The Tour Manager’s Guide to Being a Tour Manager, Part III: Sound Engineers

TM Guide - Danny - 3
Hi. My name is
Danny and I’ve spent the last decade tour managing bands around the world. Normally I write city guides but now I’ve decided to write a how to about touring. JOIN ME. QUIT YOUR JOB. COME ALONG FOR THE RIDE. FUCKING READ THIS!!!!!!!!!

After submitting my last blog post I received a phone call. It went something like this:


“Is this Daniel Carissimi?”

“I go by Danny but yes.”

“This is Barack Obama, The President. I loved your last tour management guide so much I decided to release 12 prisoners from Guantanamo Bay.”

“I don’t know what to say.”

“Say you’ll join me and the family for dinner tonight.”

“Will Biden be there?”

“No, Joe took your advice and left his dumb job as vice president of America to tour manage Guns n’ Roses on their upcoming Australian tour.”

(Danny smiles to himself and slowly shakes his fist above his right shoulder)

“So what do you say Danny? Dinner at the White House tonight? We will divert a helicopter fighting the California forest fires to your position right now. We’ll be having breakfast tacos, torchies tacos, tacos a la carte, sushi from that place you like in Seattle… I believe it’s called UMI?”

“Yeah, Umi.”

“Great. Blueberry juice from trublu, Whataburger, fruity pebbles with whole milk, Mate, nutella, mangos, fresh squeezed orange juice, the entire spread Robin Williams in Hook sees when he finally believes in magic, queso, ramen, and those delicious steak sandwiches you had in Rio”

“Filet Con Quejo?”

“Yeah that’s the one. We got it all right here for you Danny. Just say the words and Airforce Helicopter One, the one that is about to save a starving family from burning alive in California will drop everything, including it’s suffering human cargo, and fly straight to you. Also we have Blue Bell Ice Cream. Danny… Ice Creammmmy”

<And like that I just said>

“Sorry Barry, I got sh#t to do”

I hung up. But why? Why would anyone turn their back on a dinner invitation from the leader of the free world? Well apparently Barry didn’t get the memo. I’m not here for fancy dinners and bow tie events. I’m here to help you kick the boring people in your life off a fucking roof and into a pool teeming with blood thirsty hammerhead sharks. I’m here to teach you how to get on the road and live free like the dads in Wildhogs. Don’t you want to be like the dad’s in Wildhogs?

Me | Barry Obrama
Me                       |            Barry Obrama

If you do, please read on.

Tour managers are amazing but they don’t always work alone. They have a supporting cast of genius people that help out. Today’s post is about some of the different jobs on tour and how you can obtain one. You don’t need to know the minutiae of every job but you definitely need a basic understanding of each. Cause ya know, you the boss. It’s CALLED MANAGEMENT 101 FUCKTARD.

You before reading my blog
You before reading my blog
You after reading my blog
You after reading my blog

You don’t need to know how to mix sound, but you need to know what an FOH does and how they interact with a monitor engineer. Likewise, you don’t need to go down and count out merch every night but you need to know how to do merch, and how to make sure your merch boy/girl ain’t skimmin off the top. Cause if merch boi starts showing up with gold sneakers on two hundy a day it’s your ass.

Me tempted by Barack Obama’s offer
Me tempted by Barack Obama’s offer

Now obviously if you are on a teeny tiny tour the crew will be teeny tiny. And if you are on Metallica’s Mars One Rover Tour, the crew will be huge. Essentially a touring crew can just keep growing if the work demands it. Metallica’s Rover tour will need sound technicians, tour manager assistants, stage managers, techs, roadies, and Rover robot attendants, and assistants to the Rover robot attendants.

This could be you
This could be you

What I’ve outlined below are just the basics. The stalwarts of the touring world. Become well versed in these roles young padawan. Because when you do, you can lead your touring crew to new heights and start diving in that giant pool of gold coins like Scrooge Mcduck. Not only is it good for you to know about these jobs so that you can properly manage the crew but they are great avenues to becoming a tour manager. Furthermore, sometimes people just enjoy doing these jobs more. Maybe you don’t like dealing with the artist’s Brazil nut allergy and just want to mix sound. Maybe you are a math genius like Will Hunting and want to count stock all day in merch world. Whatever. You need to know this shit it’s important so take out ya pen n paper and STUDYYYYYY.

