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Why Every Indie Needs A Tour Ninja

1In this piece, Laurens Kusters of indie.ninja shares his knowledge from the road. Having gained significant experience as a tour manager for many years, he discuses when to hire a tour manager and what qualities to look for should you do so.

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By Laurens Kusters co-founder of indie.ninja

There are many different jobs in the music industry, but knowing who to hire and when to hire them requires thought and planning. The needs and budgets of developing artists and labels aren’t the same as those for established ones. Making the right decisions and hiring the right people is where indie.ninja comes in. “Why Every Indie Needs A Ninja” lets you know when it’s time to bring in a professional and how they can help take your career to the next level.

Today, indie.ninja co-founder Laurens Kusters (a/k/a Brooklyn Larry) is taking over this post and talking all about life on the road. In addition to many years running his own label, I Scream Records, and managing heavily touring bands — including Sick Of It All, The Street Dogs, and Murphy’s Law — he’s an experienced tour manager in his own right.

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I think we all get the “on the road” spiel wrong when we start out. It’s a lot of hard work and the opposite of any music video you’ve ever seen. Early lobby calls, long drives (I am writing this from an RV caravan, somewhere in the middle of the desert with Murphy’s Law and Sick of It All), and questions like, “Do we eat before the set or after?” and, “Is anything even open after the show is over?” are simple but real problems that you handle every waking moment. After sticking it out for a while, you’ll hopefully end up being able to surround yourself with a crew that turns touring into a breeze compared to when you started. Even then, it still remains a lot of hard work.

Hiring a crew or appointing a trustworthy manager or tour manager is as important as hiring an employee for any other line of work. You’ll rely on them on stage, for sound, for driving or selling, and properly accounting for your merchandise. All of these can be a very large factor in your success or failure. Hiring your friends is usually the route most people go, because the labor is cheap. However, there are pitfalls. “Punk rock welfare” may be fun, but isn’t always the best way to build a professional crew.

While It’s always fun to have your pals around on tour, if they’re colossal fuck ups, it’s the same as having them stay on your living room couch; after a few days, you’ll wish you’d never invited them. When you’re on the road you’re depending on your crew for everything from accounting, to setting up merch, to making sure the guitars are in tune. Finding the right people to work for you will be a large factor in the success or failure of the tour, and ultimately, your career as a band.

In my opinion, a solid tour manager (TM) should be the first hire. In some cases, they might even be qualified to do your sound or sell your merchandise. Having a solid TM can help avoid many problems down the line while out on the road.

Tour managers are like Clark W. Griswold from the Vacation movies, they do it all. Advancing the shows, handling immigration paperwork, planning the routing (including arrival and departure times at the clubs), booking hotels, and everything in between. They work as a liaison between the local promoters and the club staff, and settle guarantees or other financials when needed. They keep the team together, and most importantly, make sure that the kids wake up on time (they won’t), don’t fight in the back of the van/bus (they will), or even locate a misplaced band member after a night of… revelry.

Running a band’s merch is like running a bodega on steroids, where rows of concertgoers five people deep and as wide as the table itself overwhelm you with questions about sizes and prices and waving cash, spilling drinks and grabbing items “to take a look at.” It’s a largely cash business, so the bills, and sometimes even coins, fly at you at hyper-speed, and this is all usually happening during the last 30 minutes the club is open, so there’s no one else around to help you because they’re busy loading out and getting paid. Stressed out yet? You will be. That’s why it’s important to find the right merch person who can keep their cool, keep count of the inventory, and most importantly, keep track of the money the band is depending on to make it to the next show.

Nothing is worse than slogging hundreds of miles to a show and then sounding like shit. Sometimes a jack-of-all trades tour manager can also handle the front of house, but that takes them away from managing the rest of the chaos that ensues. If you’re on a larger tour, sometimes you can offer the headliner’s FOH a little extra scratch to do your sound, but remember who really pays their bills.

While every musician on tour should have some backup gear, as bands begin to open for larger acts at bigger venues, techs are a viable and necessary part of touring life. Guitar strings break, drumsticks go flying, and mics go out. While that might be all part of the drill at a basement show, it’s different in front of a thousand people at a theater venue, where professionalism actually starts to really matter.

Whether a band is playing small clubs or arenas, the TM is the glue that keeps a tour going, and if their job is not done correctly it can have a tremendous negative impact on the tour.

No matter what genre of music or size of the venue/tour, having a reliable crew just makes it run smoothly. Band members need to outperform every night, and knowing that everything besides their performance is in good hands allows them to focus on what they need. 

Like what you read? You can work with dozens of qualified road warriors at indie.ninja. Apply to get into the beta now.

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