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 Get On The Bus 
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Post Get On The Bus
Get On The Bus
by: Brian Doherty

Rock ‘n Roll buses can be travelling frat hous­es. There’s little privacy, and they often smell like a combination of urine and diesel fumes. Remember that they stop almost exclusively at truck stops and not travelers rest areas (that gets old fast). The essential thing about bus touring is that it’s really your home away from home. Here’s how it works: the bus driver gets quality sleep in his hotel room while you’re hard at work sound checking, appearing at the local radio station, or actually playing the show. As the band blasts into the final chord of the gig, Mr. Bus Driver resurfaces from slumber land and heads for the bus where he waits for you and the rest of the band. You get on and wait for the crew to pack up everything — gear, lights, P. A., and monitors.

A couple of hours later, when this is finished and everyone has boarded the bus, it drives overnight to the city of the next engagement. It’s during this drive that you’re supposed to sleep. (I don’t know about you, but it’s hard for me to sleep well on a bus. I keep dreaming I’ll wake up to find the bus driver asleep in a bunk and no one at the wheel!).

When we reach the next city, the bus parks near the venue. Makes sense right? But here’s the juicy part: Let’s say that the bus arrives at that city, after dri­ving 350 miles, around 6AM. What do I do? Most of the time, I’ll continue sleep­ing for a couple of hours. If I wake up at 10am — now what? Breakfast? Shower? Phone calls? Visit rel­atives? Maybe. If the bus isn’t parked in the thriving center of town, none of this might be possible. It’s been my experience, in fact, that theaters and clubs are often on the outskirts of town and are sometimes in their most down­right funky neighborhoods.

I can shower in the club, provided they have one that I’d be comfortable using. I can dine at the McDonalds down the road a mile or so, provided I’m up for a brisk walk through heavy traffic. As a rule, the bus always stays at the gig. Phone calls can be made and my distant cousin is a mere $20 cab ride away.

Okay, let’s say that I’ve successfully negotiated my morning routine. It’s only noon, and sound check doesn’t begin until 5pm. Now what? As much as I try to be productive, this aspect of bus touring can be really limiting and cramp my style. The best solution is to have a hotel booked. This brings us to our next surprise.


Surprise #2 — Accommodations. DO NOT, I REPEAT, DO NOT assume that you’ll be in a hotel every night. In fact, most bus tours only provide hotels on days off. Management reasons that if we’ll be getting to the club’s parking lot at 6am, it’ll just be easier for us to stay there, at the venue. ALL DAY.

Management will also reason that check-in time at the hotel isn’t until 1pm, and that we’d have to check out at 4pm to make 5pm sound check anyway, so why bother? If right now you’re asking why we have to check out of the hotel, just remember the overnight bus ride. In my experience, the band either checks out before sound check, or on the way out of town.

Management loves this because they save large sums of money (courtesy of your discomfort) on hotels during the duration of the tour. Please let me clarify one thing here: If you are on tour with a band in which you’re a full member, by all means, save money any way you can. I’m assuming here instead that you’re a hired sideman.

So, at this time, I might remind our friendly tour man­ager that many hotels offer an early check-in. And here’s where I see his shoulders hunch up, as he pre­tends like he’s learning about early check-in for the very first time! I watch him squirm. As long as it’s set up as such in advance, there should be a hotel room ready upon arrival.

The Perfect Bus Day

My friends, here’s how it should really work: The bus pulls up at the gig. The crew continues sleeping on in a drunken stupor, until their 10am equipment load-in. My band mates and I step off of the bus and into a cab that the tour manager has called. The cab takes us to a nearby hotel, where I check into my room.

I now have the day to rest, write postcards, make phone calls, practice and whatever else I may want. There is one hitch, however. Don’t assume you’ll get your own room. Many tours encourage doubling-up on rooms, obviously to save even more money. But why anyone would want to share a room with someone they’re already spending 18 hours a day with is beyond me.

You may be wondering why man­agement is so concerned with saving money. After all, this is Rock ‘n Roll, ain’t it? Well, to their credit, manage­ment has to run a tour like they would any other business. They have to look at the numbers to make sure that the tour is bringing in more than it’s shelling out. After all, my salary is being paid out of the mon­ey that the tour is generating. Man­agement’s job is to run the tour effi­ciently, and cut excess spending every­where they can.

All of that’s okay, but here’s where I get fired up… Sometimes, the tour goes extremely well, like an oiled machine. It’s also generating large sums of money. Wouldn’t you think that as prof­its go up, accommodations would get better, and everyone would get more pay, too?

Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen all of the time. Often, when a tour begins to pull in a lot of dough, the artist and management may want even more corners cut. To avoid what I term “diminishing returns” as one helps the artist to make an even greater profit while perhaps accepting something less than spectacular for yourself, think about negotiating for what will become a bet­ter deal down the road, when and if rev­enues permit. Otherwise, relatively speaking, a salary can become less than what it was when one started.

About The Author
Brian Doherty is best known as a drummer for groups like They Might Be Giants, XTC, M2M, Freedy Johnston, and Ben Folds. He grew up in Randolph, NJ and earned a Master of Music degree from the Manhattan School of Music. Brian also holds a Master of Teaching degree from The City College of New York. He is currently a music teacher in the Bronx and remains professionally active in the NYC area. Read my story, see rare video, pics and more on my website
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Mon Nov 22, 2010 11:39 am
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