September 10, 2023

Artist tour management encyclopedia

My contacts: Instagram / Telegram / E-mail

Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Main actors
  3. FAQ
  4. Preparation
  5. Tour
  6. Money
  7. Mental Health
  8. Conclusion

Hey there!

Throughout my career in the live music industry, I've had the privilege of participating in numerous tours across the USA, Canada, Europe, the UK, the CIS, and Russia. I've mostly taken on the role of a tour manager. These trips have varied greatly, ranging from successful to not-so-great, long to short, calm to completely wild.

In this post, I'll talk about why artists go on tours in the first place, how the preparation is done, and what the actual touring process is like. I'll also address some of the strange and unexpected challenges encountered on the road. Answer frequently asked questions and share some fables. And of course, I won't forget about money – an integral part of touring!

Every artist and tour is a unique story in itself. Hip-hop artists or comedians, who often only need a microphone and a laptop, have a completely different touring experience compared to rock bands that require two trucks of equipment. It would be somewhat inappropriate to mix such diverse genres and organizational approaches. However, to keep this text from expanding to a thousand pages, I'll make a conscious assumption – I'll be considering the "average" artist in a vacuum and generalize A LOT.

The material is quite substantial, but is divided into several major sections, with each subsequent section logically building upon the previous one. At the beginning, you saw the table of contents with clickable links to the chapters.

I've written this with the intent to engage both aspiring bands and tour managers alike, as well as those who have never thought about how the live music industry works. So if the information ever gets too technical, feel free to scroll – it won't last long.

Let's get started!

Main actors

Firstly, let's define the vocabulary.

Artist: By "artist," I mean the individuals on stage. This isn't always the case – session musicians, an orchestra, an a cappella group, and backup dancers often have completely different privileges compared to the main media figure. For instance, hypothetical "Rihanna" definitely doesn't hang out in hotels with her musicians, nor does she travel on the same bus, even if it's very comfortable :)

Manager: The artist's representative when it comes to business. Their tasks can vary significantly, from strategy and communication to operational and financial tasks, often in different combinations. Most importantly, the Manager keeps a snapshot in their mind of who the Artist is, how they should be presented to the public, and all their personal preferences.

Agent: They possess an extensive database of organizers and venues in the territory they work in. Based on this database, the agent creates the tour schedule or "routing."

Tech Crew: A collective term for the entire technical team. Depending on the size of the Artist and the requirements for a specific tour, this may include: a sound engineer, lighting designer, stage technician, guitar technician, drum technician, monitor engineer, pyrotechnician, stage construction/decoration builders, and many others.

Merch: A collective term for everything related to the artist's product sales. This includes the label (providing vinyls, CDs, tapes etc.), printing companies (for non-musical merchandise like clothing), technical aspects (companies providing payment terminals and inventory software), and, of course, the crew directly selling merchandise on the day of the concert.

Transportation: Everything that transports people and equipment. Rental companies for buses or minivans, trailer rentals, airlines, ferries, and so on. This category also includes drivers.

Rider: A list of mandatory requirements from the Artist that must be met at every concert on the tour. Typically, a rider consists of two parts: technical (what equipment should be on the stage) and hospitality (food, accommodation, and other non-technical items).

Promoter: The organizer of a specific concert in a specific city. The Promoter's responsibilities include advertising, ticket sales, fulfilling the Artist's rider, liaising with the venue, and running the actual event on the chosen date.

Venue: The concert hall or festival where the performance actually takes place. In some cases, the Promoter and Venue are the same entity, for example, if a club hosts many events, it's easier for them to handle the booking themselves than deal with a new promoter every night.

There are indeed many smaller entities involved in tour planning, but for the sake of simplicity in this narrative, I will only briefly mention them as we go along.

All these stakeholders communicate with each other in complex relationships on various matters, and at the center of this storm is... the tour manager (TM)!

There's a predefined pool of tasks, but beyond those, the tour manager, by nature, is responsible for everything else. They must stay in touch with everyone, be the primary communication link, and deliver information promptly. They handle all the accounting and often manage the merchandise inventory. They must foresee problems before they arise and prevent them. A tour manager's work blends innate personal qualities, developed soft skills honed over years, social engineering, seasoned with paranormal attentiveness and meticulous attention to detail. The TM is the Artist's best friend, but also the worst nightmare.

In this position, as in any other management role, there's a significant perception gap within the team. The quality criterion for such work is not the number of situations that occurred and were resolved, but the number of those that didn't happen at all. Sometimes, emerging bands go on tour, everything goes perfectly, without incidents, and they wonder, "Why do we even need a tour manager?" Without realizing that it was because of the tour manager that they didn't get into trouble. You'll understand what I mean below.

Important clarification: As a tour manager, I have only worked with "established" artists. It's challenging to draw a clear line, but I typically understand it as having released albums, prior experience in performances, and at least having a Manager. Emerging artists who are forced to sleep in their car, borrow equipment from friends, and play wherever they can usually do not have a team and are not entirely sure if they want to commit their entire lives to music yet.


What is a tour?

In this text, I will define a tour as a series of cities where concerts are performed - you've all seen hundreds of such event listings on social media for your favourite artists.

However, I often use the word "tour" to refer to individual trips as well. Even traveling to a single festival on another continent requires several weeks of preparation, several days of travel, and, in fact, the same set of actions as planning multiple dates in a row. Organizational-wise, going to 30 cities and going to 1 city are very similar.

Why do artists go on tours?

There are many answers to this question. It's an opportunity to establish yourself as a touring artist, gain experience, and become a tight-knit group. It can lead to increased streaming numbers in new regions.

Touring as an opening act for larger artists or playing at festivals is a guaranteed way to expose yourself to a new audience that you wouldn't reach otherwise.

But the main motivation is, of course, to make money. Tours can be very profitable.

I've come across YouTube videos where bands report losses of thousands of dollars. although such cases should be scrutinized, especially in terms of the initial motivation for the trip and its preliminary planning. For example, losing money is entirely justified on support tours when you know that your audience will significantly grow due to the headliner's prominence, and you plan to play the long game. However, very often artists simply plan poorly (or don't plan at all), hoping that everything will go well, and this ends in a financial disaster. This is exactly where a Manager or Tour Manager could greatly help.

Is it obligatory to go on tours?

Not necessarily.

Firstly, it can be financially unviable. As I mentioned above, the basic income and expense spreadsheet can show a significant deficit even before the first email is sent (more on financial aspects below).

Secondly, an artist's income may come from other sources. Streaming, licensing for movies and commercials, sound design can bring in substantial earnings.

Some projects don't tour at all but are widely known in their genre. For example, in the synthwave scene, there's a band called Gunship. I see dozens of people wearing their merch at any synth show, they have millions of streams on Spotify, millions of views on YouTube. Yet, in all the years I've been following them, they've never done a single live show.

Similarly, Carbon Based Lifeforms, who we organized concerts for in planetariums with full dome visuals for several years, primarily work as programmers. For them, music is something for the soul that was never meant to become a full-time profession. They carefully select promoters to work with and try not to let live performances disrupt their family and professional lives.

Some artists can't tour due to health issues. They might have a fear of flying (aerophobia), for instance. Others might want to avoid the risk of relapsing into past alcohol or drug addiction, and the touring environment is not always conducive to sobriety.

And for some, touring may no longer be necessary. Established artists who have earned money and successfully invested it in other businesses have secured their financial future. They can make occasional appearances at AAA festivals worldwide, make a good sum from it, and work on new music while being surrounded by their family and friends.

However, for most artists, tours remain a necessity and are crucial for the continued creative development.

When is the best time to go on tour?

For a journey to happen, there must be a reason. The most common one is the release of a new album that needs to be introduced to the public, reconnect with the existing audience, and gain a new one. Touring multiple times with the same material is generally not financially viable unless the previous tour ended with sold-out shows, indicating that the demand wasn't fully satisfied.

Another reason is exploring new territories. Even if Artist knows they are popular in a particular region, it's not always easy to get there. For instance, in the U.S., getting visas like O1/O2 or P, which allow for legal performances and earning fees, is quite challenging. In cases involving Latin America or the CIS, visas aren't usually a problem, but Agents often face safety concerns within the country or promoter's financial capabilities. It can take years to build a trusted network of partners to invite Artists.

Lastly, it's often more about the general state of affairs. Everyone should be able to go on tour. Not all bands just sit around with their guitars ready to travel at a moment's notice. Many members have side projects, jobs, families, kids, weddings and vacations. Traditionally, the touring season takes place in the autumn, with a break for Christmas and New Year's, followed by a continuation until early June. The summer is the festival season, and it's often not profitable to compete with festivals if you want to play club shows.


The feeling that it's 'time to go' can strike at any moment, but ideally, best to occur at least 6 months, or even better, 12 months before the actual tour. This allows the Manager and Agent to work out all the details, and gives the Promoter time for advertising and ticket sales for the concerts.

When that 'reason' arrives (e.g., a new album release), the Manager already knows from internal statistics on social media and streaming services where the Artist has the most listeners and potentially interesting territories to 'test'. They gather the Artist's wishes, make preliminary budget estimates, and send this data to the Agent.

The Agent, either individually or through partner networks, informs Promoters that a tour is being planned and asks who would like to organize a concert in their city.

