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!!!!!!!!!
Somewhere Deep in the Cambodian Countryside
Exterior. Buddhist temple early morning.
Two middle aged men in business suits and one highly decorated military colonel approach a large buddhist monastery before sunrise. Everywhere around them monks are meditating, walking, carrying jugs of water, and conducting normal morning business. Roosters crow in the background and street vendors outside the monastery begin setting up shop.
Military Colonel: (gets the attention of a passing monk) Excuse me. Do you know where we can find the one they call, “The Tour Manager?”
(monk points to stairwell at the base of giant concrete tower) Colonel in full military regalia and mysterious business men in white suits climb 900 flights of spiral stairs to the top. They step out onto a platform overlooking the Cambodian countryside. It’s beautiful, the sun is rising.
An individual is doing the splits between two pigeon coops and meditating with intense focus. He’s shirtless but wearing what looks to be the white bottom of a karate gi. A matching white bandana is tied around his forehead. Wayne Hancock’s “Thunderstorms and Neon Signs” plays softly from an old black radio on the ground. Slippers, plates covered in half eaten tacos, and empty cases of Blue Bell Ice Cream are strewn about the small platform surrounded by air. They are a hundred feet off the ground. The silent meditating individual either does not notice, or pays no mind to the Colonel and his business friends.
Individual keeps meditating.
Colonel: Tour Manager Danny?
Meditating muscle man doesn’t move a hair. A soft wind blows over the platform.
Danny: I’ve not heard that name in a looooong time amigo.
Colonel: We’ve come for your services.
Muscled up meditating beauty leaps off pigeon coops and lands perfectly on his feet. He spins around to face the general and his business associates.
Me: How’d you find me here?
Colonel: Oh it didn’t take too long. We have our methods.
Danny: (Grunts in affirmation. Turns back to face the sun, picks up bag of pigeon feed, begins feeding pigeons in coops).
Colonel: We need you Danny. Some gigs in the tour management world haven’t been going well. We need someone to step in, show these stage managers how it’s done.
Danny: (Doesn’t look away from pigeons while addressing the General) You came to the wrong place sir. I don’t do that anymore.
General: Dammit Danny we need you. You’re the best god damn tour manager on the planet. Obama knows it. Biden knows it. Hell even Putin knows it. We have these stage managers just walking around like they own the place and… well they’re just no good.
Danny: (Doling out handfuls of pigeon feed) That’s my old life. I like it here. It’s (beat) peaceful. No more water bottles to put onstage or butthole music industry people. You can find someone else.
General: Dammit Danny. We can but they don’t have your smarts, or your talent… or your abs.
Danny: (raises left eyebrow, turns slightly towards the Colonel) Go on…
Colonel: We just need you to write down an explanation right here on how to stage manage. Finishing your guide to tour managing is important for western society. Art is what makes us human. Just take this laptop and start writing.
Danny: Well I could I just… no I can’t. I promised myself I’d come here and live a life of meditation. (pouring pigeon feed into a pile on the ground)
Business man 1: Colonel this is a waste of time. He’s gone cuckoo for coco puffs.
Both business men begin the long descent back down the stairs. Colonel watches them leave but stays.
Danny: Who are the suits?
Colonel: Just some A&R guys. Top brass straight out of NYC.
Danny: Look at you old man, working with the suits? (sighs) It’s good to see you Colonel. I want to help but I can’t. I like it here. I do work, they let me sleep here… it’s a good thing I’ve got going on.
Colonel: (throws laptop at Danny’s feet) Well… if you decide to change your mind, you can. Just type it up and click send. I’ve got to go.
Danny: (looks at laptop. Looks back at colonel).
Colonel: And by the way Dan. Just think about this. You can run all you’d like. But deep down we all know what you are. We know there is a tour manager screaming to get out.
Danny: Sorry Colonel… it’s just gotta end some time.
(Both salute each other and start barking. Colonel turns and walks down the stairs. Danny continues staring at the countryside. A helicopter taking off is heard in the distance. Danny looks at the computer and keeps feeding pigeons. Danny slowly slides his feet out on the dusty concrete until he is in the splits and in front of the laptop. He begins typing, slowly, but soon it turns into a fevered race to get all the brilliant thoughts in his head down on paper.)
