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Hitting the road in an indie touring band isn’t easy. There’s low pay, little sleep, a lot of expenses and the challenges of staying healthy during the hard grind. Add in bad behavior — from constantly carping to smart phone obsession to perceived laziness to excessive drunkenness to noxious intestinal emissions — and the process becomes complicated. Tolerance wears, tempers flare, people get fired.
Here are 10 suggestions for being the best bandmate that you can be. If you’re got more, please post them after this story. All of us who tour will thank you.
• Stay positive: A gloomy, grumbling bandmate is a downer for everybody in the van, especially if that grumbler is the leader. Keep things positive all around by staying positive yourself. Remember, everybody in the van is sleep deprived, dehydrated, hungry, broke and maybe even hung-over. None of that makes you special.
• Pitch in: Don’t just carry and set up your own gear. Help your bandmates load in and out. Set up the merchandise display. Volunteer to talk to venue staff about the green room, food, inputs and other necessary information. That’s part of being a good bandmate and, if you’re hired for a tour, a good employee. Don’t just carry and set up your own gear, then put your face in your smart phone or laptop. The latter is also a band idea during travel. Stay in the present and participate in conversations. That helps keep everybody’s morale up — unless you’re arguing about politics or religion.
• Match your stage volume to your bandmates’: At least one musician in every young band is too loud. Be a team player when it comes to volume so everybody can hear on stage. Besides, excessive volume causes hearing damage. If one player can’t hear over another’s din, mistakes can happen. Loud stage volumes also interfere with the singer’s ability to stay in tune and in time, and perform melodically. And if you’re the culprit, be aware that soundmen tend to keep instruments that are too loud out of the PA, so by turning up on stage you could be tuning yourself out of the room mix. Which is okay, because if you’re that much of a jerk you don’t deserve to be heard anyway.
• Practice on your own: Work on your band’s repertoire as well as new licks, riffs, scales and sounds outside of the practice space. That’s how to improve and expand your musical scope. Band practice should be for tightening arrangements, testing group and song ideas and breaking in new material. If you find a lick you like at home, bust it out in rehearsal, but don’t make your bandmates wait while you fish.
• Be punctual: It is never okay to make your bandmates wait for you. Ever. It is disrespectful, wastes everybody else’s time and can lead to speeding, missed soundchecks and other problems en route or at a gig.
• Maintain your gear: Everything breaks at one point or another, and usually the timing is terrible. I just had a cable die while setting up on a big festival stage in Nashville, and the cable had been fine at the previous gig. This just happens. So carry extra cables, strings, tuners, fuses, etc. If you have space, it’s practical to carry a back-up amp or a stompbox amp. But the best way to try to prevent gear problems is to keep your guitar and rig clean and maintained. Go through all of your essential performance gear at least once a month to see where quick touch-ups, fixes or replacements are needed, and follow-through immediately.
• Keep a driver’s license and insurance: Even if you’re not the usual driver, you should be prepared to take over your band’s vehicle at all times. People fall ill or get tired, and need a break at the wheel. Part of being a responsible adult in a band is having a driver’s license, so you can be a legal highway pilot, and having insurance. Usually an individual band member owns the band vehicle, verses it being the band’s mutual business property, and if you get in an accident, regardless of who is at fault, it should be your mess to deal with. Otherwise handling the insurance company clean up is going to lead to animosity, and if you’re unlicensed or uninsured the legal complications will fall upon the vehicle’s owner. A good rule of thumb in band relations is to keep your own messes, accidental or otherwise, to yourself.
• Eat healthy: Your digestive tract is your own business… until the van starts smelling like a Jersey swamp. Don’t eat fast food trash on the road. Avoid chili, Mexican food and fried food before long rides. Aim for salads, fresh made sandwiches and other wholesome fare. Eating correctly makes you better company and gives you better stamina and energy for touring, which — on an indie level — is grueling.
• Be responsible: Be there for your other bandmates when you’re needed. If you’re playing a dive, keep an eye on your fellow musicians. Situations can arise where they need your help dealing with belligerent drunks or other perils. When it’s time to be onstage, be there… not out in the car having a smoke or chatting up girls or guys outside. If you and your band are not on stage at the appointed time, there’s a chance you won’t be hired by that venue again, no matter how good you may be.
• Be professional: See the above and raise the ante by always being polite to club staff and patrons. You are an ambassador for your band. Being grumpy, uncooperative or superior does not win points anywhere in life.