Promoters approach Venues and secure a set of available dates within the required timeframe. The earlier the tour is planned, the more of these dates will be available.

One of the most frequently asked questions in social media comments under any tour poster is, "Why aren't you playing in my city, X?!" There can be several answers: either your city lacks a reputable Promoter, or it's impossible to sell the required number of tickets for it to break even, or your city isn't along the route between other major cities. The second most popular comment is often, "Please come to Brazil!"

With dates from Promoters in hand, the Agent builds the tour's framework in a way that cities are scheduled one after another, making it physically possible to travel from one to the next. If the distance is too great, either a day off is scheduled (which usually means a full day of driving, not really a day off) or a concert is arranged in a small town along the way.

At roughly the same time while the dates are being finalized, financial negotiations are taking place between the Agent and the Promoter. The Agent's task is to sell for a higher price, while the Promoter aims to buy at a lower cost. In these negotiations, there is always a certain minimum financial threshold. Usually, this is the lower boundary of the price range provided to the Agent by the Manager. However, the Promoter is not aware of this range.

Each day of the tour involves a large number of expenses, and sometimes playing a show below a certain fee is simply unprofitable. Exceptions are precisely those 'towns along the way' because even with a lower fee, they at least cover some of the daily expenses. But often, Artists who perform shows for thousands of people don't want to play smaller gigs because they require the same amount of energy and commitment as larger venues. Very understandable.

Once the dates and finances are confirmed, the Agent signs a contracts with the Promoters, and the Manager begins the process of selecting personnel.

Regarding the staff, the story is the same as with the members of the band itself. Since touring is a project-based job, it's not always possible to travel with the same people every time because they have their own personal matters and other projects. However, preference is always given to old comrades with whom a lot has already been experienced, as there's no need to get used to each other again. Among other decisions, the Manager determines who will be the tour manager.

And it's usually at this moment that I come into play.


The first thing I receive is the routing from the Agent. On paper, it always looks fantastic. So, I immediately translate it onto a map of the area. After that, I often start shouting loudly in frustration.

The "style" of the routing can vary greatly between Agents, and when working with them for the first time, you never know what to expect.

Here's an example of a good routing: cities are lined up reasonably close to each other, and if the distance is too large, there are days off in between (highlighted in red):

Now, here's an example of a more interesting routing. You can probably tell what's wrong with it yourself:

Even to the naked eye, it's clear that the distance between Vienna and Bratislava is no more than 150 km, which means a maximum of 2 hours of travel. But for some reason, Warsaw is included between them, and the drive to Warsaw alone takes at least 8 hours. So, instead of a two-hour drive, the band has to travel for sixteen hours, arriving at each of the concerts in a completely vegetative state.

There could be two reasons for such a strange routing. The first is that the tour was not planned well in advance, and the dates provided by the Promoters left the Agent with no choice but to arrange the cities in this order. But the second reason, which I unexpectedly discovered, is that many Agents have never toured themselves. This job is primarily office work, involving a lot of emails and arrays of dates, developing a partner network and strategy for Artist's development as a live act. What happens "on the ground" with the band isn't entirely their concern. One artist, for instance, told me that the only criterion his Agent used when choosing dates was, "Can you physically make this drive or not?"

I fundamentally disagree with such an approach to planning dates, mainly because of traffic safety concerns (more on this below). Also, there's the issue of border controls or ferry crossings on the day of the show. But as a tour manager, I have no choice but to accept the existing routing, go along with it, and get paid. After all, everything was discussed and confirmed several months ago, without my involvement.

In future negotiations, I will always insist on the tour manager's involvement in the final confirmation of dates. It will be interesting to see what comes of that.

Interestingly, in terms of routing, the ex-USSR territories and, surprisingly, Australia turned out to be quite similar. The main concert cities in these regions are located at a considerable distance from each other, and it's often easier to fly between them than to drive. The average distance between Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, and Adelaide is about 800 km, which is almost like the distance between Kyiv, Minsk, St. Petersburg, and Moscow (in the pre-war years transportation network, of course). There's also a major port city that no one ever reaches due to disproportionate travel times: Vladivostok / Perth. And there's an enclave that isn't always clear how to get to: Kaliningrad / Hobart. Such an odd analogy!

In this text I generally will not consider fly-in shows and mostly focus on ground transportation. Pre-war Russia, in which I was a Promoter and an Agent, is especially interesting in this regard.

The country has 16 cities with population over 1 million people, but only two of them were frequently used for touring — Moscow and St.Petersburg. This happens mostly due to local income level differences, but also because other major cities are not well interconnected. It's not always possible to fly directly between them, even those 500-600km away from each other would require a layover in Moscow, the capital that is 3000km+ away. The roads are not great, and even if they were, each drive would take 2-3 days, and after the tour is over, the van would need to return, driving for 10 days straight from Japan Sea back to continental Europe. This makes any car-based routing financially unfeasible and honestly a little bit insane.

The solution was simple — night trains! There are plenty of passenger trains going back and forth via Trans-Siberian Railway. As a TM I often booked whole cabins of 4 beds, few for the crew and one for the equipment. Since the passports were required for each reservation, I booked the equipment cabin under the fake names, who 'did not show up' for the ride, and then took over the cabin right after the train departed.

This is the tour I put together for an American artist back in 2018. It consists of flights, buses, bullet trains during the day and long-distance passenger trains during the night:


Advancing is the next step I take after venting my routing frustrations. It's the most time-consuming and monotonous part — gathering detailed information about each concert: the day's schedule, addresses, contacts, Wi-Fi passwords, and much more. In my template, there are currently 22 such positions to fill. Multiply that by 30 shows... well, you get the idea. For some major tours, my advancing correspondence easily exceeds 2,000 emails, but I clearly understand there's no limit for this.

One of my favourite questions during advancing is about the presence of stairs at the venue. Nowhere else do people lie so creatively as they do on this topic. 😄

Many bands and even tour managers underestimate this part of the work, naively assuming that everything will be in its place because everyone involved in the industry has been around for a while and knows what they're doing. I disagree here as well because after weeks of tedious email exchanges, I arrive at the venue, and all that's left for me to do is lie down on the couch because everything is already taken care of. A friend of mine became a tour manager and was really happy that the Agent would handle advancing for him, saving him hours of work. Here's a message I received from him last night:

Sharing information about advancing and routing with the whole team is essential, and there is a wide range of software available for this purpose. Most of these options look as old and as ugly as mammoth turd. Among the more reasonable choices is Mastertour. However, I found that Mastertour had limitations, so I created a million meticulous Google templates of my own.

Somehow I figured people tend to resist forming new habits by using new apps. So I injected my work into the instruments they've already been using for years — popular messengers like WhatsApp and Telegram, or just regular calendar.


Merchandise is often a part of tour preparation that tour managers are not always involved in, but they should be. I've been in situations where too much merch was printed, and I had to rush to send whole unpacked boxes from the cargo terminal at the airport just an hour before my own flight. Or, on the contrary, too little was printed, resulting in lost profits, or additional requests had to be sent to the printing company during the tour.

The Artist is always responsible for designing the merch — it's an extension of their creative vision beyond the music. Eye-catching merch sells well, while poorly designed merch doesn't. Some designs make T-shirts fly off the shelves for $40, while others can't even be sold at production price.

Audiences at concerts have varying incomes, so I always prefer to have merchandise in several price categories available. This includes buttons and stickers (cheap), T-shirts and physical music (average), and hoodies and long sleeves (expensive). This increases the chances that a person will eventually buy something. Some artists I know put together a box-set of all their vinyl records for the tour and sold it for almost $150, which was only $10 cheaper than buying the records individually. They sold out during the first four shows of the tour. This shows that there is not only a lower price threshold for purchases but also an upper one.

Guessing how much merch you'll sell during a tour is nearly impossible. However, gathering statistics from previous trips helps you realize the scale — it could be 20 T-shirts per show or 200. Leftovers are inevitable, but it's better if there are just enough to fit into an extra suitcase, as sending a hundred kilograms of cargo to another continent can be quite costly. After the tour, any remaining merch can be sold through the Artist's online store or Bandcamp. The one type of merch I always try to get rid of is items with printed tour dates. They make sense to buy for people who attended the concerts, but post-tour, they don't sell very well online.

Merch used to be a cash-only affair, even though credit cards were already in use. This happened because, for example, an American artist touring in Europe would need to establish a legal entity in Europe and link a terminal to it. After crossing any border, their terminal would simply stop working. Over time, several startups emerged that allowed processing transactions from multiple territories at once (e.g., EU + Switzerland + Norway + UK + Ireland), taking their own fees and transferring the rest to a bank account. In the US, this is Square and atVenu, while in Europe, I used myPOS and SumUp. With these startups on the scene, card payments became standart at merch tables.

Not all card terminals are created equal — I prefer devices that have both cellular and Wi-Fi capabilities. Mobile networks may not work if the Venue is in a basement or deep within a multi-story concrete building, and local Wi-Fi networks often fail to function, regardless of their signal strength. So, having both options ensures flexibility (e.g., one can use the phone's hotspot to share Wi-Fi since mobile operators sometimes use different towers than the terminal itself).

