Tour Manager: Steve Stemac

Below is the results of an interview between Matt Patrick, an Entertainment Management student at Missouri State University and Steve Stemac, a tour manager from Nashville. The interview was conducted in the fall of 2001.

 

Q1. How did you get into the tour management business?

A1. Almost by luck. By living in Nashville, you run into a lot of people. It’s not that big of a town, so if you play music, especially in the Christian industry, you just happen to meet people. That’s my story. I happened to meet the band, Bleach. They were looking for a monitor guy. I played in clubs and you have to know how to do that stuff [monitor and sound equipment] if you want your stuff to sound good. I had just enough experience to where it worked out and they’re good guys. We actually hit it off on a personal level and then they kept me. I worked with a number of other bands and that’s how my career began to grow; touring with Bleach and whoever they brought along and then those bands want me to come with them.

Q2. What kinds of skills are necessary to become a good tour manager?

A2. Patience and good communication skills are a must. Being articulate but at the same time being able to communicate to people at the same time. Understanding and having a sense of sympathy to the promoter and understanding both sides of the situation. Having a perspective to think from the promoter’s shoes and what you have to do for the band. There will be compromises that you will have to make and it’s just learning the balance of that. I’m almost certain that I have been able to develop that and it has allowed me to get the jobs that I’ve been able to get. You have to be a good people person. You also have to be organized. Good communication skill, empathy on both sides, and organization are all good things to have.

Q3. How would you describe a day in the life of a tour manager?

A3. As far as a manager goes, as long as you’re up, you’re employed. You really have to be up before the bands do to make sure they are up. It actually starts the day before. You have to map out what you are going to do the next morning, especially if you have to travel, and sometimes you are already traveling through the night. You have to prepare and get ready to know what you are going to be dealing with. You have to do a little bit of homework. Sometimes that’s already done for you by the management; the band’s management or the tour management, back at a home base like Nashville. I’m fortunate on this tour to have that, but that’s not always the case, though. Sometimes, you’re constantly on the phone on the way to the venue and you’re trying to make sure that the sound and lighting is good, make sure that the food situation is taken care of and making sure that your lodging is good. Sometimes, depending on how sketchy the promoter is, making sure that your guarantee or whatever your money situation is, has been taken care of in an ideal time so you don’t have to be there until 2 am in the morning asking someone to dive into their 401k to pay for the show which unfortunately is bound for whatever reason. It’s a continual cycle of that. At the end of the night, before I go to bed, I review what I need to do and having interviews with the bands, making sure that I know that I’m not going to miss those things. And, of course, a healthy dose of prayer. If God is on your side, who can be against you? That’s my day, and like I said, constant communication with the band, making sure they are good. And nipping things in the bud. If you sense that someone is sick, there are personal problems with the band, you have to try to get a vibe on that, fix it if you can. Sometimes you can and sometimes you can’t. You just try to keep people up. It requires optimism; being a pessimist won’t get you very far.

Q4. What are some of the things that you like to do that keep you interested in this job?

A4. Honestly, this side of the business, not the secular side, I couldn’t do the secular side anymore. I’ve been doing this for 5 years. The fact that there is a ministry involved and the spiritual angle is a big part of keeping me going. I don’t understand how bands sacrifice time away from home and disintegrate whatever social life you have when you’re out touring 200 days a year. You just don’t have it. Girlfriends and all that stuff, it’s just a myth. Unless you’re on the other side of the fence and then you don’t mind the groupies and all that lifestyle, but that’s another tangent. I don’t know how they do that night after night just for the sake of money unless they are making a lot of money and I don’t know a lot of bands that do and I know a lot of bands. So that’s the biggest thing for me, but past that is meeting so many interesting people. You go across the country and you see things and get to do stuff and even the negative adventures, even the stuff that just sucks. Like we’ll have a tire go flat in the middle of Indiana and it’s 10 degrees and whatever. Somehow those experiences build you as a person and you at the end of the tour, you kind of laugh about. Those are the kinds of things you can’t get anywhere. I worked for a telecom, and I did stuff for banks and things, the typical 9 to 5 job. That’s another thing. Every day I wake up and it’s very different and I don’t know what I’m going to run into today. I like that challenge because it will be an adventure, for better or worse. Sometimes, it doesn’t end happily. We’ve had shows where it’s very frustrating at the end of the night and I’m ready to go to the van. It’s frustrating to no end because we haven’t got paid or whatever. In the end, it’s a lifestyle and you have to understand that and once you’re there it’s great. I think that you have to be the right type of person and I don’t think it’s for everybody. That’s why there are a lot of turnovers.

Q5. What are the ranges of salaries that tour managers can receive?

A5. Standard for most shows out of the Nashville area, I know for road management, are for like a club touring band, a manager is going to make, if he?s not on salary, and that’s another big thing. If it’s like a three-month tour, he could make say, people usually get about $10,000 for a three-month tour. It’s a salary though. A lot of people I know, and myself, get paid per show. In the Christian industry, it’s roughly around $150 to $250 a show. Contracts are made and sometimes people get money for merchandise sales, it depends. That’s a pretty rough estimate, about as blanket as I can make it. It kind of depends on the individual situation and it definitely depends on the band and what is going on in the tour. If it’s just a club tour, we’re not bringing in any production and I’m not going to get paid as much even if I’m not the production manager which is another whole can of beans. On this kind of tour, I kind of step in and take care of lodging, make sure the bills are paid, the merch is set up properly and whatever else. Again it’s about $150-$250 a show.

Q6. Where do you see the industry for road managers heading in the future?

A6. There will always be a need for managers because the bands will always need to have somebody step forward and, looking at it in a crass way, do their dirty work for them. That’s not really fair to say. They will always be needed because the bands get tired and they need somebody to handle these things. I don’t know if it’s really changed all that much from back in the days when whoever did it for Zeppelin who used to carry around a pistol. Obviously I don’t carry around a pistol. I guess it will generally remain the same. The only thing that I think will be different is that there might be things like the legal ends. For example, broadcast issues and contracts. With the growth of the Internet I think that it’s, in my personal opinion, turning into more of an entertainment type of media. I think that will become more and more something that ties in with shows and I think that the legal ends of that, whether or not Internet broadcasts will be cool or not, I think that’s going to be something that I have to know about. You have to have a working knowledge of broadcast legalisms and legalities. Whether or not pictures can be taken at shows and the like. On this tour, it doesn’t matter, but sometimes they can’t be taken because of broadcast rights. That’s the one thing that I can see becoming really different. I don’t think that it’s really changed that much. I’ve talked to people who’ve been in the business for a long time and it’s basically the same as it was 20 years ago. Since it hasn’t changed that much, I don’t foresee it changing that much, unless we start hiring robots to play. Then we’ll have to start changing the batteries.

Q7. Are you affiliated with an organizations or associations dealing with road managers?

A7. No.