An Overview of the different jobs on tour.

  1. Front of House (FOH): Mixes the sound the audience hears.
  2. Monitor Engineer: Mixes sound the band hears onstage.
  3. Lighting Designer (LD): Sets up lights and operates them.
  4. Merchandise: Sells the band’s merchandise at the venue.
  5. Stage / Production manager: In charge of setting up the stage.
  6. Tech: Musician assistant onstage. Someone that specifically helps a guitarist, drummer, or bassist.
  7. Roadie: Hired hand to help move things around, build the stage, load the gear out, deconstruct the stage. Carries and sets up things. First in, last out.
  8. Groupie: Man or woman with low self esteem.

Today we will focus on FOH and Monitor engineers. Ok take out ya pen for study. STUDY. FUCKING STUUUUDDDDY.

F(ront)O(f)H(ouse)/Sound Engineer

If you’ve ever stood near the back of a venue at a show, chances are you’ve noticed someone bent over a monstrously intricate contraption of blinking lights, knobs and sliders, talking to themselves and flashing a flashlight around, you’ve seen an FOH. If you can do this job well, I believe it is the best job on tour. A front of house engineer stands at a soundboard in front of the band, so that they can hear what the audience hears and make adjustments accordingly. Look at the photo of that silver fox below. See the position of his board? It’s where the audience is. And all that sound from the big speakers is going towards him, then he mixes it into something beautiful. The band doesn’t hear this sound because they are listening to something different, we’ll get to that.

Some FOH that is also a silver white stallion fox
Some FOH that is also a silver white stallion fox

The most ideal position to be in as an FOH operator is what we call “white glove.” This means a person that doesn’t fuck with anything else but the sound. In other words, they don’t get their hands dirty. When they arrive the board is set up and they simply make sure everything sounds good, conduct sound check, then return to mix the set. White glove is reserved for high high end moon rover tours. For the rest of the time you will be down in the trenches with the rest of us. You help set up the stage, soundboard, and load out (carry things out of the venue) when the show is over.

Sometimes an FOH is also a tour manager. This is a popular combination because the band can pay one poor bastard to do two jobs. Doing both jobs is good because you can make more money. Let’s say on a decent sized tour a front of house or a tour manager can make $350 each a day. If you can do both jobs you could make $500 a day then the band saves $200 a day; because you know, math. Sounds good, right? Yes, money is good. It helps us improve our quality of life but it quite literally comes at a cost. Let me remind you both jobs are full time… Personally I think it’s not sustainable to do both jobs. Mumford and Sons tour manager once told me, “if you hire someone to do both jobs you are hiring one person to do half of each job.” Now this is simple logic to you and I but this is not simple logic to managers. Managers look at the bottom line. Money Money Money. They’ll want to hire one person to do both but… I promise you that person will burn out faster and do a mediocre job at both. Also like, fuck that. $350 is enough money a day and you don’t need to be that stressed out. Also what if like the band has to go do press and needs you there yet you have to stay and tune the room? If you are someone that does both and claims it’s easy, I defy you to look at yourself in the mirror at the end of a tour. See that pasty white, malnourished ghoul? That’s you.

Artist that’s mad at you for bad sound
Artist that’s mad at you for bad sound

Becoming an FOH requires natural skill and hard work. You will be put in situations where you have to set up and mix a show at a festival in front of like 50,000 people in MAX half an hour on a sound board you’ve never seen with a bunch of people that don’t speak english. And if you can’t do it… well… they put your ass on a plane and send you home because somebody else can. First you must educate yourself. I’ve spoken to many a FOH about this and many have gone to audio engineering school but from what I’ve been told, it’s not necessary. Stick to my golden rule about music education outside one that is classical or for teaching… don’t.