Depending on the size of the tour and expected sales, different people can handle the merch table. For small concerts, an existing member of the team who isn't busy during the show, like a driver or tour manager is enough. In my case, I often handled not only inventory but sales too. For medium-sized volumes, it's good to have a dedicated person for sales (in this case, as a tour manager, I would focus more on inventory and monitor daily numbers). For larger tours where sales are best counted in boxes rather than individual items, a third party company may be responsible. Their employees travel in a separate vehicle with a trailer, handle everything from start to finish, and don't interact with the main touring party.

In the US, some Venues insist to sell Artist's merchandise themselves. In my opinion, this is a flawed practice because they VERY often hire completely untrained people. This can lead to poor organization, mistakes in counting, and, as a result, significant discrepancies in the final accounting. Sometimes, these people even struggle with basic logic. For example, at one concert, venue staff decided to count white T-shirts by spreading them on a beer-soaked floor.

T-shirt throne


While the tour manager is busy with their tasks, the Artist and Manager are also working diligently. Artists rehearse and prepare their tour setlist. This is a lengthy and meticulous process, somewhat similar to selecting tracks for an album — everything needs to be finely tuned, with interludes, stage movements, and even microphone commentary. Holding the audience's attention for 1-1.5 hours is very challenging. You can probably recall concerts where you wanted to leave after just a couple of tracks and others where an hour flew by in the blink of an eye. This difference is achieved not only through your mood at that very moment and Artist's natural charisma but also through hours of meticulous preparation.

If a tour includes both concerts and festivals, a separate setlist is needed for each. Festival time slots are often between 30-60 minutes, while concert slots are typically 45-90 minutes.

In most cases, the same setlist is performed at all shows, including encores. This makes it easier to remember the song order and reduces the risk of mistakes during a hectic tour. Sometimes, the use of the same set is dictated by technical constraints, such as when a backing track in Ableton is a single continuous track that can't be interrupted, slowed down, or cut. Instrumental bands have more room for improvisation, but playing an unrehearsed song always carries the risk of messing up in front of the audience.

In this post, I won't go into detail about the Artist's work, but I don't want to downplay its significance. Artist has only one job — to deliver unforgettable and engaging performances. It's an enormous effort that consumes a lot of energy. The rest of the team is hired and paid to handle everything else.

Artists also stay in direct contact with the Tech Crew, who prepares the equipment according to the specifications, procures components, and so on.

Tech crew on duty

Meanwhile, the Manager books plane tickets (if the tour doesn't start in the Artist's hometown), transportation, and prepares accompanying documents.

Transport can vary depending on the artist's needs and available budget. Triple-A (AAA) artists typically fly, and their team travels on large tour buses (nightliners). Larger artists travel in a nightliner together with everyone else. Next come larger vans with trailers, without trailers, and so on, all the way down to regular cars.

custom interior of Mercedes Sprinter

Custom options are also available on the market, where vehicles originally not designed for living are manually adapted for tours. For example, camper vans, sleeper buses, and Bandwagons (converted trucks). What to travel in is a matter of taste and budget, but it's important to remember that no official service will repair any broken custom parts.

The Manager also decides how the support band will be arranged.

There may be no support at all, but it's usually preferred because it's beneficial for everyone. The opening acts get the chance to reach a new audience, Promoters sometimes can charge more for tickets, the Venue bar stays open longer, and the main Artist takes the stage in front of an already warmed-up and impatient audience.

The support act can be either punctual (a different local artist in each city) or direct. Direct support is an artist who participates in all the tour dates of the main Artist. Direct artists can travel independently from the main group or alongside them on the same bus (for instance, to share expenses). They can have their own technical team and a separate tour manager, or utilize the resources of the main Artist. Of course, this comes at a cost.

I've never had to travel as a tour manager for the warm-up act. Such tours are specifically aimed at acquiring a new audience, and in all other aspects, the existence of a direct support can be quite mundane. They don't make much money (since people are buying tickets to see the main Artist), and get whatever merch space is left. The only potential upside might be a more flexible schedule (I'll touch on this later). However, this doesn't mean that warm-up tours are inherently unprofitable. With a well-curated product line, merch sales can easily balance out the lower fees.


I'm sure you've been eagerly waiting for this section. After all, what fun is there without a hefty folder of cool, colorful forms, am I right? ;)

In addition to the spreadsheets for advancing, the tour manager and Manager also work with a pile of documents to ensure all parts of the tour move without hiccups. After all, every missed concert means significant losses.

First and foremost, there are insurances — for people, transportation, and musical instruments.

Then, there are visa matters. For Europeans performing in the USA, you need to obtain the lengthy and expensive O1/O2 or P visas. For U.S. citizens performing at European festivals, you sometimes need TAJA1 certificates. And for both groups traveling to the UK, you need CoS and so on. The more nationalities in the band and the more countries on the tour, the scarier the visa matrix looks. There's no room for error or "hoping for the best" here because there are no replaceable people in a touring crew.

As a tour manager with a Russian passport, I'm very much used to visa barriers. But after the invasion of Ukraine, many EU countries not only stopped issuing any type of visa to Russians but also banned them from entering their territories. At the time of writing this post, this includes Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, and Poland. This ban significantly complicated my work. For days on end, I read resolutions from each of these countries, which stated that entry was prohibited through non-Schengen terminals at major airports. But entry from the territory of another EU country was allowed. However, to avoid tempting fate and despite having a non-tourist type of visa (mine was cultural), I diligently avoided any passport controls because they can occur within the Schengen Zone as well. For example, Czech Republic occasionally introduce border control with Slovakia in order to close the illegal immigration corridor to the rest of the EU. Therefore, the route from Budapest to Prague, which usually goes through Bratislava (marked in blue), I always directed through "Hungary – Austria – Czech Republic" (marked in gray) because Czechs don't have controls with Austria. As a result, we spent an extra hour but removed the risk of losing the tour manager. 😄

Documents are also required for equipment. If the artist is traveling with just a couple of guitars, there's not much to worry about. However, more often than not, a bunch of mysterious black cases that pique the natural, HUMAN interest of any customs officer are sent on the journey.

The customs' job is to collect taxes on everything exceeding the personal duty-free quota (remember the limits on alcohol, tobacco, cash, and personal items?). So, if musical equipment with a total value of, let's say, €70,000 enters a country, the officer must be sure that it won't be sold within the country. In this case, the import tax must be calculated from the total value.

Please meet the one and only — the ATA Carnet. It's issued by the Chamber of Commerce in the country where the equipment is coming from and regulates the temporary import and export procedure. It lists absolutely all the technical equipment with their values and serial numbers that will travel through all the countries on the tour.

Here's how it works: a list of 64 items goes into the country, a stamp is placed upon entry. Then the same 64 items leave, and a stamp is placed upon exit. If, upon exit, there are fewer items than on entry, it means something was sold within the country, and import tax is calculated based on the difference in values.

ATA Carnets aren't always a perfect solution, though. For example, if a guitar pedal breaks during a show and a new one is bought, what do you do with the old one? Throw it away? Then the serial number of the new pedal won't match the one in the carnet. Keep it? Then you have two pedals, which is also a violation. But in my experience, customs officers only half-heartedly check the total number of cases without actually opening them.

Carnets have been in use for quite a while, but as it turns out, not all customs officers know how to use them. For instance, in the UK, which just recently left the EU, they're randomly checked, and if you're going there for the carnet process yourself, you often have to wait for the shift manager because the junior staff simply don't understand what kind of paperwork you're handing them.
But the funniest incident happened to me in Turkey. I searched for the right office at the airport for quite a while, and it turned out to be a tiny windowless room where an officer was sitting, feet up on the table, smoking a cigarette. He perked up quite a bit when I entered, probably because guests didn't frequent his smoky lair too often. He didn't speak a word of English and, for some reason, kept babbling nonsense in Russian back to me. With a restrained smile, I handed him the carnet. He sat down, spread out the papers, and started searching something on his computer. The monitor was partially turned towards me, and at some point, forms started appearing on the screen that eerily resembled my own. The guy was actually Googling how to fill out my carnet!!!

And lastly, about documents — merch. The logic of customs in this case is the same as with equipment — "if you sold t-shirts, pay the taxes!". It's easier to order merch in the territories where the artist is touring to avoid crossing borders unnecessarily. For example, for a U.S. tour, printing merch within the U.S., and for Europe (as it's a single economic zone) — in its eastern part, where production costs are lower.

If you do have to cross the border with merch, you can behave in different ways since no official document like the ATA Carnet is there for hoodies and vinyl records. You can hope to "get away with it" and cross without consequences. But if you get caught, the consequences can be quite severe. Over the years, I've developed the following approach — it's better to show everything, and let the customs officers decide what to do with you. I often start charming them with my famous cool stories about concerts, and they soften up and let me go. Sometimes they just ask to sign some forms — the customs process depends not only on the rules of the country but also on the individual customs officer with the power over mortal fates.

Borders to Turkey, between the U.S. and Canada, between the EU and Switzerland/Norway, the EU and the UK, the UK and Ireland, are all to be crossed in completely different ways. To save you from a wall of text, I'll refrain from going into detail here. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out!

