The Reality of Touring, Touring Essentials, and Indispensables - Brian Quinn - Candlebox

Posted: March 22, 2024
The people that support us musicians on the road are of utmost importance and are indispensable in their knowledge and expertise in their respective fields. Next to your bandmates, it takes dozens, and in the cases of globally embraced mega-stars, hundreds of people, working toward a common goal to deliver a concert worthy of shock and awe.

Photo by: Carlos Novais

Spring has sprung and we are on the precipice of another glorious touring season. The sunny weather brings people out of their winter hibernation and cold weather doldrums. In no time, that seasonal depression is replaced with a sense of renewal.

Lots of folks feverishly check band and ticketing websites for the best deals and seats, building that internal excitement that only comes from knowing your favorite band is playing in your town (or nearby).

I explain it this way because I am one of those people. But, I have the wonderfully unique opportunity to get to see it from the other side as well. Looking at all those beautiful people gathered by the tens of thousands, on a blissful summer evening, completely stoked to get their faces melted off and their minds blown.

Back in January, in my inaugural article, I touched on the importance of mental and physical health on the road. This month, I want to expand upon that and not only dig deep into how much it takes to put on just one successful concert, but also focus on the people dedicated to making it an unforgettable and safe experience for us musicians, and you.

Being on the road is similar to being in a traveling circus, or being at the coolest summer camp to ever exist. On the surface, it looks like a super glamorous, never-ending party, overfilled with earthly pleasures, gluttonous living, and an unlimited amount of money to fuel the whole thing. It’s not. It may have looked that way in the 70s and 80s, but it is definitely not that way today. I’m not trying to burst any bubbles, but rather, clarify that being a touring musician, tour manager, instrument tech, light rigger, sound technician, and even a day runner is an actual job – and a demanding one at that. AC/DC’s Bon Scott hit the nail on the head with his lyric “It’s a long way to the top if you want to rock & roll.”

The people that support us musicians on the road are of utmost importance and are indispensable in their knowledge and expertise in their respective fields. Next to your bandmates, it takes dozens, and in the cases of globally embraced mega-stars, hundreds of people, working toward a common goal to deliver a concert worthy of shock and awe.

Behind the scenes, the tour manager (T.M.) is, possibly, the most essential role, as he or she is the one to keep the wheels from falling off the bus (literally and figuratively). Making sure everyone is where he or she needs to be, at the time needed is critical to success. This doesn’t only include the band, but stage crew, rig drivers, sound riggers, light riggers, etc. The T.M., and assistants where applicable, make sure hotels are booked for band, crew, and bus driver(s), venue hospitality is correct, security is procured and properly set for that particular day, day sheets and set lists are plastered everywhere in the bus and venue for that show.

Additionally, they are advancing shows for all the above details days, weeks, and sometimes months into the future. Advancing a show involves many calls and emails to the different promoters and venue principals to make sure all of the major, and minute, details are being set in place in anticipation of the arrival of the entire tour camp on the day of show.  Keep in mind, these are only a very few examples of the seemingly endless list of duties for a T.M. They do this every single day for months at a time.

Luckily, in my experience with Candlebox, we have the pleasure of an amazing T.M./Front-of-House Tech (Soundman)/ “Cat Herder” extraordinaire, Carlos Novais. He is one of the hardest working people I’ve ever met, and one of the most respected sound technicians on the national/international circuit today.

The job of utmost importance to us musicians specifically on a tour are the instrument technicians, or as we refer to them, the “techs.” I have had the immense pleasure of working with, and around, the best in the business. It is an extremely demanding job, especially for the men and women who are handling more than one musician on a particular tour.

I had the opportunity to catch up with a couple of the most renown and respected for a little insight and to glimpse their view from the wings of the stages. These gentlemen have been globetrotting for years for the biggest and best artists across various genres of music. I asked them all a few, but matter-of-fact, questions that gets to the root of what it takes to be a professional instrument technician.

Trace Davis was the first professional I reached out to for his trusted feedback. His story has a unique angle as he didn’t start out as a traveling guitar tech, but rather a world class, renowned amplifier builder. Davis is the owner and master builder of Voodoo Amps. Founded in 1998, Voodoo Amps have been a mainstay for some of the biggest names in the business including AC/DC, Bob Seger, Aerosmith, Def Leppard, and Guns N’ Roses. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

In speaking with Davis about his years in the business and, later adding guitar teching to his long list of accolades, he gave a poignant answer to what has been the biggest contributor to his success as a builder, tech, and professional. “In my humble opinion it’s rarely one thing. But if I had to try and list a big contributor I would say, being able to listen. This includes both critical listening to various guitar tones and, equally important, listening to what the player is asking for. I am always in service of the player’s wants and needs. If I can meet those wants and needs while also making the amp(s) inspiring to play on then I feel I’ve done my job,” he said.

Davis went on to give some sage advice for any up and coming folks looking to tech and even gave some wonderful advice to the future amp builders out there. “This is a people friendly business so it’s important to have good people skills. For example, everyone wants to be around others who have a good energy about them. Smile, be welcoming, be easy to get along with and always be a team player. It’s equally important to know various kinds of gear and how it works. It’s important to know how to set up a guitar so it's inspiring to play on, how to make neck adjustments, intonate and change electronics. Always be calm under pressure, never panic,” he added.

In describing some logistics for the amplifier builders out there, Davis went on to say, “Be fluent in several different circuits and know how each component affects one another. An amp has to sound and feel good mic’ed up; that’s how everyone will hear it. Amps have to be reliable in order for pros to use it night after night. As such, learn what amps go through on tour and build them to withstand the rigors of the road.”

Another fantastic tech who I had the pleasure to speak with was none other than Candlebox’s current guitar tech James “Poe” Barrett. Prior to joining the Candlebox camp in 2022, the 22nd year of his wanderlust, Barrett teched for such industry luminaries as The Jacksons, Victor Wooten, Kesha, MXPX, and A Day To Remember, to name just a few.

Barrett commented on the importance of keeping your mind sharp when you’re in the throes of an artist’s performance. He says, “Stay calm, confident, in control, and have a clear mind during a show. Ask questions to know what the artist wants.”

I’d like to extend a huge thank you to Trace Davis and James Barrett for taking the time to answer some questions and shed some light on what they do day in and day out. Being a traveling, touring professional takes a ton of dedication and hard work, both in getting there, and maintaining a top-notch reputation.

See you all next month and keep up the great practice!

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