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A lot of people love to ask me, “How was/is the tour [going]?” To be honest, it’s an experience (especially a low-budget, book-it-yourself trip) that is indescribable by words, at once a nightmare & a dream come true, a challenging & rewarding adventure that can really only be understood by someone who has been on the road as a touring musician, but it’s a lifestyle that I wish everyone could savor at least once.
In no way am I presuming that this is to be an all-inclusive list for anyone and everyone who takes their music to the road, but hopefully there is a great deal on my list that will inspire and amuse almost everyone, producing some well-deserved “Ahhhh....!”’s and gear-turning nods of understanding.
I also owe a great deal of respect and thanks to my fellow LustKillers, past, present, and future: Adam, Bryan, Chuck, Aaron, Roger, Arch, Denyss, & Mike (maybe they’ll add their own list to the comments), particularly Adam & Bryan for trusting what I call my “touring instincts” by taking me out on many an unpredictable exodus that could have never been as successful from musical prowess alone. I also highly recommend reading up on Martin Atkins, whose book and information has been indispensable to many touring musicians. If you haven’t, get yourself a copy and read his book; better yet, bring it with you on the road, as it will be stimulating, exciting, and full of great information that you’ll be able to run by your sisters/brothers-in-arms during your journey.
One more thing: Keep in mind that this is going under the usual assumption that I have a basic kit & hardware waiting for me to use at my flight destination. I have a 70’s, Ludwig Snare that I always use live & in the studio. I haven’t found a more favored snare drum, and it’s become a part of my sound. Cymbals come and go, and for me, they are what distinguish a lot of drummers, so I bring my own until I can have a spare set waiting for me in the usual point of departure for most tours. I can tune any set of toms & kick drum to my specifications when I get there.
Also, in no way do I endorse any of the brands that might be specifically named below. I grew up in the south, where we used words like, “Coke” for soda/pop and “Ziplok” for a plastic, zipper bag.
Now, on with the list!
1.) Snare Drum (carry-on)
- Snare drum
- Rubber pad to protect the bottom/snare side
- Instructions & Business card taped inside, with some zip-ties,
in the event that we get separated and it needs to be shipped.
2.) Hard, Cymbal Case (usually too big to carry-on, so it has to be checked.)
- Spare crash, maybe, and
*nested in order, from largest on the the bottom to smallest on the top, obviously
- One 22-inch, LustKillers Bass Drum Head (Yeah, it fits.)
- A business card and re-packing instructions for the TSA official,
in the event that someone will need to unpack them for inspection.
- Four extra felts
- Two plastic washers/cymbal sleeves for where the cymbals meet the stands
- One extra hi-hat clutch
I’d like to note here that since I got a hard case, I have cut my cymbal breakage rate drastically. Making sure there’s plenty of felt & rubber in between the cymbals is a must.
*Now we get to the good stuff.....
3.) Laptop Case (carry-on)
- Laptop & Charger (Obviously)
- 2-Track Digital Recorder w/ Charger & Mic (to record shows)
- iLok ("Hooray, Go-Tools!")
- Wireless Internet Card (Internet promotion from the road!)
- Two 6”, USB extensions (iLok’s “Dongle Buddy”)
- Good headphones
- Earbuds (I can’t sleep wearing the other big, clunky headphones)
- Headphone Splitter (so someone else can listen while I work)
- One, stereo 1/8” female -> stereo 1/4” male adapter for headphones
- Book Light
- Miniature Flashlight
- Ground Lift
- Old-school, plastic, film case with about four pairs of cheap, foam earplugs
- Blindfold (It’s a luxury.)
- Pens, Pencils, Sharpies
- Spare stack of Business Cards
- iPod (Phones still don't hold enough for me.)
- iPod Charger Cable
- Cell Phone AC charger (Experience has taught me not to check it in the suitcase.)
- USB -> mini USB cable (for drives and cameras)
- One small, back-up drive for laptop data
- Stereo, 1/8” male -> 2x RCA mono adapter cable
- 2x female, RCA -> 1/4” male adapters (for the above cable)
- Miniature, USB, Flash Drive
- European AC -> US AC adapter (for the mainland Europe tours)
- Car Lighter Jack -> US AC converter
(You’ll never know how you lived without it!)
- Passport, in a waterproof, zip-up case in a secret pocket
- Any written music or notes
- One brown, clasp envelope for extra music or notes
- Book to read, maybe some crosswords or Sudoku puzzles
4.) Suitcase (checked)
- One stage towel (later moved to my hardware case)
Don’t forget to cut off the tag, so you don’t scratch your face onstage.
(Yes, what The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy said is true about towels….)
- Two extra pairs of jeans
That means I usually have three pairs of jeans total, but I think that next time I can get by with two.
- One pair of pajama pants (for sleeping and laundry day)
- Ten to 14 pairs of socks (Eight is NOT enough)
- Seven pairs of underwear
- Three, long-sleeved shirts (Again: Trying two next time)
- One pair of swim trunks (Forget it & you’ll regret it!)
- Wristwatch (for international tours when my phone is off)
- Long Underwear or Tank Tops, depending on the season
- Metronome (Later moved to the hardware case)
- Calcium Ascorbate (This is my stay-healthy trick.)