If you're already tired of reading at this point, I'd like to remind you that we've only been talking about the preparation part. When the brain is working at full throttle, and the last overdue documents are landing in the inbox, it's finally time to pack the bags and embark on that long-awaited journey!


It's good when all participants arrive in the first city 1-2 days before the start. This allows to avoid schedule shifts like flight delays/cancellations, unforeseen transportation difficulties, mitigates jet lag, and provides an opportunity to simply get to know each other better over a glass of beer. After this calm before the storm, all the weeks will merge into one endless Groundhog Day, and these cheerful rosy-cheeked guys will come out of it as completely different people.


There are only 24 hours in a day, and that's incredibly frustrating.

Every touring day consists of three main parts — being at the Venue, traveling, and sleep. Any other desires can only be accommodated in the remaining intervals.

The common arrival time at the Venue is 3:00 PM, so a typical touring day in a minivan looks like this:

From 3:00 PM to 1:00 AM, everyone is at the Venue, then the van goes to the hotel, everyone checks in, sleeps, wakes up in the morning, and drives to the next city to start unloading equipment again by 3:00 PM. And so it goes every day.

For long distances, where a "day off" is allocated, the driving takes the whole day. And if the routing is bad and there's no day off, then everyone... JUST DOESN'T SLEEP! 😄

You can't remove the words from the song — staying at the Venue and the duration of travel can hardly be changed. In essence, the only thing that can be trimmed is sleep. As a tour manager, I often encountered such situations. Sometimes I tried to close the merch sales earlier or had the opening act check in ahead of the headliner, so everyone could get some sleep and still arrive on time. But in most cases, unfortunately, sleep was just a dream for us!

If the Artist is traveling on a large bus (nightliner), the schedule looks different, as everyone sleeps on the bus, and after the show, it immediately departs for the next city. This is very convenient, as there's no need to stare out of the window for 6 hours; you wake up in a new place every day. In this case, the driver's schedule and the rest of the group are completely opposite — when the Artists and the crew wake up, the driver goes to sleep in the nearest hotel and meets with the team after the concert when he needs to take the wheel again. With such a setup, everyone has (oh dear Lord) FREE TIME:

It's clear that the bus option wins in all respects, but such services, be sure, cost money, which not every Artist can afford. For many bands, sleeping in motels and daytime transfers are the only suitable option.

If there's an abundance of funds, the schedule can take on the most whimsical forms.

I've heard the rumor several times that the members of Slipknot don't like each other very much and don't spend any time together. They fly to each concert on separate flights and drive their own cars right to the stage. They perform and then go their separate ways — their only obligation is to be at point X at the appointed time and play the set. I thought this was excessive until I saw with my own eyes, in the artist area at Hellfest during their performance, a row of black business-class Mercedes cars in the parking lot.

To calculate travel time, I use Google Maps Predictions. This allows me to avoid wracking my brain trying to guess when everyone is going to their cabin houses or to avoid getting caught in Sunday roadwork on some narrow, minor road. You enter the date, the time you need to be at the Venue, and get a time range back. Works like a clock!

Another advantage of traveling on a nightliner is that it travels on empty nighttime roads, which saves a lot of time, especially when entering large cities like London or Paris.

Breakfast takes place at the hotel or within a couple of hours after leaving it. Lunch is on the road. So... fastfood, fastfood, and fastfood again! A tight schedule doesn't allow for extended stops in cities to look for proper cafes. Choosing them based on Google photos is always a gamble. Therefore, 95% of all stops happen right on the highway, meaning at fast-food restaurants. On one hand, the belly and cheeks won't say "thanks!", but on the other hand, you know exactly what you're getting, and minimize the risk of food poisoning. After all, there's nothing worse than having diarrhea on tour.

If there are problems upon arrival at the Venue, they need to be urgently resolved before the doors open to the public. And when the doors are open, it's almost time to go on stage. Then it's straight to the hotel to sleep. So if you didn't have a proper lunch, you risk only seeing calories the next day. Therefore, I often purposely overeat, otherwise, if I get hungry, I become unbearable. The outcome of this tactic is immediately seen on the scales.

Schedule at the Venue:

As mentioned earlier, one of the few advantages of being an opening act is the more democratic schedule. As seen in the image above, the opening act arrives at the venue later, eats, performs immediately, and can then be free. The headliner, on the other hand, is mostly just killing time.

On Fridays, Saturdays, and holidays, some venues (usually with a capacity of up to 1,000 people) may schedule evening and late-night events back-to-back to maximize profits. In this case, after finishing the performance around 11:00 PM, the Artist crew needs to pack up the stage and leave the building (including the dressing rooms) by midnight. Often, this is physically impossible to achieve, and the last cases are rolled out through the doors as they are already letting in the next wave of people. In 99% of cases, the late-night events are parties with electronic DJs, hence the name: "disco load-out." You've just played a metal concert, and as you're rolling drum cases, you encounter a river of testosterone-fueled drunk dudes in tight white shirts and screaming girls in mini-skirts and high heels. Very interesting transition!

If the Artist is playing a festival, the schedule shifts a few hours earlier or later. Festivals often open their doors to visitors around noon, and that's when the performances begin. In this case, the band needs to arrive at the spot in the morning, but the sequence of actions is roughly the same, just shifted by a few hours.


Every night, the entire tour group needs a place to sleep.

If the Artist is traveling on a nightliner, everyone sleeps right on it, and the driver gets a room in a hotel nearby the Venue.

In the case of a minivan, beds need to be booked for everyone. Depending on the budget, these accommodations can vary widely, from bunk beds behind the stage to five-star hotels and villas.

There's a thing called "rooming list", which is a list of all individuals with their room assignments. Standard hotel room types include twin/queen (two separate beds) and double/king (one large double bed). In my experience, Artists often try to maximize cost savings by sharing twin rooms. For example, six people might share three twin rooms. However, if the Artist desires comfort (and there's a budget for it) or if the tour group has an odd number of people, king rooms are also booked.

A standard American queen room typically has two beds. In Europe, these rooms are often called twin rooms, and the beds themselves are twice the size.

The rooming list can change during the tour to prevent psychological fatigue among the crew members. However, in well-established bands, people often prefer to bunk with those they are comfortable with and trust in terms of quietness and personal hygiene.

After checking in at a hotel, I always take a photo of everyone's room number. This can be helpful if someone oversleeps an early departure, allowing me to quickly locate the room and GENTLY wake up the latecomer.

Hotels can be booked in advance or on the fly during the tour. Each approach has its pros and cons depending on the location. As a tour manager, I prefer to book in advance with a free cancellation option. This helps save money and reduces the chances of running into problems like finding all the hotels within a 20km radius of the city center fully booked due to a major sporting event.

In the US, where domestic tourism is highly developed, supply often exceeds demand. I once toured with local Artists who would book accommodations on the same day they needed them, and it worked just fine. In Europe, this strategy wouldn't work as smoothly.

Based on the contract, accommodation expenses are either paid by the Artist or must be provided by the Promoter. I used to prefer delegating this task to the Promoters, mainly to save my own time. However, after some experiences where Promoters placed us in terrible accommodations full of bed bugs, made mistakes with the dates, forgot to pay, or provided double rooms instead of twins (forcing us to share a bed), my perspective shifted the other way.

Hotels can be booked by the tour manager, the Artist's manager, or the Artist themselves. For large tours, there are specialized travel agents who know good hotels in safe areas and can secure rooms at discounted rates.

Where to stay overnight is decided individually for each group. If the hotel is in the city center, you don't need to travel there after the concert, but it will be more expensive and might present safety or parking challenges. Finding parking for a van + trailer in the center of any major city can be nearly impossible. If it's outside the city, along the highway, it will be cheaper, but forget about any post-show nightlife; you'd have to pack up and leave right away.

Well, we've covered accommodation! Now, finally, it's time for some incredible stories on my favorite topic.


The main feature that people outside the industry rarely fully grasp is that everything in a tour must run strictly on schedule. It cannot be disrupted under any circumstances. And this has nothing to do with the tour manager's pedantry — it's a technical necessity.

For example, you're traveling from city A to city B, and you got a flat tire. If you don't have a spare tire for $100, you might wait for service for several hours. This means canceling one show and losing several thousand dollars. If the problem is more serious and you need to go to a repair shop, pray it's not a Sunday. Such repairs can take several days.

Let's say your documents or a laptop with music files got stolen. Getting an emergency passport through an embassy takes at least a few days. But as with long car repairs, the formula "number of days spent = number of canceled shows" doesn't apply here.

Cities on a tour are often far apart, and the routing is planned to be constantly on the move, minimizing downtime. This means that each successive show is "farther" from your current location by 300-400 kilometers daily. In other words, an unplanned stop of just 2-3 days, with rare exceptions, can mean canceling the entire endeavor — it's physically impossible to catch up with such a distance. And this could result in losing tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars.

That's why in any tour, I become an absolute freak when it comes to safety. Sometimes people even laugh at my paranoia, apparently not realizing the potential real-world consequences.

