Rich Redmond: The Business Of Touring
He’s lived in Nashville for years, but Rich Redmond had never breakfasted before at J. Christopher’s, where we met for his interview with DRUM! Still, every few minutes different people would step up to his table, apologize for interrupting, and say something appreciative.
A young player thanked Redmond for the excellence of a clinic he had attended a year or so ago. A songwriter came by to talk a little Music Row biz. And so on. Who says the stars get all the recognition? Country headliner Jason Aldean may be up front in the spotlight, but his fans all know that it’s Redmond who’s powering the band through “Dirt Road Anthem,” “Fly Over States,” “She’s Country,” “Take A Little Ride,” “The Truth,” and other #1 hits.
In a town filled with talent, Redmond stands out for his ability to connect as an inspirational speaker and teacher, a studio ace and producer, and above all a road warrior. With more than 100 tour dates each year with any number of acts (though mostly with Aldean), Redmond is more often gone than present in Nashville. Yet on this day, a rare breather between tour rehearsals and gigs with Aldean, he’s a familiar and welcome face, even early in the morning, before musicians’ hours generally begin.
The story of how Redmond wound up in the driver’s seat of one of the most popular modern country acts of the ’00s has as much to do with his mastery of the business of music as his deep and powerful drumming does. We asked him to share his hard-earned wisdom about how to do business on the road.
The Tour Begins Before It Starts
Redmond is always on the job, so that the items he checks off his pre-tour checklist are as important as his daily schedule of responsibilities while on the road.
“Our band has been together so long [Redmond has played with Aldean since 2005] and we are so comfortable with each other that we only usually rehearse for a week before starting each tour cycle,” he explains. “Tours in Nashville are very weekend-oriented. We leave on Wednesdays and come back on Sundays for ten months a year. This is a great schedule that gets me back to Nashville every week to pursue sessions, songwriting, and production work. My suitcase is never unpacked and my backpack is always with me.”
Even more important than the contents of his ubiquitous backpack are the tools he uses to hammer home Aldean’s mega hits. “Obviously, I have to make sure that everything is cool with my setup and gear before heading out,” he says. “I coordinate that with my amazing drum tech, Jon Hull. We make sure that I have two of everything and that all of my orders are in place as far as sticks, heads, and extra supplies go.”
These crucial pre-tour gear inventories would be a little more challenging without the longstanding support Redmond has developed with his many endorsement companies. “I’ve cultivated and nurtured real, lasting relationships with all of my sponsors over the years,” he says. “A good ambassador of a musical brand will always be seen using that gear on stage, in the studio, and on TV. It truly is a mutually beneficial relationship.”
Redmond began to foster professional relationships within the drum industry well before he became a fixture on the Nashville scene. He describes his original strategy for securing endorsement deals: “I literally contacted all of the representatives of the instruments I was already using. A smart artist is the one that develops these relationships while their band is climbing the ladder of success. That relationship can grow over time. As a general rule, the level of support grows as the popularity of the artist or band grows. This is an unspoken rule.”
Down To Business
Everybody’s unique. Once the bus pulls onto the highway, the members of Aldean’s outfit each finds a different way to while away the long hours. As for Redmond – he gets right to work. “My bandmates usually like playing video games in the front lounge of the bus, so I take the back and set up my mobile office,” he says. “I always have my laptop open. I’ve written columns for magazines like this, as well as some new books I have coming out, all while traveling on a bus or airplane.”
Although Redmond wears plenty of hats – sideman, clinician, teacher, and author, to name just a few – he seamlessly transitions from one to the other throughout the course of a day. “My schedule is usually booked far in advance,” he says. “I usually know my entire touring year with Aldean in advance and arrange my other ventures around that. These other activities include studio dates with our production company New Voice Entertainment, recording sessions for other artists on Music Row, recording sessions for online clients, clinics, private lessons, songwriting sessions, and corporate speaking events.”
Business is business, whether personal or professional, so Redmond makes a point to schedule ample time to attend to both while on tour. “Personal and professional business happens every day on the road,” he says. “Many times, I’m the first one up on the bus, especially when I have to do a clinic or teach lessons. There’s always busi- ness to do. Staying up on calls, emails, social media, marketing, and keeping up with my calendar is a fulltime job. There are always recording sessions to prepare for, charts to write, and loops to program. I also squeeze in a workout as much as possible. Running, light weights, stretching, and workout DVDs in our dressing room work great.”
