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INDUSTRY INTERVIEW: Mark Workman ‘How To Be A Music Tour Manager’

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Mark Workman One For The RoadInfectious Magazine is thrilled to bring you the first in a series of industry interviews where we aim to bring you insight from some of the music industry’s finest. In the coming weeks, you’ll see interviews with PR professionalslabel staff, tour managersfestival promoters, and many more with advice for bands, aspiring industry professionals, and those who just want to learn more about the field.

Kicking things off is tour manager & lighting designer Mark Workman, who has worked with bands such as Testament (most recently supporting Lamb of God, Killswitch EngageQueens of the Stone Age, Anthrax, Megadeth, and Slayer.

Workman shares with us insight and advice on the industry, as well as a peak into his new book, One For The Road: How To Be A Music Tour Manager. Check it out after the jump, and purchase a copy of his book here. Feeling lucky? We’ll be giving away a copy of this book right here to celebrate the kick off of our first industry interview!

Infectious Magazine: You’re releasing your book, One For The Road: How To Be A Music Tour Manager which is a bit revolutionary in that it’s said to be the first book to really take a look at music tour management. What can you tell us about your book, and what readers can expect?

Mark Workman: Yes, One for the Road: How to Be a Music Tour Manager is the first book on music tour management. I don’t know why no one else has ever written a book on the subject, but since tour managers spend their lives traveling the world with music groups I’m not surprised. When we’re on the road, we’re always slammed, working day and night; and when we’re not on the road, we’re busy organizing the next tour we have to do.

I spent two years of my life writing this book, and I believe it’s a valuable book for anyone interested in becoming a music tour manager. And it’s all about the road now, so good tour managers are in demand. The book is 355 pages of knowledge and advice from someone who has spent thirty years traveling the world with famous music groups. It also has many true stories from the road to help drive home the point of the chapter.

The book is for beginners and pretty much covers every aspect of doing the job, and it gives the reader tips on how to get started in the music business and build a successful career as a music tour manager. And while it’s a book for beginners it’s also a good book for new tour managers still learning how to do the job or for other road crew members who want to move up the career ladder and become a road manager.

It’s also a good book for new bands that can’t afford a road manager yet and need to handle their own business on the road. It’s also a book for anyone who just wants to know more about how a music tour is run. But I tell it like it is. It’s not a book for the squeamish, but I’ve always believed that telling people sugarcoated bullshit will do them no good.

IM: Having worked with clients like Anthrax, Megadeth, Slayer, Testament, and Queens of the Stone Age, what’s one major takeaway you’ve had? 

MW: In 1979, at the age of nineteen, I left the hills of West Virginia on a Trailways bus with $150.00 to my name and went 2,600 miles to Los Angeles, where I didn’t know a single soul, to find a way into the music business. I didn’t know a thing; I was just a dumbass kid with a lot of balls and ambition. There was no way in hell that I was going to fail and come crawling back to West Virginia with my tail between my legs and die of black lung working in the coal mines for 50 years like my grandfather did. I actually did that job right before I left West Virginia. Working in a cold, black hole in the earth was not how I was going to spend my life. I wanted wine, women and song and to make great money traveling the world.

But I didn’t know a thing about the music business. I spent the first few years of my career conning everyone into believing that I knew what I was doing until I figured it out. I wish I had a book like this back then. My early years would’ve been a lot easier. That’s one of the biggest reasons that I wrote this book: so all of the young men and women coming up today would have it a lot easier than I did.

I’ve been lucky that I didn’t have to spend years traveling around in stinky vans, breaking our asses in dive clubs trying to make it. My first client, Steeler (Ron Keel & Yngwie Malmsteen), turned into Keel after Yngwie left, and a career was born. They took off right away, touring the world supporting Dio, Motley Crue, Quiet Riot and many others. That client led to many others. Then the hair band explosion of the 80’s ended and I got a gig with my longest running client of 25 years, the legendary thrash metal band, Testament. That led to Slayer, Megadeth, Anthrax, Danzig, Machine Head and so many others. I got thrown into the fire very quickly and I had no choice but to learn how to do the job quickly or be left behind. It was pretty much learn or burn.

Since I’ve also been a lighting designer for 30 years, I got lucky and designed a lot of big tours such as the infamous Clash of the Titans back in 1990 and many others. Getting a chance to work with such big groups as Slayer and Megadeth early on in my career forced me into learning quickly, and luckily I had a talent for it. And as a road manager, I had a talent for organization and I got to work with a lot of great managers such as Slayer’s manager, Rick Sales, who taught me a lot. Just the opportunity to work with such talented bands enabled me to learn from the best.

IM: What advice do you have for those looking to get into the music industry?

MW: The same advice I gave myself on that Trailways bus in 1979. Believe in yourself and never give up. And if you want to work in the music business, you have to move to where the music business is—Los Angeles, New York, Nashville, Austin, Chicago, London—somewhere that has a big music scene. I was smart enough to know from the get-go that I wasn’t going to start a career in the music business sitting on my sorry ass in West Virginia. I had to go where the action was. But some people said I had more balls than brains, but I beg to differ, and I’ve proven them all wrong. When people tell me that I cannot do something, I pay zero attention to them. That’s just their fear of failure talking. I ignore them. Anyone reading my book who is smart, organized, dedicated and refuses to ever give up can make a career in the music business happen. I did it and so can they.