- Flip Flops (for the beach or any sketchy showers)
- Gloves and a warm hat
- Toiletries Bag, Shoulder Bag, & Stick Bag (see below for contents)
Toiletries Bag (checked in the suitcase; sometimes lives in the van under the seat)
- One refillable, travel-sized bottle each of shampoo & conditioner
- One refillable, travel-sized bottle of face wash
- One refillable, travel-sized, plastic box of cotton swabs
- One filled and refillable, 2.8-ounce bottle of Fabreeze
- One bottle of facial scrub/exfoliant
- Toothbrush & Travel Toothpaste
- Nail clippers
- One (and only one) kind of hair-styling product
- One bar of soap in a plastic, travel box
- Electric Razor & AC cable (I’m not a very scruffy dude)
- One package of corn removers (Here’s to exceptional style on the hi-hat!)
- At least one spare prophylactic (for the same reason I pack guitar picks)
- Face moisturizer
- Facial sunscreen (“Wear sunscreen!...” Ask me and I’ll tell you the best kind!)
- Aftershave (mostly for those redneck showers)
Shoulder Bag / Backpack Number Two (checked inside the suitcase, kept in the van)
- One pair of jeans
- One extra t-shirt
- One, extra, long-sleeve shirt
- Two pairs of underwear
- Two pairs of socks
- Long Johns, if I need ‘em
- Ziplok Bags (Store your extra snacks & catering!)
- Another Stack of Business Cards
- Second, old-school, plastic, film case with about four pairs of cheap, foam earplugs
Stick Bag (checked inside the suitcase)
- Sticks (obviously)
- Leatherman Tool (The one with screwdrivers, pliers, & a wire snipper)
- Spare Bass Drum Beater
- Three Drum Keys
- Spare 9-volt Battery
- Guitar Picks (Haven’t needed ‘em, but you never know.)
- Alan Wrench Set (I used to have a pedal that required it.)
- Spare Ties/Straps for the snares on my snare drum
- Another Miniature Flashlight
- One Kevlar Patch for the Bass Drum
- Third, old-school, plastic, film case with about four pairs of cheap, foam earplugs
- Spare set lists
- Leftmost Pocket: Gum (to chew while selling merch or in people’s faces at the show)
- Breast Pocket: Smokes & Sunglasses (always)
- Right Pocket: Matches, camera, the fourth and final plastic, film case
with about four pairs of cheap, foam earplugs
- Left Pocket: Lip Balm, cell phone, my “good” earplugs
(My friend Anna loved it when I said, “It’s not worth losing your hearing over shitty music,” and let’s face it: You never know who is sharing the bill with you, sometimes.)
- Right Pocket: Matches or a lighter.
- Back Pocket: Wallet.
Most city-dwellers will label this as a big no-no, but if you’ve got a chain (or jeans as tight as mine), it’s a non-issue.
The Sleeping Bag (I pick one up when I get there, and it usually lives separately in the van)
Pack all of it right, and that makes for two checked bags (which Southwest allows for free) and two carry-ons.
Now, you may be wondering: Where does James put his keys? The fact is that I don’t need ‘em, and when I was younger, I used to be notorious for losing stuff. Therefore, as soon as I get off the plane, I tuck them far away in one of my bags, in a pocket I will never visit until I’m getting back on the plane home.
Things to acquire while on the road:
Although I do not condone stealing, sometimes the following items can be given to you, if you ask nicely, or they could be bought.
- Garbage bags or plastic, grocery bags for the van
- A couple of wire, coat hangars
- One, big, water bottle that can be refilled often
- Pillows, blankets
- More towels
- Spare bulbs for stage lights
- Snacks like nutrition bars, nuts, dried fruit
These are a must for rehearsals. My go-to snack is a pack of those cheese crackers with peanut butter; I found a box of forty-five packs for five dollars at Big Lots once.
Things to take care of before the tour starts:
- Back-up my laptop drive and move stuff off of it to make room for new recordings
- Line up rehearsal space & the PA there for the band
- Make sure I have a BD head with a sticker on it, buy a spare, snare head
- Van and/or Trailer are all in good shape
- Work permits/VISAS
- Accommodations/Places to crash
- Fast-Track/EZ Pass
- Update the GPS software
- Mail Posters
- Print up show grams & Handbills (some blank, emergency ones, too)
- Advance the shows
- Serial Numbers on gear are documented for border crossing & insurance purposes
I think that about covers everything on my list. I know that it’s very recordist-drummer specific, and does not take into account all of the many roles that anyone in the band might play (promotion, booking, advancing the show, driving, budgeting.... That’s probably another entry or informational resource altogether). I do recommend, however, that the workload be shared between band members. I hope it goes without saying that delegating the duties that lie beyond simply showing up to the show and playing will go a long way with any artist, at least until you’ve got your fleet of handlers and managers to do all of that for you. To close, I’ll repeat something that a non-musician at our Austin show said to sum up the role of any performer in today’s world:
“Being good enough ain’t good enough.”
Perhaps you might like my list of “Must Do’s / Must Have’s” before your first, big, tracking session in the studio. Click the link below! - JW
Other articles you may find helpful:
Recording Preparation for Bands Part Three: THE LIST
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