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Touring with the Band: Music Industry Gigs and What They Pay

By Susan Johnston

Whether you're into hair bands or hip hop, you may have wished you could tour the word with your favorite band. Extravagent backstage buffets and longs nights of partying await you, but would you earn any money? Payscale.com decided to talk to some music industry insiders of today and find out what it’s really like to go on the road with a band. The following are insider tips on snagging a job as part of the crew, learning needed skills, networking, typical pay and more.

Expect long hours
Whether running a spotlight (a mid-career live performances lighting technician earns around $33,900 a year) or performing onstage (an experienced guitarist earns $25.50/hour on average), expect to work long hours and spend much of your time traveling by plane or bus. Tony Marino, tour manager for Panic! At the Disco and former road manager for the Jonas Brothers’ national and worldwide tours, estimates that he spends 70 percent of his time on the road. Frequent flights or long bus rides mean sporadic sleep, so “when you have the opportunity to put your head on a pillow, I suggest taking it,” says John “Mac” McDonnell, a music tour veteran who teaches Live Sound and Production at Mediatech Institute in Austin, Texas.

Learn on the job
Unlike jobs that require a Master’s or professional degree, many musical touring jobs focus on skills acquired on the job. Those run the gamut, from technical skills like mixing sound (a mid-career sound engineering technician earns around $18/hour) to communication skills like explaining a last-minute change to stage hands (a mid-career stage manager earns around $37,700 a year). Tony recommends that aspiring road or tour managers “try and get an assistant job on a tour so you can see first hand what is involved in the job.” According to Alissa Kelly, Partner & COO at PR Plus, “For me and for the majority of people I know, the biggest thing is not book education. It’s adapting and learning as you go.” Kelly handles publicity for touring groups including indie band Imagine Dragons (a mid-career publicist in the entertainment industry earns around $45,400).

Sometimes it’s not what you know but who you know 
McDonnell landed his first touring gig a month out of college (he earned a degree in lighting design and technical theater) by being in the right place at the right time. Initially, he worked as a “warm body to move around equipment” for Johnny Cash’s tour but worked his way up to lighting director. He later met saxophonist Kirk Whalum and became Whalum’s tour manager. Many of the tour managers Kelly knows were friends with the band and agreed to go on the road, picking it up as they go. Knowing the right people can certainly help get a foothold in the industry.

Be able to think on your feet 
Weather delays, backstage drama, and broken equipment are just a few of the factors that can threaten to derail a concert. Touring professionals have to be ready for anything. “I am pretty much always on call since, in this business, anything can happen and last minute changes happen very often,” says Tony, whose job as a tour manager involves keeping track of guest lists, scheduling shows, coordinating meals, and overseeing setup at concert venues. Kelly has also had to problem solve on the fly when TV segments with her clients get preempted due to breaking news.

Do it for the music, not the money 
Competition is fierce for both onstage and offstage jobs, so if you enter the music industry to become rich and famous, you may be disappointed. With long hours and very few musicians making millions (an experienced singer/musician earns around $52,000/year), the best reason to go on tour is because you love music. As Kelly says, “Watching the band and then looking out into the crowd to see them react … it's amazing!”

Source: All salary data is from PayScale.com. Salaries listed for “mid-career workers” are median, annual salaries for full-time workers with five to ten years of experience and include any bonuses, commission, or profit sharing. Salaries listed for “experienced workers” are median, annual salaries for full-time workers with ten or more years of experience and include any bonuses, commission, or profit sharing.

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