IM: What advice can you offer those specifically wanting to become a tour manger? Unexpected pros, cons, etc?

MW: Read my book. There’s 355 pages of knowledge and advice garnered from 30 years of worldwide touring experience. I’ve leafed through a few music business books and I can tell right away that the author has never left his house and probably got most of his information from the internet. Learn from someone who’s actually done the job.

Pros: you can make a lot of money doing this job if you build a successful career. And you get paid to travel the world for free. Cons: it’s a tough job and not the nightly Mardi Gras that everyone seems to think it is. It’s a hard job, but that’s why it pays so well.

And there are the pitfalls of letting yourself fall into alcohol and drug abuse that is very prevalent in this business. I’ve been there, done that, and I’ve raised hell with the best of them across the 4 corners of the earth. My stories are legendary, unfortunately, and that’s why I’m writing my memoir, Hunger For Hell, that’s coming out in 2014. But then we wake up and realize that this is a business and we have to treat it that way. It’s not the 80’s anymore. Me, I’m sober today, and I’m doing the best work of my career and I’m quite happy this way. Keep your head on straight and you’ll last for 30 years like I’ve done, and that’s a big accomplishment in the music business. The long and winding road is littered with the remains of those who didn’t learn that lesson.

IM: Along those same lines what advice can you offer bands, having been a tour manager for so long?

MW: Well, I also wrote this book for new bands just starting out. Tomorrow I start a 5-week tour of the U.S. and Canada with Testament as their tour manager and lighting designer and we’re supporting Lamb of God and Killswitch Engage. Testament isn’t really used to supporting anyone; they’re usually doing their own headline tours. But the band wanted to get out there with those 2 bands because they’re friends and they wanted the opportunity to play in front of some younger kids who may have never seen Testament. And it’s made me think a lot of how I started with Testament back in 1988 on the New Order record and how young, dumb and wild we were back then. But we were highly motivated and wanted to put on the best show possible, and we did. But we were still learning so much about how a music tour was run the right way.

So many bands today get signed and have to hit the road on their own without any road crew at all, without a road manager, and have to do so much on their own until they can afford people to help them and teach them. There’s nothing worse than having some new band open up a tour that we’re on and they don’t have a single experienced and competent road crew person with them. It just makes the job of the headliner’s road crew that much harder. We appreciate a new band that shows up with something resembling a clue and acts like professionals. We bend over backwards a lot more and a lot sooner for them that way.

My book will teach new bands so many things such as creating tour budgets, how shows are run, booking travel, how to deal with promoters and bands they’re supporting, and so much more.

IM: What is one of the biggest misconceptions bands have when they first begin looking to tour?

MW: That it’s Friday every night and a non-stop party. And while there are those who whoop it up every night, it’s usually the bands that are more established and have a road crew and a tour bus and a better quality of life on the road. There’s no way some new baby band can keep up that kind of pace traveling around the country in a little van with no road crew. They’ll burn out quickly.

I’ve seen so many young bands through the years get caught up in the whole bullshit rockstar drug and alcohol thing that never ends and their careers usually don’t last because of it. There’s nothing wrong with having fun in this business, but it is still, first and foremost, a business whether some musicians want to think of it that way or not. And you cannot build a successful business hung over and hurting every day. Most new bands learn that pretty quickly, and the ones that don’t usually don’t last.

IM: What is one question that you don’t think is asked nearly enough (be it by artists, professionals going into the field, etc) that you’d like to offer insight on?

MW: Where can I find a good accountant or business manager? Nothing lasts forever. With so many new artists—whether it be musicians, actors, athletes or writers—the money starts rolling in and they start spending like there’s no tomorrow, thinking it’s going to last forever and it doesn’t. Back when I started in the music business 30 years ago, careers were measured in years but today they’re measured in months. Back then a record company would spend years developing a band’s career. Today, some of these record companies will release a band’s new single, throw it against the wall, and if it doesn’t stick, they drop them in a few months. Career over. And it’s hard to get resigned after you’ve been tagged with the stigma of failure.

Save your money and invest it wisely. Hire someone smart to advise you, so when it’s all over you have something to show for all of your years of hard work. Bands like my clients that have lasted for decades are only a small fraction of the sea of bands out there. They come and go so quickly. But the music business is changing so quickly today, and bands are able to have more control over their creative output and control their destiny a lot better.

The same thing goes for road crew members. It’s a hard job that we do traveling the world, but it’s a fun and rewarding job if you look after yourself. Blowing every dime you make on drugs and alcohol to the point that you’re living tour-to-tour just the pay the bills is not a good way to go. I don’t preach to anyone. Have your fun. But do yourself a favor and save as much as you blow so you have something left over for the day when it’s all over. And it will end one day. It always does. Good luck to all of you.

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Angela Mastrogiacomo

Founder of Infectious Magazine & Muddy Paw Public Relations. Lover of passion, ice cream, and books.

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