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Touring musician’s survival guide

Professional musician and author of ‘The Touring Musician’s Survival Guide’, Ross Craib, shows us the way to a successful life on the road

Ross Craib is an international touring musician who has played with acts across the world and has performed on shows such as The Graham Norton Show and the Olympics opening ceremony. He has recently worked with singer-songwriter Dodie, and can be heard on tracks like Guiltless and Human.

His experiences on the road led to the creation of The Touring Musician’s Survival Guide, out now on eBook, which aims to educate aspiring and existing musicians on how to become well-rounded touring professionals.

In this extract, Ross shares some of his top dos and don’ts…

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Remember why you are there

Touring isn’t just an excuse for that rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle…yes it is part and parcel of the experience, but you’re there to build a business, whether your own or that of the artist who employs you. Even if you are employed on a session basis, you are carving a musical reputation with the other musicians on the gig, the management, the label, the agent, the crew… Be respectful to everyone you meet – you are an extension of the artist and everything you do will reflect in the image of both you and them.

The fans will look up to you and you will be treated as a member of that band! You might be the first guitarist that young fan has ever seen live…if you throw them to the crowd, it might be the first plectrum, drumstick or setlist they have ever touched – these things could inspire them to start playing and that in itself is incredible…

Be the role model you want to be remembered for!

Remember why you started playing music in the first place

Think of who inspired you… Think of the greatest shows you’ve ever seen… The songs that helped you through those tough teenage years of being heartbroken, being different, depressed or angry – I bet you can hear them in your head right now, can’t you? I have my list of songs and I will forever idolise the bands that wrote them! This is why I found music.

Up until very recently, though, I’d lost sight of this. Sometimes it’s easy to forget when you grind it out in this business for so long; you fall into a routine of long drives, load-ins, sound checks, shows, pack downs and partying – it becomes menial on the surface, but you need to remind yourself it most definitely is not!

The moment that turned it around for me was my life in a full romantic and nostalgic circle; I was lucky enough to play a sold-out show in the very same venue where I had seen my first ever gig – a sold-out Jimmy Eat World concert, 15 years prior!

In an overwhelming sense of emotion, I came to the realisation that through all the personal and musical struggles, I had achieved my dreams – I was living them right then and there and continue to live them! I’ve now vowed to remind myself more often and I encourage you to do the same – this is why we play.

Remember you are not indispensable

I’ve seen great musicians who have been fired off gigs because of their drinking habits or sloppy attitudes. You are an employee and just like any other business, if you are hindering progress or defacing the image, you will be let loose. There are a million other musicians waiting in the wings that would jump at a chance to take your spot. You’ve earned your right to be there, so don’t give anyone a reason to take that away from you.

Be social and present

Don’t always be on your phone or hiding away – the touring party will be your family and if you are open to it, you will share so many amazing memories for years to come with these people. Of course, everyone’s personal needs are different so do what’s best for you. Just don’t miss out on all the wonderful opportunities by being a hermit!

Never think you are above a gig

Nobody is above paid work! As my mum always tells me, “As long as it’s an honest pound!”

Regardless of the environments you’ll find yourself in (to an extent) always show that you care. You never know when your big gig may come to an end, so treat bread-and-butter gigs with respect – they will always be a staple diet for rent or mortgage payments in the offseason.

Try to avoid altercations

It’s easy to get wound up when you are in such close proximity with others for long periods of time and working in high-pressure environments. Find a way of decompressing if you are stressed and don’t vent your frustrations on others.

We play a game called ‘Tour Court’. Essentially, it is a bit like Parliament where both positive and negative issues can be raised in a light-hearted manner and discussed with the touring party – the group will then decide if it is ‘fine worthy’ and punishable by wrist slaps, or, if you have done something good for the team, rewarded with a round of applause. We keep a running tally and award a ‘legend’ and ‘dick’ of the tour at the end of the run in a ceremonial fashion. The most coveted award is controversially the ‘dick’ trophy…of which I have a few!

This process serves in clearing the air and avoids any bitchiness or frustrations that may have manifested into bigger problems further down the line.

Know your chain of command

Ever been at a gig and seen a load of people wandering around and not really know what they do? They are probably a lot more important than you think!

In a session capacity, everyone works for the artist. On a tour, the next in command is likely to be the Tour Manager (TM) or Production Manager (PM). The artist’s day-to-day manager may also make an appearance from time to time, but for all things non-musical and tour related your first port of call should be the TM.

If you have any worries music-related, your first port of call is likely the Musical Director, who will (9 times out of 10) be the bandleader. If they need to then delegate your issues elsewhere, then so be it.

Ross Craib’s book The Touring Musician’s Survival Guide is out now and available to buy from rosscraibdrums.com/ttmsg – where you can also download a free chapter.

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