Rather, go intern at a studio to learn the ins and outs of audio gear. When you are well versed in that world go begin interning or working at a music venue. Don’t pick some shit hole and don’t pick some venue you will never get to mix at. You need to be somewhere you will eventually get to mix the bands coming to town. When you’ve spent a SOLID year mixing, begin letting bands know that you are interested in going on tour. House gigs do not pay that well. But if you get the right one you can keep it while you go on tour then return to it. This is not an easy part of the journey. Many people do not make it out of this part. I believe though, that if you are actually good and a cool person, and in a major city you will eventually make it on tour. One of my best friends did IT for the NYT / sold drugs on the side and quit it all to become an FOH. It was a hard road but now he makes a great salary and mixes for a little band called the Strokes. So… it can happen. Ideally you would just become a sound engineer for a big band. That way you are treated almost as an artist. You just chill all day till you have to mix, it’s fucking awesome. Standard rates range from $250 – $500 a day. Go down to $200 a day for a small band if they pay you in CASH but do not go any lower. Set your minimum price and stick to it. Ya hur?

Monitor Engineer

A front of house is the star on the mixing team but that doesn’t mean it’s the best job or the easiest. Monitor Engineers mix sound that the band hears onstage. You cannot see them. Ever see a band do something dramatic like look to the side and point their finger up or down, or start yelling at someone? Or perhaps you once saw an artist put down their instrument and charge to the side of the stage with a handgun? They are either communicating with or murdering their monitor engineer. Bands don’t just listen to each other onstage. It’s not a garage band. Each member has a specific mix. Maybe the singer likes to hear the drums and guitar, but nothing else. Maybe the drummer wants to hear just the singer. And maybe nobody wants to hear the bassist sing because the bassist can’t sing and they lie to her because she’s their friend.

These specific preferences are made possible by the monitor engineer. It’s stressful because a monitor engineer sits next to the band. If they don’t like what you are doing they can walk up to you. If you’ve never had a drunk, possibly coked up lead singer sprint towards you screaming while they’re full of adrenaline and in front of 10k people… it’s harrowing. During the set, monitor engineers are cycling through each musician’s specific mix and making sure things are running smoothly but they rarely do. If a guitarist suddenly cannot hear the drums… well the monitor engineer has to sort it out… and fast. I’ve a friend that did monitors one night for… a popular artist. During the set the popular artist threw the mic as hard as he could at the monitor engineer because they didn’t like the sound. Mics aren’t bricks but they don’t feel good when they’re jammed through your eyeball.

Presumably monitor and FOH engineers can do both jobs. When you work at a venue you’ll do both. One time I had a band throw down their instruments and walk offstage at a festival because the monitor mix was so bad. This is bad form on the bands part but imagine being that engineer. Do you know how much it would suck to be that person? Conversely they get to be locked into an interesting process so… who knows. Personally, I wouldn’t want to be a monitor engineer but I know people who like it… but everyone wants to be the Front of House. They get the glory! The gold!

Monitor engineer praying he don’t piss nobody off
Monitor engineer praying he don’t piss nobody off

Both front of house and monitor engineers are respected members of a touring party. Because these are such skilled positions they’re in demand. If a band likes you, you will be able to go wherever they go. If a band gets a crazy gig deep in the heart of the Argentine Pampas you better believe they will take their sound engineers. One time in Singapore we used a house engineer (house refers to the venue) and he had lost his hearing, which is akin to a skinny chef sans taste buds.

Both of these jobs could lead to tour management gigs… or maybe just more mixing… or a loss of mind. For the most part engineers that enjoy mixing would much prefer to just mix. It’s fun to run and get Beyonce’s dinner prepared but it’s more fun to make sure “Who Runs the World”, or whatever that song is called, is melting faces.

Next week we will discuss the roles of Techs, Merch sellers, stage managers, roadies, and those lovable inescapable sad bunch of sad, sad, groupies!!!!!!!!

If you have questions or just want to talk or hate the fuck out of me pretty please contact me on Twitter.

2 thoughts on “The Tour Manager’s Guide to Being a Tour Manager, Part III: Sound Engineers

  1. Another fantastic article. I’ve always considered the FOH engineer to be a member of the band – and if they’re a hired white glove, a temporary member. They are the gatekeepers of a band’s sound. Introflirt is fortunate because our manager is also our FOH. We walked into a gig one night where there was no sound engineer, took the reigns, had so much fun, and has been with us ever since. We give him an equal share of the night’s take (as far as performance income) because he is performing as well, and is the angel lifting our light up. Thanks, Danny. Thanks for this nice piece of writing.

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