Music Business

Tour Manager Guide: How To Become A Tour Manager

Photograph of the blog post author, Pete Briley

Pete Briley

3.6.2021

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As fans of music, we’ve pretty much all been to see a band who are on tour. As fans in the audience, we rarely consider what actually goes on behind the scenes. There is a lot of intricate planning in order to keep the show afloat. From the roadies loading in and out, tour bus drivers, guitar techs, sound engineers; everyone is essential to the process. And, of course, perhaps the most important person at the helm is bringing it all together. That’s where the tour manager comes in. 

tour manager on the phone

In this article we’re going to look at the tour manager job description, how to become a tour manager and the average tour manager salary someone in the role can expect.

Let’s dive into everything you need to know!

What Is A Tour Manager?

jimi hendrix and tour manager

The tour manager is ultimately in charge of all aspects of a band on tour.

Everything goes through them and it’s their job to get everyone and everything; from city to city and ready to perform a great show night after night. 

What Is A Tour Managers Job?

In this section, we will take a look at the responsibilities a tour manager has.

Let’s get started!

Managing Tour Finances

tour manager financial role

Having a good head for numbers is a really important skill when it comes to being a tour manager.

All money coming in and out of the tour goes through the tour manager. This includes everything from repairing and replacing equipment to catering to insurance through to merch sales, ticket revenues, etc.

These all need to be accounted for and recorded. As the tour manager, you need to keep the show on track and on budget. 

Logistics

music cases backstage

As the tour manager, you need to make sure that all of the equipment and personnel arrive. You must also make sure you leave the venues on time and that everyone has everything they need. 

This can be making sure that the roadies are happy and that they have everything they need to transport equipment. But it can also be making sure that instruments, cables, speakers. You need to make sure anything else you can think of is repaired or replaced if they are damaged. 

While it makes for a great album cover like the classic shot of Paul Simonon smashing his bass to bits that became the cover for the Clash’s London Calling. On the other hand, it was quite possibly a nightmare for the tour manager that will have needed to source a replacement ready for the next show. 

This is far more than just making sure you have the right equipment in your hands. If a tour involves crossing international borders then this can also mean making sure you have the right paperwork. 

Or perhaps checking the carnets for the instruments and all of the serial numbers (where applicable) are correct. This is so that you don’t encounter additional customs checks or costs when crossing borders. This could delay your tour.

People & Places

tour bus

Tour managers are responsible for making sure all the equipment gets to the right location. Additionally, they are in charge of making sure the right people are in the right places. 

This includes everything from organising accommodation and transport for everyone (all leaving and arriving at different times). Also, they must make sure they all have the correct visas if required. 

This is not just a static group of people; as tours progress the people connected to the tour changes constantly. Band members might be flying friends or family out to specific stretches of the tour. Or perhaps different musicians may be involved in special shows.

Maybe session musicians may not be able to commit to the full tour so you will need to account for one musician leaving the tour and their replacement arrives. 

The band themselves might also have different promotion obligations. It could be local radio or PR opportunities that they need to fit around their soundcheck and evening performance.

It’s a machine of many moving parts. They also have to make sure that everyone is in the right place at the right time. 

Show Logistics

guns n roses on stage

As the tour manager, you’ll also be the middle-man between the band, promoters, venue managers, ticket agents, etc. In this capacity, you’ll also need to confirm stage times for all bands for the show.

You also need to make sure everything runs to time on the night and that no curfews are exceeded or fines incurred for regulations that are breached. Even this can catch you off-guard. 

For example, Guns N Roses guitarist Slash toured the UK during the noughties, just after smoking in enclosed working spaces was made illegal. At one point he was threatened with a fine of £100 per cigarette smoked on stage which would have been a pretty hefty bill in itself!

Tour Parent

the rolling stones with their tour manager

Whilst it might not be listed as an official duty beneath ‘what is a tour manager’s job’, they often find themselves as the road mum or dad for the band and crew. This involves caring for the mental and physical well-being of everyone connected to the tour. Also, it means making sure that everyone can perform to their best ability and keep the show quality high. 

