This new set of Tour Tips was written by Johnny Christmas, of the ska band, Reel Big Fish. You can check out their tips for being on the road, after the break.
Let us endeavor so to live that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry
– Mark Twain
I am fortunate to be able to travel the world and play music for people who love our band and our music. Reel Big Fish is on the road 6 to 8 months out of the year and it can get quite taxing if you are not taking care of yourself physically and musically. On the road my practice spaces go from the sublime like practicing in empty theaters, or out in nature, to the decrepit, like practicing in closets, trailers, or bathrooms. Regardless of where you do it we musicians must practice! Not only to feel comfortable during the show, but to provide ourselves with some consistency and quality of performance. My chosen instrument is the trumpet and as the old saying goes “The trumpet is a jealous mistress.” With that said you may never know when that jealous mistress will turn on you. Did you have a bunch of travel days and were unable to play your horn? Are you hung-over from partying too much last night? Did you get enough sleep? Are you staying hydrated? Are you eating well? Are you getting enough exercise? The list just goes on and on. So here’s some advice that I have picked up on these last 10 years spent on the road and may be helpful regardless of what instrument you play.
1. Warm up: Take the time to invest in your performance and yourself. Do you want to play “Outstanding” our do you just want to “Stand out?” It’s easy to “Stand Out” when you are missing notes and playing out of tune and don’t have the endurance to play the gig. Being an “Outstanding” performer it takes time, a lot of time…….. way more time than you think. I am often reminded of the story from the Book “Bird Lives” by Ross Russell about how Charlie Parker would practice his alto while out on the road on his first tour. While everyone else in the band was out having fun Bird was there practicing, working things out so he could become the artist that he wanted to be. Or John Coltrane practicing on a broom stick complete with bottle caps glued to it to simulate keys of his saxophone on the tour bus when he was opening up for the Woody Herman band. Or vocalist and trumpet artist Jack Sheldon practicing in the lavatory on an airplane on the way to a gig. These musicians had a very serious commitment to their art. Do you?
2. Do you just want to play well or do you want to be Outstanding? In one of my trumpet lessons Uan Rasey said many things that stuck with me. And one of them was “A lot of guys only want to play up to the job. I want you to play beyond the job.” That wasn’t a reason to show off. He was saying to build your playing ability, and comfort level so that it is far beyond the job.
3. Don’t be an asshole. One of the biggest challenges in life is getting along with other human beings and communicating effectively. I live with ten other people on a tour bus for eight months out of the year. Sometimes people have bad days, get in bad moods and can be unpleasant to be around (myself included). Sometimes someone might need a little more space than usual. To survive out on the road making a living playing music you need to be more than an outstanding player, you also need to be an outstanding human being.
4. Have fun! We only get one shot at this life. Are you achieving your goals? Do you even have any goals? Are you living the life you always dreamed of? Sometimes we human beings can become myopically fixated on goals and accomplishments. Are you taking the time to enjoy where you are now as opposed to just worrying about where you think you should be? Or are you fixated on where you have been? I know it sounds quite paradoxical but once you have a goal enjoy the process, put one foot in front of the other. If you have ever asked someone who has climbed Mount Everest “How did you make it to the summit?” they inevitably say “One step at a time.”
People sometimes ask me in interviews what was your happiest moment? I always respond “Right now!” The past is an unreliable construct of our mind and the future will always be a day away. All we have is now! Enjoy the ride.
From the Reel Big Fish tour bus somewhere in Middle America,
Did you find these tips useful? Let us know in the comments below!