Tour Manager: Skeeter Durham, Independent

Below is the results of an interview between Christy McCouch, an Entertainment Management student at Missouri State University and Skeeter Durham, an Independent Tour Manager. The interview was conducted in the fall of 2001.

Christy: So first I just want to know what exactly is your position title and are you with a company or are you doing this on your own?
Skeeter: Actually I do freelance work so I go out there and look for work or people come to me. My actual title with what I am doing right now is I am the quote “tour manager” on the project I am working on right now. I have had other titles such as hospitality manager, merch manager, assistant tour manager, and personal assistant; it all kind of depends on who you go out with and what the size of the tour is as far as what I have been doing.

Christy: Are you with a band or are you with some kind of show?
Skeeter: I’m actually right now currently on the road with more or less a show, I usually travel with bands, but I decided to try something different since I had time off until January and I am currently out with a group called The Girly Freak Show. It sounds really weird, but it’s actually fun. Which is actually a side project from Slymenstra Hymen from Gwar.
: Ok S: I don’t know if you remember the band Gwar, or not, they have the big costumes, and the kind of shock rock before Marilyn Manson and all those people came along. They’re actually coming out with an album, they?re doing some touring but the girl from Gwar, Slymenstra Hymen, is who I’m actually out working with right now.
C: That’s neat, what are some past bands that you’ve worked with?<BR> S: Uh, some of the past bands I’ve worked with? I’ve worked with a group called Sister Hazel, I’ve worked with Billy Joel, Billy Squire, Eddie Money, *NSync, gosh, just a whole big list, a wonderful regional band in the Southeast called Weekend Excursion, keep your eyes on them because they’re gonna be doing something really big soon. And I’ve also worked with a lot of the eighties bands that have rolled through recently, like The Outfield, uh, actually my list could go forever.

C: That’s neat, that’s awesome! Ok, now I just want to ask you about your job description, and like your responsibilities, or can you give me like a day or a week in the life of?
S: Oh gosh, in a way it really varies from tour to tour, and it varies on the needs of the tour that you’re on. But a lot of things deal from you know, advancing the shows after you get the contracts from the booking agent, make sure everything is set and in line for your arrival. I usually try to do that a week and a half to two weeks in advance. Make sure that everything that’s in the rider they’re aware of, find out if there is going to be any problem with the items that are in the technical rider or the hospitality rider. Also, do the routing once we have the tour lined up, sit down and work out you know, how we’re going to get from point A to point B. Deal with all of the settlements, the door accounts with the venues, the ticket manifest, like Ticketmaster, if you are on a tour that needs that type of attention. Doing the payroll, doing your petty cash payouts, making sure hospitality is ready once you get into a venue, it’s not as glamorous as a lot of people think.

C: So, and I imagine the bigger the tour is, a lot of that is divided out into separate jobs to separate people?
S: Exactly, for instance, some of the tours that I’ve been on, I’ve done just hospitality, which ya know, with just even doing that I’ve had five people under me to assist because we’ve had crews of like 200 people. And that’s just the crew. C: Wow.
S: I don’t dislike schools that teach these things, cause I think they’re great, it gives you a little information, but until you’ve actually done it, you don’t really know exactly what you’re walking in to, or at least that’s what I’ve found. Theory is really good, the schools I think do prepare you, but there’s a lot of shocks I think when you actually get out on the road. You have to quote “hold the entertainer’s hand” make sure that everything is going the way that they want it to go, because ultimately, they’re your boss, or the record company is your boss. You have to treat them like they are the most important thing, which is good because it makes them feel good, and it makes everything run smooth.

C: That’s something that I’ve always wondered, especially with going into this specific field, or major, is if I am going through all this schooling, and it seems like experience outweighs any education I could get for it so much, as it would be hard getting a job. Or do you think-cause a lot of this is based on the business side of it, do you think that is really really helpful, or do you think it’s almost not worth it whenever you could get out there and be getting experience?
S: I definitely would not say it’s not worth it, I know people who go to Full Sail down in Florida, and I’ve always suggested if you are taking some kind of entertainment class, also take a business class as well. Because if you get into the nitty gritty, you are the tour manager, or you are the tour accountant, or whatever, you need that business.

C: Ok, what are some false assumptions about your position?
S: That it’s mega-glamorous. I mean it is fun, don’t get me wrong, and when it stops being fun, I will stop doing it. People think it is very stress-free, but it is very stressful. Because you have to make everybody happy, and accommodate everyone as a tour manager. Not only the group that you’re with, but you have to accommodate the management company, the record companies, you have to accommodate the booking agent, you have to accommodate the venues. So there’s this bigger circle of people that you’re actually responsible to, than most people actually see.