1. Thefts

Any venue is a hot spot for thieves. Drunk people leave their personal belongings in corners and forget about them. The backstage area with backpacks is not always tightly guarded, and there's often nobody there during the performance. Back in the days of Forest Booking in St. Petersburg, I had the chance to watch several security camera recordings in venues, and I was surprised at how different theft in real life is from what I've seen in movies or cartoons. The whole process takes a maximum of 2-3 seconds — a person enters, doesn't look around or dig through things, just takes and leaves. That's why I always assign a separate security guard to the backstage area or lock it up. There's no point in going back and forth to check if everything's okay.

Also, any self-respecting thief knows that an inconspicuous van parked next to the venue likely belongs to the artists. Just like in the Cinderella story, but in reverse, at midnight, it turns from a pumpkin into a carriage, filling up with expensive equipment.

Equipment in the trailer. Tetris level: GOD

Rule number 1 on tours is never to park overnight at the venue. It's the first place thieves will look, there are no cameras, and it's often far from the main human traffic areas, usually due to noise complaints — in industrial zones, etc. A potential thief might not even know about the concert, just walk by the venue at night, see a van, and get INTERESTED.

However, it doesn't mean that parking anywhere else will necessarily save you from trouble.

In 2017, Perturbator had two synthesizers stolen from the back seat in San Francisco, with the thief breaking the window. The van was parked overnight at a hotel with a fence, cameras, and 24-hour security. In the end, the artist borrowed similar synths from fans and continued the tour.

Rule number 2: Do not store equipment in vehicles with windows. The theft process in this case takes a maximum of 2 minutes: break in, grab, and leave. Equipment should be stored in a metal trailer with a heavy lock that can't be quickly cut through. No one will bother to drag a circular saw to it in the middle of the night.

Anything valuable is always taken from the van to the hotel for the night, and the windows must be curtained. As I mentioned earlier, thieves don't always plan ahead. Sometimes they walk by at night out of idle curiosity, look through the window, see a backpack or a laptop on the seat, and that's it, you're left cleaning up broken glass in the morning and cursing your guts out.

In 2021, a good colleague of mine forgot his backpack in the car. This happened in Liège, Belgium. Overnight, the car was broken into. Among the items in the backpack was his passport, which he needed to enter the UK within 24 hours. The entire British leg of the tour was on the verge of cancellation because he was the driver, and none of the artists knew how to drive on the left side of the road. My colleague went to the police, but it's essential to understand that no insurance and no police will help you recover your stuff within just a few hours of the theft. He had dealt with thieves before and figured that they would most likely dispose of his backpack, considering it extra weight. So, circling blocks within a 300m radius of the theft site, he did indeed find his backpack in one of the dumpsters. And in it was his passport, which, by sheer luck, was in a side compartment.

Rule number 3: Passports must be on the body. I always carry mine in the inner pocket of a fanny pack, which I only take off at night. Any stolen equipment can be bought, borrowed from the opening act, rented, or, at worst, not used. Losing passports during an international tour means the end of the tour.

In November 2018, the folks from Kero Kero Bonito had their van broken into in San Francisco as well. Apart from equipment, thieves took passports, which already had visas for my shows in St. Petersburg and Moscow at the time. The band managed to obtain emergency temporary documents at the UK embassy and finish the American leg of the tour. But they had to reschedule the Russian shows for nearly a year because they had to complete all their planned tours, return to London, wait for new passports to arrive, and apply for visas again.

I have never personally encountered break-ins or thefts. I always exist in a state of mild paranoia on tour and try to spot security vulnerabilities before they are exploited by someone else. The United States and Canada worry me the most in this regard. There are well-known issues with homelessness and street drug use, and, oddly enough, according to statistics, my artist friends are more likely to have their equipment stolen there, especially on the West Coast.

Once, I was touring the United States, and we had a day off in San Diego, California. We parked at the hotel and went about our business. Suddenly, we saw a man through the window who confidently headed towards our trailer in broad daylight, carrying a hefty steel crowbar. The parking lot was almost empty, as guests usually returned to the hotel in the evening. It was barely noon, and the sun was shining brightly. His gait was unmistakable, and after several months of traveling around the United States, I could easily tell that the guy was strung out on crack. We rushed out onto the street, waving our arms, shouting, and calling the police. Caught off guard, he quickly assessed the situation and fled the scene before the first patrol car could arrive.

Rule number 4: If you witness a theft, do not engage the thief directly. In most cases, these are drug addicts who need money for the fix. Often, they are in withdrawal and don't realize what they are doing. In their baggy pants, they could have anything from needles, screwdrivers, and knives to firearms. No equipment is worth the lives and well-being of tour participants. Dying for a synthesizer is quite foolish.

It's also essential to remember that theft doesn't only involve equipment. Merchandise tables get stolen from too, and quite frequently! I'll never understand the logic behind such actions – why steal from an artist you came to see?! But unfortunately, discrepancies during inventory checks happen. They steal from the boxes, right off the table, and even at night during trailer loading if a box happens to be left unattended in the parking lot. When we were selling socks, different people inexplicably kept stealing a single sock. Who on earth would need just one sock?! However, merchandise thefts don't incur significant losses, and they can be easily prevented with the vigilance of the merchandise person and the right placement of boxes, making them out of easy reach.

One more thing regarding stolen equipment. Obviously, it's not stolen for the purpose of comfortably furnishing one's own music studio. Within 2-3 days, the items often surface on local websites, similar to Craigslist, at laughable prices. This sometimes allows to catch the thief quickly and recover some of the gear they hadn't managed to sell. But in most cases, it's a lost cause because every day you're moving 300-400 km away from the scene of the incident, and can no longer influence anything.

An additional advantage of traveling in a large tour bus is that at night, it's on the road, and during the day, the artists hang out in it instead of a hotel. So it watched after at all times.

How else can you reduce the likelihood of theft? As I mentioned earlier, preventing illness is easier than treating it. If there are no valuable items in the car, then there's nothing to steal. And if there are valuables, it's better if they can't be easily seen. Avoid parking in high-crime areas etc...

Although the issue of security is crucial, you also need to find compromises between the effort/money invested and the result. For example, unloading the entire trailer into the hotel's storage room every night is simply not worth it.

A sad scene in the morning at the hotel exit: a parking lot with a fence, shattered glass on the asphalt. Our van was parked just two blocks away. New Orleans, Louisiana.

Insurance is a good thing, but in a tour, there's often no time to wait for a police report and submit it to the insurance company. Money doesn't come back quickly, and replacing stolen items usually needs to happen by the evening of the same day. Therefore, you need fast, simple, effective, and preferably cheap preventive measures.

The first thing that comes to mind is good locks. External wheel and steering wheel locks can be used. For trailers, there are semi-spherical locks that fit snugly against the door. They are challenging to cut with bolt cutters (due to their wide radius) or pry open with a crowbar.

The second is alarm systems. There are simple motion detectors that can be placed in the vehicle cabin and trailer at night and send a loud signal to a phone if motion is detected when it shouldn't. The key here is not to go rushing to the parking lot at night but to shout aggressively from the window (see rule number 4).

The third is tracking. Even if your items get stolen, the police can quickly trace them. The undisputed favorite in this regard is the Apple AirTag. For Android, there are similar devices like TILE, but they require a specific app, whereas AirTags are automatically tracked by all nearby iPhones. These tiny friends can be placed at the bottom of equipment cases so that if a thief suspects their presence, they won't be able to access them quickly.

But even if the tour group takes all necessary precautions, they won't be protected from those who are determined to rob them for real. And now, it's time for the wildest story:

In January 2023, my friends from Magic Sword had their final concert of the tour in Seattle, Washington (also on the West Coast, haha). Their home state of Idaho was nearby, so they decided to head in that direction and spend the night on the road. When they came out in the morning, the parking spot was empty.
They called 911, and the police came quickly. "Sorry, guys, we are defunded, and only have resources for investigating serious crimes. Your vehicle is also registered in another state, we won't have time to deal with this". The officers looked at the empty spot, shrugged sympathetically, and left.
For the artists, this meant the end of their creative work. Their own van, their own trailer, all their equipment, and all the remaining merchandise were stolen. By the most conservative estimates, the loss exceeded $50,000.
When I met them in the summer of that same year, they told me the whole story. These were professional robbers who decided not to mess around and took everything at once. They were either at the concert itself or near the venue, observing which equipment was being unloaded and loaded into the trailer. After that, they followed the artists all the way to the hotel, and the distance didn't deter them. At night, they lock-picked the driver's door, hotwired the van and left. Some time after the incident, a local sheriff called the artists and said he had found the car. The rear door of the trailer had been cut with an angle grinder around the lock, and inside — nothing. It's unclear whether these were the same thieves or if they had emptied the trailer, abandoned the vehicle, and later some drug addicts got in. Whoever it was, they put the car through an off-road derby. The car was beyond repair. In the empty trailer, crack pipes were lying around.
The story ended with a successful fundraising campaign among fans, and the group managed to get back on their feet and tour again. None of the equipment was ever found.

2. Transportation
Many people think that the most important person on tour is the Artist. But if you look closer, a mistake on the Artist's part might result in a single concert going poorly. It happens. A mistake from the Tech Crew generally leads to the same outcome. From the tour manager's side, it could mean the band is late and everyone is more tired than they should be.

However, if a mistake is made by the person behind the wheel, it can be the end of everything, quite literally. That's why, deep down, despite the counterintuitive nature of this idea, I believe that the most crucial member of any tour group is the driver.