In some cases, this might be dealing with big egos and potentially some unreasonable requests. Or perhaps difficult interpersonal issues between band members.

In any case it’ll require patience and inter-personal emotional intelligence. 

Dogs Body

sound engineer and tour manager

If you’re managing a large-scale tour for an established artist, you’ll probably be able to really focus on the job of managing the tour. However, if the tour is an indie outfit or an up-and-coming artist still growing, a tour manager often finds themselves lending a hand with whatever comes up.

In addition, hey might also wear a number of other hats. This could include a driver, roadie, security, drinking partner and photographer. They’ll essentially be dealing with fires as and when they come up.

How To Become A Tour Manager

As with many careers in music, there isn’t necessarily one defined route to becoming a tour manager. A lot of work comes as the result of word-of-mouth recommendations. Or perhaps other individuals in this particular role filling in for other experienced people. 

One good piece of advice is to try to learn as many different aspects of tour management as possible as larger-scale tours will have different managers focussing on different areas.

You might have a production manager and an accounting manager for example. So, if you have a bit of experience and understanding of all areas, you’ll be able to pick up more tour manager jobs.

What Qualifications Do You Need To Be A Tour Manager?

manager in a car on the phone

In short, none. There are no specific entry qualifications. However, some practical music courses do offer modules that are concerned with tour management.

For example, the ACM in Guildford offers this module as part of the music course there. 

How To Become A Tour Manager Without Qualifications

tour manager backstage at a gig

Most tour managers begin their careers working for next to nothing on small (usually domestic) indie tours. In many cases, they are a friend of the band who steps in and finds that they have a real knack for tour management. 

In other cases, tour managers are promoters who organise a short string of gigs for a band and then find themselves acting as tour managers for that tour.

Once you’ve got a few tours under your belt where you’ve worked for low (or even no) pay, then your experience starts to count. After this, you will be able to start earning in your capacity in this role. 

In the tour management game, experience is everything. Therefore, being able to work for free or very little at the start of your career is key. Once you have the experience then you can translate to bigger operations with bigger budgets. 

Whilst you’re doing this work and establishing yourself, make sure you network like crazy. Having good connections is crucial to getting more and more gigs as a tour manager.

Where To Find Tour Manager Jobs

tour manager in the studio

A lot of tour managers are self-starters who organise the tours themselves. They act as promoter/agent/tour managers for bands in the early part of their careers.

If you’re looking to work as a tour manager on a larger tour, these are often achieved via word-of-mouth referrals. As you build a reputation in this role, you’ll begin receiving calls from labels, etc. looking for you to manage tours for artists

However, you do sometimes see Tour Manager job opportunities come up on websites like Music Gateway or Music Week. So it is worth keeping an eye on those listings as well.

Tour Manager Salary

person holding 100 dollar bills

Now you know how to become a music tour manager, you’re probably also wondering how much a tour manager can earn. This is once you’ve got past the early stages of working for free of course. 

As tour managers are generally self-employed, they are able to set their own rates. 

In the US, a tour manager can earn anywhere between $46,000 and $71,000. In the UK it’s a similar picture with the Glassdoor reporting that they have reported salaries of between £23k and £51k. 

On average tour managers will work 8-9 months of the year. 

Now You Know How To Be A Tour Manager

person in the crowd at a gig

So there we have it! We’ve looked at what a tour manager is and the role they play. We’ve also looked at their average salary and how you can become one.

Tour management is undeniably a cool job that involves a lot of travel and a lot of multi-tasking. Not to mention that you have a front seat to some of the hottest tours in the world.

A good head for numbers, organisational skills, interpersonal savvy and a proactive attitude are all crucial – and the rewards speak for themselves. 

Without great tour managers, the greatest tours wouldn’t happen – so it’s very important work!

Are you a tour manager? Let us know your experiences in the comments below! Also, don’t forget to share this guide across your socials and tag us @musicgateway!

Lastly, if you enjoyed this article then why not check out another on our blog? Check out How To Plan A Music Tour, How To Get Gigs And Get PAID and Merch Ideas For Artists to get you started!

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