Ascension: Born of Osiris Guitarist Lee McKinney Reflects on Life on Tour
Hey, everyone. Sorry for the wait on this second installment of Ascension!
Since my last column, I've been to 16 different countries playing shows and even a few this past weekend here in the Midwest. Hectic! This morning I got home from the shows at noon after driving through the night, and so now I'm finally sitting at a computer getting to write this … before we leave for Mexico in the morning!
On that note, I guess I'll do this column on the life of touring and how bands can prepare for the beginning of their touring careers. I was going to start diving into techniques and include some how-to videos in my second column, but given the needed rest, we'll save that for next time!
Once again I posted on some of our social networking sites asking what fellow musicians and fans wanted to know about the life of touring and how to prepare for it.
I think everyone should start by understanding that touring is not the easiest job out there. If you are in a band about to head out on the road for an extended period of time, you need to make sure the people around you are your best friends and you won't mind sharing every second of your life with them.
It's sad seeing bands that fall apart on tour. It seems if it wasn't for their band being a "touring" band, they wouldn't be in that band together or even friends at all. It takes an extreme toll on you performing constantly, eating like crap and getting awful sleep.
Regardless of whether it's sleeping in a van or partying too much, a good night's rest is hard to come by sometimes. You also need to know that for at least a good six months, even up to a year or more of your touring career will result in you coming home broke and tired. There is so much money that goes into touring. Until you have a solid fan base everywhere you go, it can be near impossible to make a living on the road. Make sure you are financially capable to have zero income for as long as it takes for your band to start bringing in extra cash. That's what pays you: what's left in the end!
Let's break down how a tour begins in the first place. Every touring band has a booking agency. The agency is responsible for setting up contracts and shows with promoters around the world to help bring the concerts to you. The agency works out how much the band's guarantee is, so that no matter how many kids show up to the show, the band gets paid the same. This helps safeguard the band and the agency. The promoter makes a budget for your guarantee, and all his expenses for the show. This includes renting a facility, paying security guards, paying the staff, and even feeding the band its catering or giving them their buyouts.
Every show, we are either fed one full meal or given what's called a buyout. The buyout is personal cash for each member that in most cases covers the cost of one meal. This helps tremendously while on the road.
Aside from that meal, most bands give each member a daily "per diem." This is cash every member gets at the start of each day. It could be $5, $10, $20, whatever the band budgets in that it can afford. Between the catering/buyouts and per diem, you are able to eat at least a few meals a day. Sometimes promoters even throw in some beer or snacks, but for every show it's different.
What to bring! Each person has different needs. Some guys just need a couple weeks' worth of clothes and a pair of shoes. Some guys need a month's worth of clothes and five pairs of shoes. Bottom line is, whatever you bring, you should be able to carry on you all at once. The more you bring, the more that can get lost or stolen. Maybe a backpack, laptop and a suitcase. The essentials.
You don't want to overpack and end up losing things or having a hard time keeping track of all you brought where you put it last. I shouldn't have to say bring the proper toiletries. Obviously bring your toothbrush, toothpaste, etc. Bring the necessities!
On our first tour we brought too much. We had PlayStation, X-Box, "Guitar Hero," etc. It's a miracle we didn't get robbed. On top of that, either one or both of the game consoles was broken when we got home, along with all of the game discs being scratched to hell.
As far as gear goes, keep in mind that sometimes while setting up, time is of the essence. It might be great to have 50 different foot pedals on pedalboards and a 30,000-watt head and rack case, but when it comes time to load on and off stage in a matter of 10 minutes with minimal help up and down flights of stairs, you're really going to be regretting it!
Try to keep top-notch but minimal gear set up with as few high-end cables as possible. The last thing you need is one of those 50 patch cables you got from Guitar Center out of the 50 cent bucket on your pedalboard to be the target of a botched tone. Have fun finding that and switching that out! Big cases look cool but suck to carry and load!
Try to be portable yet versatile with your gear, however that may be. Also make sure you are protecting your gear, even if you can't afford fancy road cases. To this day I still have a beautiful ENGL Powerball that I carry around in a cardboard box with studio foam inside. There's always a way to protect your gear, get creative if need be! Being in the middle of a tour and having a piece of your gear go out can be devastating. Who knows if the only amp you can borrow in time for your set will be a Fender combo amp. Bad news for any guitar player.
One last thought to consider: As soon as your band feels it can budget a sound guy in, do it! Sometimes bands on tour will bring their own sound guy, and you can get theirs to run your sound at a discounted price since they are already getting paid. We consider our sound guy an equal member of our live show.
We can be busting our asses playing fast and precise, but if the sound guy working for the venue only listens to country music and can't stand your screaming or your blastbeats, there's a good chance all he's going to do during your set is smoke cigarettes and zone out. This is something you will worry about a little more into your touring career, but is quite often overlooked.
I should finish by saying best of luck to all of you as you begin or continue your touring careers. The memories you take with you from tour can be some of the best and most meaningful. I hope this column was informative. If I left something out, maybe I'll drop it into the next one. Thanks again for reading!
Talk to you guys soon!
Lee McKinney plays guitar in Born of Osiris, a deathcore band from Illinois. The group has released two albums and one EP on Sumerian Records. Their album,A Higher Place, reached No. 73 on the Billboard 200. Their second full-length album, The Discovery, which came out in March 2011, debuted at No. 87 on the Billboard 200.