It’s quite possibly the most exciting moment in a young drummer’s life. Your band has managed to string several shows together, taking you far away from the familiarity of home and the regional hot spots you’ve been diligently gigging on the weekends. You’re finally going on a real tour.
Nothing beats the feeling of pulling into a faraway city for the first time, knowing you have a show to play (no matter how small it may be). But if this is your first foray into the world of rock and roll on the road, you’ll likely have a handful of questions as to how it all works.
I learned the ropes the hard way, but that doesn’t mean you have to. Here are a few pointers to help you hit the ground running and focus on what really matters — dominating the stage.
You’ll want to be as streamlined as possible when on tour. Certainly be prepared with enough sticks and heads (and a back-up snare and kick pedal if possible), but do you really need that extra rack/floor tom? How about that third crash cymbal and accompanying stand? Learn to do more with less. You’ll soon realize the benefit of having fewer pieces to set up and tear down every night for a month.
The same goes for clothes. Just like with drum gear, don’t lug around what’s not absolutely necessary. Bring a week’s worth of clothes and take advantage of opportunities to do laundry. Under-packing is also wise because you’ll most certainly come home with more stuff than when you left — like T-shirts from fellow bands.
You’ve made an investment in your gear — now keep it safe. While “gig bags” can be quite a bit cheaper than hard cases, they offer significantly less protection. If you are dropping the money anyway, do yourself a favor and go all the way. You’re far more likely to maintain resale value on your equipment, and you’ll only have to buy them once (unless you change drum sizes down the road).
Hard cases make it much easier to pack your gear into a van or trailer, as well as stack in a corner at the club after your set. Also, pick up a hardware case with wheels! It’ll be the best decision you’ve ever made.
Go even further in protecting your gear and cover it with renter’s insurance. It’s cheap (about $100 a year) and you can cover not only your gear, but also any valuables you may have brought on tour (laptops, mp3 players, cameras, clothes, etc.).
Unfortunately, theft on the road is a common occurrence. Music venues aren’t always in the nicest parts of town, and band vans are an easy target for those looking to make a quick buck. One unlucky band I knew had their entire trailer stolen!
Gear can also be lifted right from the venue. I know bandmembers who have had guitars, pedals, laptops, and bags taken from various clubs. Don’t let it happen to you!
Earplugs will protect your hearing not only while you’re playing, but also when you’re in the club watching bands before or after your set. They are easy to lose and get filthy fast, so grab a box of twelve pairs at a pharmacy before leaving town. Stash some in your stick bag, backpack, and coin pocket in your jeans so they’ll be quickly accessible in any situation.
Earplugs can also provide relief when traveling between gigs and your guitar player insists on listening to Dragonforce at max volume while it’s his shift to drive (noise-cancelling earphones for your mp3 player are even better in this instance). It’s also helpful to have something to stick in your ears when sharing a motel room with five other people and sleep isn’t coming because your bass player is sawing logs a few feet away.
Learn to set up and tear down your kit quickly. Changeover between bands can be stressful, so the quicker you can get on and off stage the better. Remove your cymbals and break down hardware after moving it off stage. Ask someone (soundman/woman, stagehands) where you should move your drums before you play so you have an idea where you are headed after your set.
Case up your drums and cymbals and break down your hardware as soon as you can. This will ensure your cymbals don’t get knocked over or beer gets spilled all over your kick drum. Storage space is often limited so stack your cases and make your pile of gear as small as possible.
Don’t go off to socialize before taking care of business. The venue’s employees won’t want to wait while you to break down and load out after last call.