Often, the person who has a driver's license simply becomes the driver. A standard Class B license is required for a van, and in the United States/Canada, you can drive with it even if you're towing a trailer (in Europe, you'd need to add the BE category).

In Europe, where a separate category of license is needed for towing a trailer, we often traveled without one and became experts in playing "Tetris" with the gear.

Nightliners, of course, are driven by specially trained individuals.

In my understanding of a professional driver, aside from many years of commercial experience, what sets them apart is the ability to adapt their driving style to the group's needs. I worked with just one such person, and we traveled together for two tours. Initially, he would jerk the van between lanes in traffic and at stoplights, disturbing the sleep of those in the back. I gently pulled him aside, asked to drive differently, and for the rest of the tour, his driving style changed. Literally an hour after our conversation, the van's electronics displayed a star on the panel for perfect driving, and we laughed that anything is possible if one really wants it.

The driver is not Superman and gets tired just like, if not more than, other tour participants because his shift is the longest and most stressful – the road.

In an ideal tour, I would want the driver to only drive, handle parking, and oversee the vehicle's technical condition. But in reality, drivers often take on other tasks – assisting with load-in, stage construction, and sometimes even helping with merch.

I do my best to schedule everything in a way that allows the driver to get enough sleep. Any other member of the tour can "catch up" on sleep on the way to the gig.

If the driver is in a hurry, I try to immediately stop this behaviour, asking them to drive according to signs and speed limits, to be fully focused on the road. After all, if we're running late, it's not their fault, but mine — due to poor schedule planning.

If there was a long drive, and there's another one tomorrow, I send the driver to the hotel to sleep. Sometimes this has to be enforced because the driver wants to help at the show, but I tactfully remind them that their role is different, and we only need them fresh and well-rested. If a hotel room ends up unoccupied (for example, in a tour group of 7 people, with 3 twins and 1 king room), the driver always gets own room.

Every day, the tour group has to cover 300-400 kilometers, or more. And there can be as many days as needed. Weeks and months!

As mentioned earlier, I wrote about an Agent who sets dates based on the question "can you physically make this drive or not?" Unfortunately, this is a common practice, and Agents, being unfamiliar with touring, don't hesitate to push drivers beyond all reasonable limits. Regulations governing the maximum number of driving hours for passenger cars don't exist. However, they do exist for trucks! After several near-accident situations due to driver fatigue, I decided to apply trucking rules to all my tours. I won't agree to anything less, and if the routing doesn't align with these rules, I'll reject it. Life and health are more important!

In 2015, the nightliner of the American metal band The Ghost Inside was involved in an accident, colliding with a semi-truck. Most of the passengers suffered injuries of varying severity, except for the drummer, Andrew, who had to be airlifted to the hospital. He had torn tendons, shattered bones, and multiple nerve injuries, eventually leading to the amputation of his leg. For a metal drummer, this was undeniably the end of his career. However, fate had other plans. His physical therapist happened to be a former drummer himself, and their shared goal became Andrew's return to performing. After several years of recovery and some technological innovations, The Ghost Inside returned to the stage. I saw Andrew in the artist area at Hellfest 2023 – his metallic leg once again served as a reminder that life on the road during a tour is far from a leisurely beach walk. The most chilling part of this story, for me, is that the accident occurred at night while all the passengers were asleep, and both drivers died in the head-on collision. It was never determined which one of them had fallen asleep at the wheel.
Nighliner of The Ghost Inside after the crash

The vehicle, much like the person driving it, undergoes tremendous stress. It's nothing like the typical city driving because when it has to cover 25,000 kilometers in just 60 days, it's a completely different story.

The vehicle will try to break down; that's normal. The driver and tour manager's task is to take preventive measures to minimize the likelihood of sudden breakdowns.

With each new rental, the rental company is obliged to provide the vehicle immediately after a full service centre inspection. I never trust these inspections and prefer to check everything myself from scratch. In one of the tours, just a week after starting, we had windshield wipers break, a step malfunction, a dead battery, a deflated inner tire, a rusty hitch breakage (thankfully, in the parking lot), worn-out brake pads, and the keys for locking the doors hardly worked. What kind of inspection was that?!

Regular oil changes, tire pressure checks, and having spare parts for the vehicle and trailer can be cost-effective measures to minimize basic risks. However, you must also listen to the vehicle, especially in the first few days of renting, and take care of it because, for the next few weeks, it's your shared home.

In 2018, we were driving on the Atlanta to Orlando route in Florida. For some reason, random drivers were honking and flashing their headlights at us. One of them pulled up alongside us and was pointing to the rear of our van. We pulled over and got out to see what was going on. The rear axle of the trailer on the left side was glowing red hot, emitting smoke. It seemed that the protective cap had come off, and all the lubricant had vented. We uncoupled the trailer, called a tow truck, transferred some of the equipment into the van, and continued to our destination to make it to the concert. Our sound engineer stayed behind to guard the trailer, which was taken to a service station on a tow truck. We were late, missing part of the equipment, sound engineer, and merchandise, but we still managed to play the show. The trailer was repaired. However, to this day, basic knowledge of physics troubles me. What happens when metal heats up? It expands, which means it can jam. What occurs when all the wheels on the right side are working, but the left wheel suddenly locks up? The vehicle veers sharply to the left. In the U.S., where they drive on the right side of the road, the left side is the oncoming lane. Perhaps that random driver saved seven lives that day.

If there are multiple drivers on the tour, it's essential to clearly allocate responsibilities among them. If this isn't done, due to human nature, stupid situations can arise when one assumes the other will take care of something, and vice versa. And ultimately, nothing gets done.

In that same cursed Atlanta, but another year, we were changing brake pads after detaching the trailer and driving the van to a service station. After the repair, we were driving on a large estacade on the outskirts of the city when we heard a loud crash from behind. We swerved onto the emergency lane and came to a stop. It turned out that, after the repair, neither of the drivers had secured the steel bolt that attaches the trailer to the hitch properly. Each thought the other had done it. Consequently, while driving, it came loose on some random bump, as it wasn't attached to anything. Thankfully, the safety chains, which provide additional attachment of the trailer to the vehicle, worked as they should. A big disaster was averted, but if an 800-kilogram trailer detached from us at full speed, we would have 100% killed someone. That evening, we had a serious debrief, and such situations did not recur ever again.

I always treat the driver with great care because after several expeditions where I was the only person with a license, I genuinely understand the immense fatigue and distracted attention that accumulates. The desire to hurry, to slack off, to rush, to hope. But in a tour, such words cannot even be in your vocabulary.

That's why, in all future trips with new drivers, before starting, I will definitely sit them down for 15 minutes in a room and play video compilations of the most horrific accidents. This idea might have a touch of 'A Clockwork Orange', but when you dig deeper... it's better to experience a bit of psychological discomfort at the beginning than to deal with the real consequences later. It's a free additional insurance policy, a reminder for both the driver and the entire team.

3. Health

Getting sick in general is not enjoyable, as you already know. But getting sick on tour is just dreadful, mainly because there's no quick access to a doctor.

The schedule is tightly packed, with every moment allocated between sleep, travel, and the venue. Going to the hospital is only possible during rare free hours, usually days after the problem arises.

For example, if you have a toothache, you'll have to endure it for days before you can attempt to find a dentist in a random city like Asheville, North Carolina (where you've never been before) who can see you on a specific day and during your only available hour. And also, hope that your insurance covers it. Otherwise, be prepared to pay a hefty sum!

Given these circumstances, the most common strategy, as you can imagine, is to load up on over-the-counter medications until the end of the tour or hope that it gets better on its own. I got sick once and needed antibiotics, which can't be obtained without a doctor's prescription. That was a true logistical nightmare!

Once I was at the beginning of a tour, and I caught a cold literally on the first day, probably from sitting under a world famous American AC. Having a cold on tour is terrible because everyone is traveling in a closed up space, and most likely, others will catch it too. I recovered after a week, but during the five weeks of the tour, all the members got sick one after another. By the end of the trip, I got sick again. In fact, I ended up passing my own cold in a circle to myself.

The three most common problems on tour are diarrhea, vomiting, and hangovers. All three are easier to prevent than to treat. When it comes to food, as I mentioned earlier, it's usually fast food. It's not the healthiest choice, but the consistent quality standard at a place like McDonald's reduces the likelihood of food poisoning almost to zero. As for drinking, alcohol consumption is typically moderate. Touring is often romanticized, with images of endless rivers of whiskey and empty bottles scattered in the van. However, a single bad hangover in Texas, with a six-hour drive ahead in +38°C temperatures, can be enough to put things into perspective. I've toured with people who drank heavily every day, but I can only describe their existence as "miserable." Personally, I try not to drink on performance days, at most, two beers after the show. But if it's a day off and there's no driving the next day, I can go out and have a good time.

I always pack a substantial first aid kit for the tour, knowing that I'll end up sharing half of it. My personal favorite is Loperamide, affectionately known as "butt-locker." Diarrhea on long drives not only turns an individual's life into a nightmare but also significantly affects the overall schedule. We can't stop every 15 minutes because we'd be late for the show. Adult diapers are not an option — one's not going to perform on stage wearing them. So it's tablets, tablets, and more tablets. Antihistamines, painkillers, anti-inflammatories, cold and flu tablets, stomachache relief, headache relief, and anything else you can think of.