C: What are the employment opportunities like in this field, or in tour management?
S: They’re out there. I hate to say that this is one of those businesses, and I do film and TV work too, that you really need to get your foot in the door; you have to get to know someone and work with them. The who-you-know is so definitely true in this industry. I wish in a way it wasn’t like that because there are so many people out there that were talented who were never given the opportunity. I am just thankful that I was actually given the opportunity, and went right from there.

C: What is the salary range from like a local or unknown act, touring with them, to a superstar status act?
S: Oh wow, on my personal experience I’ve been paid, gosh, this doesn’t necessarily mean recently, I’ve gotten anything from $100 a week with just a local band, plus food and lodging, up to $1500 a week, it really depends on what size tour you’re on.

C: What kinds of advancement opportunities are there, and are they really difficult to obtain, or is it just all in who you know again?
S: A lot of it is who you know; advancing is as far as going from tour manager to something else?

C: Getting up to tour managing, starting from the bottom and going up to that maybe?
S: Well, the way I actually started, I actually started as a runner for one of the promotions companies, it was called Beach Club back then, and then Cellar Door, and now everybody knows them as SFX. So I actually started as a runner for their shows, and you know, it’s basically whenever the tour manager or hospitality person with the band, when they came into a venue, I was their gopher, and that?s about how I started. If you start in that area, and you?re really good, you’ll just keep moving up.

C: What originally attracted you to this job, and what’s keeping you there now? You mentioned you were having fun and that’s why, but is that what attracted you to it?
S: Well, what attracted me to it is a good question, I think what originally attracted me to it was, “Oh I think it’s such a glamorous thing!” But then after I got into it, I was like, “Oh okay, this is more work than I thought it was.” But that was the attraction actually. What’s kept me here is working with lots of great people, every single tour that I go on, whether it’s a local band, to regional band, to national, every single tour is a learning experience. So I also look at everything I go on is preparing me for the next tour.

C: Is there any, I know we talked about this a little bit earlier, but is there any recommended education or training now for this job, or do you think there will be in the future?
S: I think there may be more later on, hoping that more of the schools will start making it mandatory to take business with the entertainment classes.

C: That’s what this program is, this one’s fairly new, it’s only like 3 or 4 years old I think and you do have to get into the college of business and it is a management class. So it’s all surrounded by management. So would you say that was a better approach than some schools?
S: That is a much better approach in my opinion, yes. I?ve seen one, I’m supposed to be giving a talk when I get off tour at the Gilbert Technical Community College in Greensboro, and they have no business classes there to my understanding. That’s what I’ve been told, I don’t know for sure and they have tour management and recording, and audio classes with no business classes to go along with it. And I personally, and once again this is only my personal view is you need those classes.

C: What do you think are the most beneficial skills to succeed in your career, and what do you think those people who aren’t succeeding are lacking?
S: Patience, patience. I had a comment from Slymenstra Hymen on this tour, and she says I must have the longest fuse of any of her tour managers she’s ever had in the past.

C: Is there any appropriate personality you need for this job, or any other types of character traits, do you think?
S: Definitely a people person is going to succeed a lot more. Someone who’s understanding and can see both sides of an issue. Someone who is majorly set in their ways and unwilling to look at all sides of things they won’t go too far in this.

C: What kind of experience and/or qualifications do you need to obtain this job, and what kind of experience and qualifications did you have when you started out?
S: When I first started out, I had no experience whatsoever. That’s when I started out as the runner for SFX. Qualifications these days you know, unless you work your up, I would say you definitely need the business side, you know like a degree in business. Not everybody looks for that. All my answers are basically general as well, because each tour and each company is going to be different.

C: Are you in any organizations or associations now?
S: I am actually a part of NABET, which is for broadcasters, when I do my other work and I am a member of IATSE, I think everybody else refers to it as IA. But those affiliations don’t really have a big bearing on if I’m actually going out on the road with someone as a tour manger or personal assistant, or doing that kind of work. That would be mainly if you’re going to be doing production, stage band, or lighting tech, or things like that.

C: How long have you been in the business, and what changes have you seen since then?
S: Oooh, I don’t know if I should tell you how long. With the bands and the entertainment side, as well as the film and TV side, I’ve been doing this for about 15 years.

C: Ok, and have you seen changes, a lot of changes since then in the industry?
S: Most of the changes I’ve seen have been technology changes, you know, just everything used to be done on paper, you have a stack of paper at the end of the night. Now everything is computerized. Depending on what tour you’re on, and depending on your freelance abilities, its, you have your equipment to take out on the road. It’s more cutthroat, actually I don’t even know if I should use that phrase or not. I think the people are more demanding on the tour managers, the personal assistants in careers these days. Due to the competition there’s been lots of changes.

C: Do you have any insider tips on either how to land a job as a tour manager, or land any kind of job to work your way up?
S: Get to know a promoter, or a venue, or someone who’s already working with a band. For instance, this particular tour that I’m on now, I knew no one on this tour, but it was a referral from someone that I’d worked with in the past on another tour. So, network, network, network as much as you can on any tour you’re on.

