It takes about 20 minutes for caffeine to hit your brain. Now, caffeine doesn’t block every single adenosine receptor — it competes with adenosine for these spots, filling some, but not others. Caffeine can only fill up the receptors that aren’t already occupied by adenosine.
So here’s the trick of the coffee nap: Sleeping naturally clears adenosine from the brain. Experts agree that a 20-minute nap is ideal. If you nap for longer than 15 or 20 minutes, your brain is more likely to enter deeper stages of sleep that take some time to recover from. But shorter naps generally don’t lead to this so-called “sleep inertia” — and it takes around 20 minutes for the caffeine to get through your bloodstream anyway. So if you nap for those 20 minutes, you’ll reduce your levels of adenosine just in time for the caffeine to kick in. The caffeine will have less adenosine to compete with, and will thereby be even more effective in making you alert. Admit it: you’ve never actually tried it. So try it.
4. Get a moderate amount of exercise every day. No need to run five miles or cross train, just a good walk will do. Walking downstairs to the hotel bar is not exercise, unless you are able to walk back upstairs afterwards. It’s never happened yet.
SIDE BAR: According to a 2014 study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology (and thank God there is one), 81% of the participants who walked around frequently improved their creative output vis-à-vis those who sat. The study’s lead author said, “Walkers not only had more thoughts, but they also had a higher density of creative thoughts than sitters.” They couldn’t explain why that is, although they hypothesized that walking interferes with the brain’s ability to filter thoughts. Walking outside produced the same levels of creativity as walking inside (on a treadmill, for instance) but walking outside made participants more talkative (that is, if you like unfiltered creative talk – an acquired taste at best).
5. Always have your own transportation or an alternative to whatever transportation you’re in. Never ride with someone else if you have your own car; make them ride with you. Never go anywhere if there’s no taxi/Uber/Lyft available to take you back. If you do not follow this rule, you will be stranded at a low class strip bar in The Middle Of Nowhere, Texas at 3 am with no way out. It happened to me; it could easily happen to you.
6. Never take anything even moderately illegal across international borders (or, in some cases, state lines). These days, there is plenty of whatever you want on the other side.
7. Avoid international events; they’re generally overrun with foreigners.
8. If you’re under 25, never make any important decisions on your own – ask an adult. Here’s why: According to Frances Jensen, a pediatric neurologist at Children’s Hospital in Boston, a crucial part of the brain – the frontal lobe (where such things as planning and consequences of actions lie) – doesn’t fully connect until about age 25. Anyone younger than that does not have the ability to completely think about the effects of their behavior on themselves or other people; those attributes require insight and a fully connected frontal lobe. That would explain those surly, rude and selfish musicians who suddenly become professional once they turn 25 (and start receiving some publishing money). If you’re under 25, you might even play this to your own advantage. Just don’t try to think about it.
9. Always get a receipt. It doesn’t really matter what you DO while on tour, as long as you get a receipt.
10. Nothing is ever definite until after it happens. No explanation needed for this one, is there?
So there they are – the Ten Rules of the Road. Actually, when you stop to think about it (again, assuming you’re not over 25 and never stop to think about anything), these rules could be applied to your own LIFE, as well just mundane touring. Maybe you should have taken notes.
“Touring is like being in limbo. It’s like going from nowhere to nowhere.” - Bob Dylan
Larry Butler is a 40-year veteran of the music business and has served variously as musician, band leader, songwriter, tour manager, booking agent, record company exec, publisher, author, personal manager and live performance coach, as well as some other related things that have no actual title or purpose. He can be reached through the website - www.diditmusic.com April 2016