But sometimes, health problems arise that need immediate attention. Once we were driving to Manchester, and on the highway in front of us, a car suddenly cut off, breaking the traffic rules. Our driver slammed on the brakes, narrowly avoiding a collision. One of the people on board was sleeping in the cabin without a seatbelt, so his body was relaxed and didn't react to the sudden speed reduction. In the midst of the chaos, he hit his head against the seat in front of him. The result was impaired coordination, suspected concussion, an ambulance, hospitalization, and the cancellation of the concert.

Certainly, there are less extreme situations where a visit to the doctor is still necessary as soon as possible. In such cases, I always choose to spend the time, even if it means canceling one show, rather than letting things hanging and risking the entire tour. Even if the person who is sick claims to be fine.

In the near future, I want to take courses in providing first aid. This skill can be useful in many situations, including touring.

Some large venues in the United States have a safety briefing with the tour manager before each show. During these briefings, I explain how the performance will go, whether artists will come down into the crowd, if anyone will be brought up on stage, what kind of audience to expect, details about photographer policies, and much more. In return, they show me a layout of security placement, access levels to different areas of the venue, and evacuation exits. I always feel like a very important person during these briefings. So, one day in Los Angeles, when my brain was completely fried after being on the road for 2 months, I asked the twenty guards sitting in front of me, "Guys, we bought an inflatable boat here, can you put me in it and launch me into the crowd during the last song?" Security didn't even bat an eye and replied, "Of course, we can. Any questions!" They had me sign a waiver of claims in case of damage and a $5 million insurance waiver in case I accidentally hurt someone. Then they put me in the boat and threw me into the crowd. It was the best abuse of authority in my life!

In addition to the main safety points mentioned — security, theft, car safety, and general health — there are many others. For instance, the safety of the stage equipment powered by high voltage:

Emmure vocalist Frankie Palmer gets electrocuted through faulty mic cable in Moscow

Or the marking of the edges of the stage with bright tape, which is invisible to the audience but visible to the artist. In the darkness of Venues, a dark stage can sometimes blend with the dark floor, making it unclear where one ends and the other begins. If an artist moves around a lot on stage, falling off it and breaking an arm (or neck) is not a zero-chance scenario.

Justin Bieber falls off stage

But I won't go into detail about these small issues. A little bit of healthy paranoia and common sense will help prevent most bad situations.

You can never have too much safety! Take care of yourselves!


Any tour economy consists of income and expenses. It can look very different depending on the artist and the specific territory. So, as mentioned earlier, this will be a discussion of the economy in a vacuum.

Some expenses are incurred by the manager even before the tour begins, such as plane tickets, transportation, and so on. But artists only receive income after the concerts have actually been performed.

Of course, many promoters send advance payments, but spending them is a risky business. If you've taken a deposit but then don't play the concert, you'll have to return it in full, creating a cash gap. Starting tours with a zero balance is a rather dangerous game.


There are only two sources of income: performance fees and profits from merchandise sales. These can be in digital or cash format.

Performance fees with promoters are negotiated by the Agent. In my experience, all fees were paid through bank transfers. Transfers are made to the Agent's account, who deducts the commission (8 - 20%) and sends the rest to the Artist's account. Alternatively, the transfer can go directly to the artist, and they send the Agent's commission separately. It varies.

In the United States, after the concert, I was handed a check a couple of times. It was a beautiful piece of paper with fancy handwriting and a handwritten sum that reminded me of 90s movies. However, it also surprised me that such an archaic financial instrument is still widely used. I always declined checks as I did not entirely understand how they worked. Also, carrying a bag of cash around did not sound very secure either.

Performance fees can be flat or percentage-based. Often, they are a combination of both. For example, the Artist might have a guarantee to receive a certain amount of money from the concert and a percentage of the remaining profit, split with the Promoter.

In Europe, Promoters often cover transportation, accommodation, and meals, whereas in the US and Canada, they prefer to provide just cash, expecting the artist to handle these expenses themselves.

The financial relationship between the Artist and the Manager is typically a percentage-based one. I usually consider them as one financial entity.

Advance payments from Promoters are a standard practice that helps avoid financial troubles if ticket sales are not as good as expected. These advances can range from 30% to 100% of the fee. The Promoter's profit is all ticket sales minus expenses.

I've also mentioned money from merchandise sales. The majority of these sales are done through card transactions; cash isn't used as much. Banks deduct acquiring fees from digital income, and the merchandise company deducts its commission. The rest is transferred to the Artist's account. I try to get rid of cash as soon as possible, both for security reasons and because even $2,000 in crumpled bills takes up a crazy amount of space. If there's too much cash, I go to the bank and deposit it into the Artist's account.


In the United States, tipping is a common practice, but the tips don't always go to the Artist. I'll tread carefully on this topic because this cultural norm, which is very local, isn't always intuitive to me. Personally, I only tip for good service or at least friendliness, not just on a whim.

Usually, tips are given in cash and go directly to the merch seller. In pre-pandemic tours, I would place a jar or box on the merchandise table where people would occasionally drop crumpled dollar bills. A five-dollar bill was considered a success, and a rare ten was a real celebration.

After COVID, along with the development of card-processing companies, the option to leave credit card tips emerged. This significantly changed the financial landscape of the entire tour. People buying merchandise, caught up in the concert's hype, didn't think twice and would simply tap their cards, leaving tips ranging from 5% to 20% of the purchase. Depending on the scale of sales, this could add up to hundreds or even thousands of dollars in a single night. For example, my American acquaintances told me that in one of their tours, the merchandise seller made more in tips than they did throughout the entire tour.

Here, the long-standing (centuries-old?) American culture of tipping collided head-on with common sense. It doesn't make sense for anyone selling other people's T-shirts for a few hours a day, with no expenses, to earn more than the Artist themselves. This new moral dilemma has several possible solutions, but the industry hasn't resolved it yet.


There can be as many expenses as you can imagine. There might be days without concerts (meaning no income), but there are no days without expenses. This is why tour schedules try to minimize the amount of days off. If you've ever wondered why artists play 30-40 shows without a break, this is why.

Perhaps the largest part of expenses is the salaries for the team. Sound engineers, tour managers, and drivers get paid on a weekly, daily, or per-show basis. The merchandise seller may also receive a salary, but in the US, they sometimes get only tips or a portion of them.

Depending on the specific tour, the team may also receive per diems or have their meals provided by the Artist or Promoter.

Then there are expenses related to fuel, spare parts, rental of vehicles and trailers, equipment rental, flights, ferries, hotels, merchandise production, various deliveries, and much, much more.

Expenses also depend on the country. For example, in France, there's a terrible system of toll roads, and even a short trip across several cities can easily cost $300-400 in just tolls. In North America, Scandinavia, and the UK, on the other hand, most major highways are toll-free, and their quality is much higher. The average cost of European road vignettes is around $40-50. Ugh, the French! 🤬

In the US, there's the strange practice of giving the venue 10% to 25% of merchandise sales for just providing a table and a chair. I never understood this and don't think I ever will. It's simply a robbery.


One of my responsibilities as a tour manager is to keep track of all the tour finances, and in this aspect, like with safety, I am an absolute freak.

I demand receipts for any and all purchases, no matter how small. Packs of receipts circulate in the depths of my bag along predetermined routes, eventually settling in a monstrous Google spreadsheet. Any shortfalls in merchandise sales, salary payments, and everything else are added there.

In real-time, this document shows the current tour balance, as well as the cash balance separately. I perform a control check and manually recount everything every 3 days. After the tour, I provide the Artist with the accounting down to the dollar/euro, broken down by expense categories (transport, salaries, hotels, etc.). This information is sent to the general accountant for the annual tax return.

I know all the fees, salaries, percentages, shortfalls, costs, and can assess financial risks for a problem that has just arisen on the horizon in a timely manner. The example above – buying a spare tire for $100 – would save us from canceling a concert with a fee of, say, $1,000. M-m-math!

I've had to cancel performances when the expenses were equal to or higher than the fee. Such situations usually result from poor routing.

Depending on the territory, tour managers may also have additional accounting tasks. In the US, it's common to settle with the Promoter immediately after each concert, which means sitting down every night and scrutinizing the thick cost sheets, looking for errors or extra items. In Europe, this is usually handled by the Agent.

3000$ catering budget

Europe is a territory with many currencies – in addition to the common euro and pounds, there are various crowns, forints, francs, zlotys, and many others. I always try to get rid of non-standard currency entirely before leaving the country, either by buying gas or supplies with it. This helps avoid losing money due to exchange rate differences in the future, also currency exchange offices do not accept coins. You can only toss any remaining ones into the trash after crossing the border.

But my main, and actually, the most important task is to ensure that all concerts take place no matter what. Each day on tour consists of a large number of expenses. If a concert isn't performed, there's no income from it, but the daily expenses remain unchanged – resulting in a net loss!