Let’s face it – Redmond wears his Type A personality like a mortarboard at a commencement ceremony. Whether he’s earning a buck or taking rare down time, he likes to pack as much as possible into 24 hours. “My first priority each day is getting to my clinic, our mid-day sound check, and then the show,” he says. “I prioritize projects according to deadlines. All of the calendars on my devices are synched and up to date and I write lots of lists. ’To do’ lists are crucial. It feels good to scratch things off one by one.”
Tucked between the approximately 100 dates per year he plays on the road with Aldean, Redmond manages to perform 25—30 clinics at various stops along the way, as well as teaching any number of masterclasses and private lessons. “The biggest challenge is coordinating my arrival time in each city and making sure every last detail is organized so I can make the clinic on time and get back to the venue for my sound check on time,” he explains. “I have a very meticulous event rider and the help of my event coordinator Josh Mighell. Pre-planning and attention to details in the way of travel times, gear, and transportation are paramount.”
A-ha! Redmond reveals his secret weapon – an event coordinator – surely a luxury most drummers can only dream of having. But we wondered, even with Mighell’s expert help, how does Redmond manage to juggle so many doubleheaders on the road and still have the stamina to deliver his hard-hitting style every night? “I don't want to be too preachy, but the drummer needs to be sober,” he says. “Introducing too many unnatural elements to your body while you’re playing is not going to help you sound better – ever. Save your drink for after the show.”
Show Us The Money
Touring is fun. You land in a different city every night, meet new people, check out other bands, hang with friends, and play drums all the time. Almost sounds like a vacation, doesn’t it?
It’s not. While touring drummers can brag about having a fun job, it’s still a job, and requires utmost professionalism. “Know what your role is in the organization and treat it as a job,” Redmond advises. “Touring can be fun, but it’s not a party. It’s a job. A very cool one!”
Perhaps the most important – and most touchy – part of your job is negotiating a payment rate for your work. First-timers often don’t know how to even broach the subject. “The negotiation process usually happens with the artist’s accountant,” Redmond says. “This should always be worked out long before even rehearsals begin. I am in a unique situation because I’ve been with the same artist for a long time. I’ve heard of some people getting things in writing, but in Nashville, we usually do things on a handshake.”
It’s important to understand that – despite the existence of union scale – almost anything goes when it comes to sideman pay. It’s easy for young bands about to begin playing gigs for the first time. You split up whatever you make at the end of the night.
But if you compare what every drummer earns on the road, the numbers would zigzag up and down the ledger. “Every situation is unique,” Redmond confirms. “Some tours allow each musician to negotiate their own pay scale while other organizations determine a flat rate for all of the players. Musicians talk, so if you are going to start working with an established act, ask around to see what the average pay rate is. Nashville has a reputation for pay-ing musicians on a ’per show’ rate, while L.A. acts usually pay weekly rates. There are a fortunate few who receive year-round salaries.”
If you’re in that proverbial baby band headed out on your first tour, be prepared to sleep in the van, eat burgers, spend most of your money on gas, and come home with just a few bucks in your pocket. But if you’ve landed your first big gig backing a national act, it’s important to keep as much of your salary in the bank as you can. The last thing you want to do is arrive home broke.
The biggest money-saving perk is the per diem, which is a daily sum to cover incidentals like snacks, laundry, supplies, and other minor expenses. “It’s standard for all touring organizations to issue a per diem,” Redmond says. “This rate can change daily as the tour stops from city to city, or it can be issued as a flat rate for the whole tour. Some organizations may even tax your per diem. Every group is different.
“You can almost pocket your per diem, unless you need it for personal supplies or sightseeing. Big tours will also have catering. This generally includes three meals a day and ’after show’ food. That’s going to save you a lot of money right there. Save where you can.”
You’ll be glad that you did – at least, that is, until the April 15 tax-filing deadline rolls around. If your band’s accountants withdrew taxes from your pay throughout the tour, the process should be relatively painless. Otherwise, you’re on the hook to pay 100 percent of state and federal taxes.
Redmond offers sage advice for those of you who happen to fall into the latter category. “As far as taxes go, write off everything you can. This can include meals as ’business meetings,’ stage clothing, miles driven to and from bus call, instruments, instrument insurance, cartage, and flights. Keep records and be methodical. It all adds up at the end of the year. Also be sure to have a great accountant that specializes in the music industry or entertainers.”
One More Thing
If you think all of this business advice sounds like more work than you expected, Redmond wraps up our conversation with his best advice yet. “It isn’t easy to get to a level where you’re making money playing your instrument, so I’m coming from a place of extreme gratitude and being present,” he says. “There’s a higher calling there, to honor your gift.”