On the road: A rock band's tour survival guide

Being in a touring band is not all it is cracked up to be. But you can survive. Photo: Carlos Delgado

SANTA CRUZ, December 17, 2013 — For the uninitiated, the idea of touring in a band holds a glamorous appeal. It sounds like a nonstop party, interspersed with nightly celebrations of adolescent rock fantasy. Like some mythical gang of marauding Vikings, bands are thought to roll into town, drink all the liquor, bed all the maidens, and then move on to pillage the next city. For those stuck in a sedentary, monotonous life, rock and roll is a fantastical existence, one unfortunately out of reach to most of us.

Being in a touring band is not all it is cracked up to be. While working for oneself and having the opportunity to travel are cool and all, there are numerous aspects to the life which nobody is prepared for. The following can serve as a survival guide or cautionary tale, depending on your point of view.

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No matter how large the van, bus, or mom’s station wagon is, it will not be big enough. You will be certain you have packed lightly, and will instantly begin to resent your bandmates for overpacking, even though everybody probably brought the same amount of stuff. Resist the temptation to tuck things in between bench seats or in wheel wells. Whatever you put there you will never see again.

An undeniable fact of life on the road is that socks and underwear get dirty. The good news is that both of these items can be turned inside out and worn for another week to ten days. If you begin to smell bad enough, your bandmates will let you know. If you are lucky, one of the clubs you play will have a laundry scene happening backstage. When this happens, the joy and celebration you will encounter is unparalleled in the human experience.  

Touring can generally be divided into 23 hours of mind-numbing tedium punctuated by one hour of manic, flailing activity. To this end, the wise thing to do is to bring stage clothes (no, not some lame costume), which will be soaked and sweated in every night, and day clothes to wear whilst sitting in a van fending off soul-crushing boredom. The stage clothes will be stored in a waterproof bag or container of some kind, and ideally rinsed out in a sink backstage or crummy hotel after the show, then hung out to dry a safe distance from humanity. The good news is that these can often by hung outside on the van (if you are touring in the summer which is likely) without fear of theft, for obvious (and olfactory) reasons.

Finally, touring in a band is like living with several significant others. It will not be long before you to begin to resent some or all of them for the pettiest of offenses, many of which they will be completely unaware of. The sound your guitar player makes while brushing his teeth, unnoticeable at first, will have you considering murder by the third or fourth week of your tour.

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Not everybody has the same ways of doing things. While this can be a tremendous source of discord within a band, it can also be a valuable learning experience which will prove to be surprisingly applicable in other areas of life. Learning how to practice tolerance for the odd behavior of others builds character, and will help you appreciate your bandmates, and the bond you ought to be celebrating as you weather the inevitable ups and downs of a life on tour. Resist the urge to form micro cliques inside your band, as well as the temptation to talk trash about a bandmate who is not present.

Always treat the people who are working at whatever club you are playing with respect and professionalism. If you are headlining, never leave your drum kit set upon the riser with a sheet over it, making the other bands set their drum kits up on the stage. It is a dick move. Nobody likes bands who act like rock stars. If people cook for you or go out of their way to make you feel at home be sure to thank them earnestly and often. Karma is a bitch.

Years from now, you will look back on your shared experience of touring in a band, and hopefully you will have more pleasant recollections than bad ones. Though not as glamorous as many believe it to be, it is a unique and enriching experience which you have hopefully not tainted with pettiness or resentment.

Russ Rankin writes about hockey, music & politics. You can find him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter. He also sings for Good Riddance and Only Crime. Find out what he’s up to by checking out his website


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Russ Rankin

Raised in the decidedly non-traditional hockey region of Santa Cruz, California, Russ Rankin fell in love with the game as a kid while watching the "Miracle On Ice" 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team. He began playing recreationally as an adult when the Sharks joined the NHL in nearby San Jose and regularly attends Sharks home games. His favorite NHL team is the New Jersey Devils, which he has been following since the 1987-88 season. In 2007, with more and more U.S. born players (particularly from California) making an impact in the WHL, Rankin pursued his passion and knowledge of the game into a job scouting California for WHL clubs. He can be seen at rinks all over the state searching for the next great crop of players.

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