Okay. If it’s my duty it’s my duty. If continuing to teach the world about tour management is what I must do, then that is what I shall do. Let me be clear. I didn’t leave to meditate with my shirt off every morning in Cambodia because I wanted to. I did it because the unbelievable success of my tour guides was going to my head. Plain and simple. You’d think that driving around in a cherry red Ferrari would satiate the bottomless pit in my soul but it didn’t. Neither did the models. Or the bottles. Or the models inside champagne bottles on display in my 6,000 square ft. foyer. No amount of giant chess boards surrounded by well manicured French jardins could satisfy me. So I broke my first rule of life and booked an Eat Pray Love style trip to find myself. It was good for a bit but after you arrived I realized I can’t do it forever.
So I’ve decided to purchase a one way ticket back to my life.
But before I do that I need to tell you about stage managers and techs. Just a little something for an old friend.
When you see a concert it’s important to remember that all those beautiful things onstage didn’t get there without help; someone had to oversee the whole operation. This person is a stage manager. Initially a tour manager does this job but as a band’s popularity increases stage management becomes too much work and the tour manager is forced to give up the reigns. Well, by forced I mean they ecstatically hand those duties over to someone else.
Stage management is no joke. It’s a highly skilled position that requires long hours and the ability to only wear black cargo shorts. Stage managers are maybe the hardest working people on tour. If you look at Beyonce, U2, or Coldplay’s stage you will notice that there is an enormous amount of shit going on. From pyrotechnics to large moving lights to the band… all these things are meticulously planned and executed by the stage manager.
Good venues like Madison Square Garden have shows or sporting events like every night. So the stage for these large shows isn’t set days in advance, they have to be able to do it in a day. A DAY.
If you were one of the few people that watched the opening ceremony of the Sochi Olympics, then you remember that when the giant illuminated Olympic rings descended from the ceiling, one did not work.
Fair enough I guess, shit happens. But the organizers of the Olympics had years to make this happen. Years and there was still a mistake. Stage managers for bands have from load in till set time and far more complicated lights than 6 Olympic rings to worry about. Obviously they don’t do it themselves. For a giant show they have hundreds of minions running around working to make it happen but they must ensure it’s all done correctly.
If it’s done incorrectly the consequences can be dire. If a light falls or if the pyrotechnics go off at the wrong time it could seriously injure or even kill someone. If the drums are on the wrong side of the stage it could make for an awkward entrance for the backings musicians and so on and so forth. Stage managers are not reserved for stadium gigs. When venues start to seat like 2,000 people they show up.
Best ways to be employed as a stage manager is either as someone that runs stages at festivals, or one that tours. Generally they will do both. Like you tour for a bit and do a good job then eventually you can get hired onto a festival. The only difference is that on tour your main and only concern really is the band you were hired to stage manage. At a festival you have to make sure all the bands have the gear they need and that the stage is set and reset every time they finish a gig. It’s a tough job.
Getting a stage management job isn’t that hard you just need to be able to do it. Like I’ve tour managed for years but I couldn’t do that job (or wouldn’t want to). Doing it on a small level is stressful enough but having to make sure all the lights and all that shit is in place is too much responsibility for me. If I was in charge something would blow up and I’d be blamed for U2 dying in a merciless inferno.
Explaining in depth what and how stage managers do their job is difficult because it varies and depends on the show. But it comes down to making sure the stage is set properly. Making sure everyone that is setting the stage is doing their job. And making sure the show runs on time (unless you are in Spain or Italy because it’s always late).
Making sure the gig runs on time is super important, especially at a festival. IF the city has a sound ordinance (most do) then the music HAS to stop at a certain time. If it doesn’t they either shut it off or fine the festival big time. If the band you are tour managing ever plays a festival the first person you ask to be introduced to is the stage manager. They give you all the important information.
When you get to a festival you need to know if they have gear onstage, if there’s water, beer, can you bring your own lights, and everything else. If you want to become a stage or production manager as they are sometimes called I suggest becoming a tour manager first and working as quickly as possible to a large tour. Because stage manager’s are not on small tours. Or you could become an assistant tour manager on a larger tour and just observe the stage manager. Teching is also a good way to do it, or just general roadie duties. You just have to get there and observe and learn. But as with all touring jobs it’s not a simple A to B to C.
Stage management requires intense individuals that have extreme organizational skills who at the same time aren’t afraid to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty. Very hard on the body but it can pay well. A good stage manager can make like $5,000 a week, easy. It’s just, you will have 0 time to spend that on anything until you stop stage managing.
That’s all on stage managers for now.
I clicked send as my helicopter took off from the monastery in Cambodia. My feet dangled off the side and I watched the sunset one last time. Next stop? Wherever people need me most. I picked up my cellphone.
Danny: Hello, Colonel… I’m headed back to America. (Hangs up. Dials another number.)
Danny: Alfred, get the car ready.
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