As you may have noticed, I've been doing a lot of touring lately. As well as travelling around Germany for various projects, this season I've been in a concert tour of China and Korea. I just got back from a trip to Spain, and I'm now gearing up for a big tour of South America in April.
Being on tour is an intense experience. You are with the same group of people, repeating the same programme and travelling together for days on end. It takes a lot of energy and focus, as well as patience and good humour. Here are some important things which I've learned about what it takes to be a happy touring musician...
|(Psst... You might want to start by getting a bigger suitcase)|
1. Stay on top of the paperwork
Touring is rarely as simple as flying from point A to point B. Often you will have to travel to several different locations, and apply for all of the relevant working visas. Take it from me – you should start on this as early as possible. Usually your employer will tell you what you need and which forms to fill out, but you may also need to look into some of this stuff on your own. And even when you think it's all sorted, there can always be further complications and delays. I recently had to apply for a temporary second passport at the Canadian embassy, and I'm glad I started early. As it turned out, they needed English translations of the letters from my employers. This inevitably took some extra time. Imagine if I had left all of this until the last minute. I would have never got the passport in time for the tour. I would have been landlocked, and lost out on ten days of work!
2. Be prepared for anything
Sunshine, rain, snow, plagues of locusts – you need to pack for every possibility you can imagine. You'll be kicking yourself if you get to a cold concert hall and realise you've forgotten your long sleeves at home. Never say never. Anything can happen on tour.
|Betty and Jim really wished they had brought their locust repellent with them to Egypt.|
3. Bring along a piece of home
Travelling from hotel to hotel can be stressful and exhausting. So it's important to make your temporary residence as comfortable and home-y as possible. Everyone has different things which make them feel at home. Whether it's a cup of tea, a pair of fuzzy slippers, or a favourite movie on their laptop, these things can transform a cold soul-less hotel room into your home away from home. Don't underestimate the importance of these small creature comforts. They can really help you negotiate the stress of long-term travel.
|Fuzzy slippers are really important, you guys!|
4. Find some regularity
Another way to handle the stress of touring is to create your own regularity within the irregularity. Having some routines and habits can help everything feel a lot less chaotic. I have a bit of a ritual when I arrive at a new place. I unpack my suitcase in a particular order, I have a short nap if there’s time, and then I warm up before heading to the venue. It's important to me that I unpack right away, so that I can feel settled as soon as possible. Aside from my unpacking ritual, I am also a member of a gym which has locations all over Germany. This means that no matter where in the country I'm working, I can always go to my gym and know my way around. These may seem like small details, but they really help me feel comfortable on the road.
5. Do some forward planning
When you’re travelling for work, there isn't as much space for being spontaneous as there would be on holiday. Your sightseeing time is limited, and you can't just wander aimlessly hoping to run into something cool. So research the places you'll be visiting. What is unique there which you absolutely must see? When might you have time between rehearsals and concerts to go and see it? I'm not saying you have to make yourself a detailed itinerary, but it helps to have a rough idea of what you will see when. I had an amazing visit recently to the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. I was particularly inspired by the exhibit of Niki de Saint Phalle. I'm so glad I put some time aside to go and see it!
|Seriously, how cool is this??|
6. Pace yourself
Touring requires a lot of energy and endurance. You have to think of the long game – this is a marathon, not a sprint! It is of utmost importance that you conserve your health and energy through to the very end of the trip. Know your own body and be sensible enough to rest when you need it. You may feel a bit blue about missing a night at the bar or an afternoon of sightseeing, but it's better to make that sacrifice than to end up sick for the rest of the tour.
|"Ahhhh.... made it."|
7. Keep it fresh
One of the toughest things about touring is that you're usually performing the same piece, over and over. But just because the music is old news to you, doesn't mean it should sound like that to the audience! This is the first time they're hearing your performance, and they want to hear something fresh and inspiring. So don't let yourself coast. Keep looking for new things in the music, and trying to outdo yourself. Could that phrase have a smoother legato? Could that high note have a better approach? Remember – the biggest room in the world is the room for improvement.
|This is also a very big room.|
8. Set a budget
You can spend crazy amounts of money on tour if you’re not careful. The last thing you want is to come home to an empty bank account! Many employers will pay you a per diem for your meals, which can provide a good guideline for your daily spending limit. However there are some companies who don't provide a per diem, and if you're not careful you can eat up most of your fee before you've even been paid. I like to take out a set amount of cash every week, based on a daily spending limit. Some days I might go above or below this limit, but I always make sure it averages out in the end. As long as I don't need to take out more cash before the week is out, it's all good. This trick is even easier if you're visiting a country with a different currency. If you only buy so many pesos from your bank, you will only have so much with you on tour.
|Benito Juarez is judging your spending habits.|
9. Do it like the locals
Why go all the way to Japan only to spend all your time in Starbucks? You have a unique opportunity here to explore a new country. Get out there and enjoy it! Check out the local food, the local wines, the theatres, the museums, the festivals and marketplaces – everything which makes this place unique. You may never have a chance in your life to do all of this again. So seize the day!
10. Schedule some time to crash post-tour
You will be tired after a tour, especially if it's a week or longer. So for the love of God, don't plan an important meeting the day you get back! Sometimes these things can't be helped. But if you have any control over your schedule (which freelancers normally do) make sure you have an empty day or two when you get home. You'll need this time to rest, recover, and tackle that giant mountain of laundry sitting in your suitcase.
Touring can be a real hoot! It can also be a gruelling nightmare if you're not careful. In the end, it all comes down to how you approach it. So be smart and organised, plan ahead, and try to keep a healthy balance between work and play.
I hope these tips will help you make the most of your next tour. Happy travels!