How to Be an Artist and Tour the Right Way

Christian Coffey
Christian Coffey

Tips from an accomplished Tour Director on how to thrive on the road.

Over the years, veteran Tour Director Christian Coffey has served as both a day-to-day manager and tour manager (TM)–the duality of which affords him a unique perspective on touring from both the artist and administrative points of view. During college, Coffey toured as a drummer, becoming the band’s de facto manager and TM. This led to an internship at a management company representing artists like Kanye West, HELLYEAH, Linkin Park, and The All American Rejects. To date, he’s worked as a tour manager for everyone from OK Go to Miike Snow to Run the Jewels, and Childish Gambino.

This extensive experience meant Coffey was a no brainer addition to our expert panel for the recent Spotify for Artists Co.Lab event—the theme of which was how best to survive and thrive on the road. The LA-based music vet is an excellent resource when it comes to the nuts and bolts of how to execute a successful tour, no matter the size or scope. Read on, take notes.

Stay humble.

According to Coffey, touring serves several key purposes: connecting artists and fans via the live experience, expanding your fanbase, and taking advantage of promotional and commercial opportunities. While an appearance at the county fair to kiss babies and shake hands may feel draining, never forget that fans have made room in their schedule to see you. Time is precious for them too. Power through and wear a smile proudly—you have the ability to ensure that the people attending your event today will show up at the next one (and bring a friend).

Keep in mind that at the core of this is art—your art. Between managing the crew, the equipment, touring and performance logistics, and day-to-day considerations like lodging and food, it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture. Executing your vision is important, so make sure you understand the entirety of the live production and know that no one is going to take it as seriously as you do. Communicate exactly what you want to those around you, and treat them with patience and fairness. “Be humble,” advises Coffey. “[The artist] has to work harder than anyone else on their team.”

Phone a friend.

You may have an outstanding team, but when something comes up that’s beyond the scope of your crew’s abilities or experience, knowing who to call for help, and when, is essential. Make sure you have the correct support system—either within your team’s ecosystem or outside it—and be smart about leveraging those relationships.

Surround yourself with people who are also ready, willing, and able to help another crew. Support tends to be a two-way street, and a touring party is more likely to help someone who has lent a hand in the past. “At the end of the day, you should give more than you take,” asserts Coffey. “You can’t be the person who is always asking for everything. People are going to want to help when you’re the guy being selfless about things.”

Keep your cool.

Handling challenges with composure and resolve can be tough during the chaos of a tour. The importance of staying collected when problems arise shouldn’t be underestimated. Putting out fires and handling conflicts in a collected, firm-but-fair manner will earn respect and deepen the commitment and support of those around you.

While the health of this working relationship with your inner circle is crucial, your behavior with venue staff and other professionals beyond your immediate team is equally important. Effective touring may lead to some excellent money and opportunities. Many music professionals tend to be “lifers,” and treating them poorly can potentially poison the waters well beyond your current tour, spreading a damning impression further and wider than you’d expect. Negative reputations travel fast, so strive for the word on the street to be as flattering as possible.

Take care of numero uno.

It seems ridiculous to reiterate this, but touring is hard work and takes focus. Promotional appearances at early hours, in-store meet-and-greets before the gigs, and radio spots at odd times will test your energy reserves, so self-care and rest is key. Healthy eating, exercise, making time for yourself when possible, and creating a routine amidst the madness help make sure the wheels turn as smoothly as possible both on stage and off.

At the end of the day, what makes for an effective tour shouldn’t vary much from how you might approach tumult in general. Thoughtful and inspiring leadership is fundamental: You’re the boss and you have to be able to think on your feet. You must understand the variables and how they relate to one another. You should also take into account that a tour is made up of many moving parts, and many personalities and skill-sets make all this possible. On top of all this, understanding that accidents will happen is critical to ensuring not only that a tour runs smoothly, but also that it’s a pleasurable experience for those on stage, those facing the stage, and those behind the scenes. Rolling with the punches with grace and good humor goes a very long way.

-Fred Pessaro

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