Such situations can lead to conflicts within the team, especially when I have to persuade people to do or not do something. Sometimes, people forget what's written in their contracts and what they're being paid for. But Alex remembers everything. The most typical example is that I control how much the drivers drink. In the moment, it really annoys them, but based on the previous parts of the post, you already know what this can lead to. There have even been times when I had to forcefully confiscate alcohol, and the drunken dispute almost turned into a fight. Thankfully, I no longer work with such people.

In summary, the basic economics of a tour look like this. For clarity, I've separated fees and merchandise money into two distinct categories, although in reality, they constitute one big money pot:

Mental health

I'm not sure if this point was worth including in this quite technical post, but without it, the picture would not be complete. I vividly remember the moment when I got inspired by the idea of touring - 10 years ago, after watching this video of Kvelertak:

Traveling with your bros, new places, alcohol, girls, and fun every night. As you have already understood from this post, reality has diverged a bit from expectations. Phew... let's go!

To begin with, for some Artists, it can be impossible to convince themselves to go on tour again. As I mentioned earlier, it's difficult for me to imagine a situation where your bus was in an accident, perhaps you lost a friend or colleague, and now, several years later, you have to force yourself to get back on such a bus. It must be a terrible feeling. However, such extreme cases are the exception. Generally Artists eagerly anticipate the tour and are happy to embark on it.

It took me years to realize that no matter how many of us are in the van, there will always be one more entity present - the Tour itself. The interests of each individual are important, but if they contradict the interests of the Tour as a whole, they take a back seat, including my own interests. This is a shared virtual layer above all of us that must continue at all costs. We are at work, and our task is not to be happy, cheerful, and healthy, although we would very much like to be. Our real task is to make the Tour successful by any means necessary.

A day on the road feels like a week. Every day, you have to talk to dozens (and sometimes hundreds, for merchandise sellers) of new people, walk around a new city, and between these cities, the world outside your window is in constant motion. Such a colossal amount of information overwhelms the brain several times over, and the days start to blend into a single stream, making it difficult to tell whether an event happened a week ago or this morning. A month-long tour ends with the feeling that a year has passed.

To prevent burnout and stay sane in the face of such overload, the brain starts to forget. I myself hardly remember anything from tours except for my immediate tasks. In the past, close people who I wasn't in regular contact with would reproach me for missing calls, etc. But it's almost impossible to explain this state in words to those who travel rarely.

You don't sleep well, eat poorly, and get tired. Most members of the group have the opportunity to nap during the journey or at the Venue, but the driver and tour manager work all day, every day. Fatigue accumulates and quickly becomes chronic.

But it doesn't matter how tired, sick, or what thoughts anyone has - if it's not critical, the tour can't stop; it can only move forward! And sometimes you literally have to force yourself out of bed in the mornings.

After a couple of weeks, in addition to everything else, people start getting tired of each other. It doesn't matter how strong the relationships were at the beginning - if you lock yourself up with even the most beloved person in the world for months, sooner or later, you'll start going crazy. The COVID lockdown is a great example of this.

In a tired and sleep-deprived team, like a puddle of gasoline, resentments and conflicts can flare up from any spark. From my experience, there were two instances where it almost came to a physical fight. So often, on a day off, everyone just silently goes their separate ways in opposite directions to "air out" a bit. Any successful concert brings euphoria and unity; any problem brings negativity and discord, and the emotional rollercoaster begins.

I can say for sure that after several long tours, I've become much more emotionally resilient and flexible in terms of personal boundaries. Just like with safety, as a tour manager, I need to understand the overall emotional dynamics in the team and try to prevent conflicts before they happen. But I must admit, I'm often not the best example of this.

This kind of emotional foundation can lead to alcohol and drug use. However, the results will be deceptive - the next day, the consequences of substance use will be added to the existing emotional state. I was lucky to tour with Artists who have already gone through that phase and mostly cope with stress through video games and books. Now, a stop at a café with salads and soups brings more joy than little funny white bags.

not a salad

Another common tour myth is the idea of "groupies," which are fan girls who want to have sex with the Artists. However, all those stories about groupies throwing bras on stage or besieging the tour bus are a thing of the distant rock 'n' roll past of the music industry.

Groupies, of course, haven't disappeared anywhere. It might seem like these are girls who only want one thing from you, and you, exhausted to death, need some external energy boost. So, why not, right?

But after several high-profile lawsuits and the rising cancelation culture, engaging in such activities has become downright dangerous. If you forget to ask for ID and verify the age, you may end up in big trouble. These days it's hard to tell if a person is 16 or 30, especially when you haven't slept for 4 days in a row and are not sober. Have you ever asked a girl for her passport before sex? Well, I not only asked but also held it up to the light to check for watermarks. Not for myself, though. Excused!

Or you might run into a beauty who initially had plans to extract fame and money - you might end up losing your career for good. Young Artists just don't think about these things. Blood is pumping, and off they go to the merchandise table, hoping to meet and take some cute fan back to their hotel room. And I understand them as humans - in school and college, all female attention usually went to the cool athletes, not the pensive guitarists. But the most terrible aspect of cancelation culture is that it can come back to haunt you years later. Today, you're playing in a tiny bar, and a beautiful girl sleeps with you just because you have a nice voice. Five years later, you're packing stadiums, and she has a complicated life situation. And what do you think happens next?

It was a revelation to me that there is a whole category of so-called "professional groupies." These girls compete with each other over the number of concerts they have passes for, exchange photos from backstage and from the artists' hotel rooms. I know about this because once I literally had to throw two underage girls out to the corridor, under the drunk screams of an Artist who sincerely believed that he was interesting to them as a person. With such girls, in the future, you can easily get a collective lawsuit with identical testimonies, where there will be little truth and a lot of numbers.

But even if intuition tells you that everything is fine, things rarely get that far. With girls, you need to have an interesting conversation, make funny jokes, give appropriate compliments, and flirt. Spend money in a bar and rent a separate hotel room. And then there's Zelda, which launches with 1 button... Not to mention that over the years, many people start families and these things just stop being interesting to them.

On the other hand, other members of the tour group aren't burdened by publicity and might try their luck. For example, the tour manager :)

At the time of several tours, I was not in a relationship, and the thought of having a little romance crossed my mind regularly. After a few weeks of sleep deprivation, the brain starts to die and desperately tries to pass on its genes to the next generation. In the tour madness, sometimes even furniture takes on strange, arousing, and sexual forms. And if I look at a chair and realize that I would theoretically have sex with it, it's time to do something about it. But when a beautiful, interesting girl actually appears in front of me and suggests continuing at the bar after the show, I am already so tired and indifferent to anything after a 16-hour workday that I just politely decline and go to the hotel to sleep. That's the whole romance!


Touring is a small life.

You sit in a bus, and for the next few months your own ecosystem is created, a bubble cruising through space and time with very little influence from the outside world.

You eat, drink, sleep, get sick, recover, win, lose, suffer, and laugh together. It's like a scientific expedition or some medieval military campaign — where the participants might not have much in common besides the goal, but have to work together to achieve it.

During this time, you'll talk to thousands of people, but none of them will truly be let inside this bubble. Hundreds of events, both good and bad, that usually happen to a person throughout a year, will be compressed into weeks. You'll develop your own memes, jokes, and lore.

When the trip ends, it can be challenging to adapt to normal life because you've lived a whole separate storyline from your family and friends. They'll never fully understand it because they simply weren't a part of it.

Touring is hard work.

Human beings aren't designed to travel 300 kilometers every day. To sit for weeks on end on a bench inside a small metal moving box. To experience all seasons and climate zones within a few days. To go in full force every evening. To fall into a new bed every night, and, if lucky, actually sleep in it, just to wake up and start all over again tomorrow.

Only a special kind if people can handle this job. Everyone has their bright and dark sides, and under such psychological pressure and exhaustion, they will inevitably come to the surface. You can know someone for years and still be surprised. Or you can tour with them for a month and figure them out entirely.

Touring is amazing.

Of course, above I talked about all kinds of horrors. But knowing them in advance, you can and should enjoy the journey. New people, new places, happy audiences, incredible energy. A sense of unity and belonging to something much much bigger.

The roar of a few thousand people is not something you can ever get used to.

You might bump into fellow touring artists at a gas station by chance and exchange high-fives. You can leave hidden treasures for your friends who played or will play at the same venue.

my new stickers - soon in every backstage in the world

But most importantly, it's about the people. It's far from certain that I'd want to see every face again even once in my life. Just as not everyone would want to see mine. However, it's precisely here that honesty, trust, and friendship begin to form.

Touring is a drug.

I come home and collapse face-down into my bed. For the first few days, I just stare at the wall, unable to believe that the world isn't moving anymore.

"God, what madness did I sign up for in the first place?!"

I don't understand how to live a regular life anymore — after all, food no longer magically appears in the backstage fridge, I have to walk to various places with my own legs, and there's no need to refuel 60 liters of gas every day.

Once, I awkwardly got stuck in a turnstile at public transportation — just forgot that I actually had to pay for it.

But when the sleep pattern is restored, and the body no longer twitches at the sound of messages, the only thought echoing in my head is...

"Well, when's the next one?"

Thank you for reading this text, let me know your opinions or questions in the comments!

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If you're looking for any crew members in any area of the world, feel free to reach out by himself [@] alexanderagri.com

And take care on the road! 🚐💨