On The Road (Again) Part 1

By Mike Vaccaro

In my days on the road we rode in what amounted to a Greyhound bus…. We seldom flew, as by the time we got all our equipment checked in and picked up ground transportation, it was almost always easier just to stay on the bus, even if it added hours to the trip.

Before my road stint with big bands, the band members would often drive in several cars, but this was gradually given up for the sake of having the whole band together. Mind you, these busses were not the motor coaches that we see these days with beds, living rooms, and even showers.

So the current modes of transportation are: cars, buses, coaches, railroad (not so much these days), and flying. In your journeys there will be heat, cold, wind, rain, snow, dirt and every environment you can think of.

Whether you're playing with a lounge band, as an opening act,or a band trying to forge a name, a big band, a celebrity group, a symphony, a chamber music ensemble, or a country western band, there is one constant.

.. the road is the road.

It is a reality of the music business: Sometime in their lives most musicians end up on the road, going to places known and unknown. It may be to start a career, to maintain a career, to perform with a well-known celebrity, it may be being the celebrity, or it may end up becoming a permanent life style.

I'm not talking about driving between 2 and 4 hours, doing the job and then traveling back home with no rest, which may be a common scenario in many cities today.

So what is it all about?

What it's all about, is that you are not at home and you don't have the normal creature comforts that make life easy. This is much easier for young people than for older people. The road is difficult, in that the big routine is getting to the job, dealing with the time off, and getting to the next job.

Until you get off the road that's what you do.

There are big cities, little towns, military bases, state fairs, schools, concert halls, bars, and many other places to perform, and lots of territory to cover.

With all the negatives of being on the road, there are some beautiful places you will visit that other people pay good money to go see, and you'll meet some great people. When traveling or working is not the centerpiece of your existence, it's important to enjoy the good parts of being on the road, of which there are many.

So even with mostly work, there is still the opportunity to enjoy many sights that few get to see. In some cases, your significant other may be able to come meet you and enjoy the sights, if you stay in one place long enough.

There are plenty of stories to be had, just getting to the job and finding a decent place to sleep, and perhaps even some decent food.There is always a new story to tell, and always boredom to deal with.

The big deal is to do your best not to hurt yourself on the road. Be moderate with food, alcohol, drugs (even for performance anxiety), and your daily routines. Walk slowly into new situations and pay attention to your environment. Find a way to get some exercise whether it means just walking, or visiting the hotel pool/health club. Most of all, do your very best to be kind to those on the road with you, and with those people you meet on the road. Try not to let personalities ruin your time or anyone else's time.

For those of you who end up on the road for long periods of time, remember that it is very difficult to maintain a marriage or relationship of any kind when you are away from those you care about. Your shared life together is going to be different while on the road, for both you and your significant other. You will both be leaning on new people for support, since you won't be together. There have been many a divorce because of extended road work.

Let's talk about health for a moment. When you are on the road, if you break a bone, you are still on the road. If you get a cold or the fl, you are still on the road. If you drink too much, you and your hangover are still on the road. You still go to work anyway. If you have a heart attack or some other serious injury, you will be in a hospital on the road while your group keeps going while looking for someone to take your place. Make sure you're fully "road ready", before you commit to returning, for your own sake and for the sake of your group. Some people have died on the road.

I was once on the road with a ballet company that did several performances a week. We had one truck with two crew members who had to set up the stage with props, take them down, drive to another city, and put them back up again. At one point, we had several performances in a short period of time, and one of the crew died from exhaustion. That's the road at its worst.

Your Agent/Manager is a very important element of your road experience:
  • Do they over- or under- book you? It's much easier to book weekend days and holidays etc., so are they sensitive to the weekly fill-in dates as it effects your income and comfort? Most fill-in dates pay less.

  • Do they consider the logistics of your travel and the time it takes to recuperate from that travel?

  • Do they know of hotels where you are going to perform that work well for your rest and budget?

  • Do they think of you as a valuable asset or just a group that makes money for them?

  • Do they make clear the contents of your contract and what is expected from you?

  • Do you have copies of the contract as well as your equipment rider so there are no questions between you and the employer when you arrive at a job?

  • Does your contract have a clear paragraph on what happens if the terms of the contract are not met? Is the agent/manager a good liaison between the employer and your group?

  • Do you have an agency that only books you or do they help you save money and facilitate a retirement and partnership plan if appropriate? Whether at home or on the road, there is no success without saving your money.

  • Do you have an agency that always books a non-stop flight whenever possible, especially when airports like Chicago can get snowed in during the winter and are subject to storms in the summer? The last thing you need to slow you down is missing a connecting flight.

Your responsibility on the road is to basically show up as early as you can to alleviate the worry of the promoter and to perform your best. There are always variables on playing your best, especially if you are performing mostly the same literature every engagement. I have found that sometimes when the band was the most tired, we played the best, as we had to summon extra energy to get the job done.

Be sure to treat the audiences and the local promoter as friends, in addition to all those who are helping you. Be nice to everyone you run into, because, like it or not, there is a reason for every job, even if you're not sure what it is at the time.

On The Road (Again) part 2 is coming soon. It there is some aspect of this conversation you want to include please contact Mike.

Quotes From My Diary

It takes strength to play an instrument, but a different strength than you might think.
...Mike Vaccaro

Luck will play a role in your life,
but it’s not the part you expect.
It is still important to set up your plan,
and follow up with your contingency plan.
...as luck will only carry you so far.

...Mike Vaccaro

The main thing a teacher can teach a student is…..

...Mike Vaccaro

Art is making a thing, and then

trying to make a better one.

And you keep doing that until you die,

and that’s a pretty good life.
...Mike Vaccaro

Life is indeed terribly complicated

to a person who has lost their principals

...G.K Chesterton

Have you ever noticed that listening and asking questions

might be more helpful than just giving your advice?

..Dan Jacobs

In my entire career I sang the way I wanted 6 times

The rest of the time I just did the best I could.

…Beverly Sills

Your limitations stem from internal not external beliefs.

These are what put the brakes on your potential .
… Dan Jacobs