C: What is the hiring process like?
S: As far as me getting hired, or me hiring more crew? C: Either way, actually, but like you getting hired for a specific, like when you just got hired for this job that you’re on now.
S: I was up against five other people when I was actually recommended for this. It’s almost just like any other job. The main artist, the main entertainer, always or in my experience, always likes to chat with the tour manager first, to get a feel if there’s going to be any conflicts happening, so you have to almost be like a baby-sitter when you’re out on the road as well. So, you know the reporting an interview, whether it’s in person or on the phone has to be perfect. One thing that I do suggest, is never go into a situation and pretend that everything’s ok, or you know, if you have any doubts or hesitations before you go out with someone, stick with those thoughts. Cause once you get out on the road it’s really hard to say, “Oh well you know, its just not going to work.”

C: So you’re saying just stick with you’re gut feeling a lot of the times on everything?
S: Mmhmm, all the time.

C: What regions of the United States have the best employment opportunities; do you know of any that are better than others? And what do you think about Orlando, cause that’s somewhere that I’ve been considering.
S: Orlando, I still consider that part of the southeast, I think has a good potential because its in the southeast. I’ve lived everywhere, I’ve lived in Canada, I’ve lived in Orlando, I’ve lived in Seattle, but it seems when I’m in the southeast, I get more work. The myths of “Ya gotta live in LA or you have to live in New York” are total myths, I mean it’s just absolutely false.

C: So you would say that over there by Orlando and Nashville, that’s all where most everything is, you think?
S: That’s a lot, I actually live in North Carolina now, and since I moved back to North Carolina my phone has just been ringing off the hook. You’d be amazed at how many bands are actually based out of the southeast. Just because their record company is in New York or LA or the management company is on Hollywood Blvd., that means nothing.

C: How exactly, I guess we already talked about this, you started as a runner, I was going to ask how you got to where you are today and where did you start. Did you just, when you became the runner, how’d you actually get that job, did you just ask someone? I’ve heard that some people just go in and say “I’ll work for free” until they decide they want you, and then they start paying.
S: In the beginning, I was doing that with them as I said I was hanging out at the coliseum, I think, trying to get into shows for free. It was like “ok, if you do this and this you can come into the show” and that’s how that actually started.

C: Is this a typical career path? Do you think that’s how most people get their start, or a lot of people do?
S: Some people I know have started out the exact same way. I know a lot of people who actually grew up with different bands and they go out with them. There’s a great tour manager out, his name is Rick Hitchcock who works with the Weekend Excursion band I was telling you about, he grew up with the band. He’s a great tour manager for them because he knows them inside and out. Out on the road, he knows their needs before they even ask.

C: Where does one usually end up in this business, and how many years does it typically take, or does this completely vary?
S: It completely varies.

C: Do you have a certain goal where you want to end up, or are you just gonna go until like you said, you aren’t having fun anymore?
S: I’m just going to go until I’m not having fun anymore. Some people are in a position to pick and choose who they work for, some people aren’t. After several years, if your phone is ringing as soon as you finish one tour, If it starts ringing; you know you’re in the position to turn things down if you want to. I see a lot of people out there like that, a lot of people who are in demand, and a lot of people who are second choices, and a lot of people who are third choices. Anybody who is a third choice I would also say don’t let that discourage you, at least you’re a choice. And that means third choice could turn into to being first choice on the next tour.

<> C: What are the Pros and Cons that you see to your job?
S: The pros are that I meet a lot of good people, do a lot of networking, I have fun. The cons would be even though you know you’re doing your job right, people will never tell you your doing it right, you will only hear when things are going wrong.

C: So you’re only seeing the negative side of it sometimes?

S: Exactly, and a lot of bands even those bands who have the same tour manager tour after tour after tour, there’s always some type of conflict and, I don’t know if you’ve interviewed any bands or not about their tour managers, which might be a good idea. A lot of bands will always publicly tell, “I hate my tour manager” but its because the tour manager is also saying, “ok we have to go now, no, you can’t have a drink until after the show.” So it’s almost like a parental thing happening as well.

C: How about family, and how often are you home or how often are you able to spend with your friends or family or whatever. Is that a con?
S: It can be a pro at times. You have friends and family you miss, and depending on what tour you’re on and who you’re out working with, dictates. The tour that I’m on right now is a short tour; it’s just a two-month tour. We’re actually driving through my home tomorrow, so I will be able to spend half a day there, and then in two more weeks, just because of our routing, we’ll go back through the same area. But that’s two days that I’ll be able to see my house out of two months. Sometimes its been six months before I’ve seen home, and sometimes, if I’m working with a regional band, I was actually lucky on the last tour, I could go home every weekend. But all these things vary from tour to tour, who your with, how big the crew is.