Lesson 6- Follow These Rules For Touring Canada
Before I moved to England, I spent the better part of three years touring back and forth across Canada exclusively, almost non-stop. This is quite a feat which I somehow achieved with the help of my agent, Joey Balducchi#. I spent many years before that touring but more sporadically. Looking back on it, it’s a pretty unusual thing for a person to do for a few reasons: Canada is a huge place with a small population in it. Therefore, it’s next to impossible to tour and make a living. To this day there it seems like no one does it (with the exception of B.A. Johnston) unless they get a financial help from the Canadian government.
The example I always give about how difficult it is to tour Canada is Thunder Bay, Ontario. You can always get a gig in Sudbury (five hours from Toronto) and stay in the venue, The Townhouse’s basement (one of Canada’s last remaining ‘Band Houses’). The next big town is Winnipeg which is a sixteen hour drive from Sudbury. So you have three options: one can finish the gig in Sudbury, and drive those big, empty, dangerous roads straight through the night, one can have a day off (the most expensive thing you can do as you’re spending money and not making it) or one can get a gig in Thunder Bay where an act will have a place to stay, some food but one may not get paid because they know you have to do a gig somewhere along that drive. I always took the gig.
Two of the things I am most proud of in my career is I took both Wax Mannequin and B.A. Johnston on their first tours. B.A. made it to the U.K. a little while ago and reminded me of my, “tour rules” that I had. I wrote them down and they were published on the now defunct Chart Attack website. I’ve scoured the internet for the old essay I wrote about it but I can’t find it. I even got in touch with my old journalist pal, Shawn Despres to see if he had it (I used to send him stuff like that) but he only found an article about things to bring with you on a tour. So here is said list followed up by some of the tour rules that I remember:
Things To Bring
Floss And Dental Products- You’ve got to take care of those chompers. There’s nothing worse than talking to someone up close and them having bad breath. Plus, you never know who you’ll be kissing.
Deodorant And Cologne- When you rock, you smell. There’s no way around it. Maintenance is key. Take a shower whenever you can. Then put on some deodorant and cologne. We musicians don’t need any help seeming homeless.
Your Instruments- How else are you gonna play? Duh. A couple of harmonicas and a holder in your front seat are good too. You only need your mouth to play it, so you can still drive. If you have a cup holder you’re laughing.
Books- With all that time alone you need something to do. And once you’ve paid for the book, it doesn’t cost anything to read it.
Peanut Butter And Bread- You don’t need a refrigerator for either of those. It’s a very convenient snack. Cheap too.
Paper And Pens- Once the sun goes down and the lights are low you can’t read anymore. Drawsomething or write a letter. I’ve also found that if you’re doing something like drawing, people want to know what you’re doing and before you know it you have a new friend.
Lots Of Socks And Underwear- You may not be able to change all of your clothes everyday, but it’s amazing how fresh you feel after you’ve changed these items.
A Phone Card *- Get it before you hit the road and become poor. That way it’s already paid for. You never know when you’ll want to hear a familiar voice.
As Much Water As You Can **- Water is very important to drink. It’s easy to get into the habit of drinking soda, especially when it’s less expensive than water in the truck stops. Go to a grocery store and get a case – it’s way cheaper. You are 80 per cent water. You must drink it.
Your Favourite CDs ***- If you feel lonely, you can always visit your friends.
Mayor McCa enjoying his very first rider
And here is a rewritten version of the tour rules so far as I remember:
Always Set Up Your Merch- Making money isn’t easy on the road so even if you sell one t-shirt, that could mean the difference between eating and not the next day. Set up your march as soon as you get there and make it the last thing you pack up.
Don't Eat After 8pm- B.A. calls this, ' the gremlin rule'; don't feed them after midnight. Playing on a full, stomach is a bad idea. If food is part of the deal and you don't get it til late, have it in a takeaway and eat it for lunch the next day. Your tummy and waist line will thank you for it.
Be Nice To The Soundperson And Remember Their Name- The sound person is the one who is going to make you sound either really good or really terrible. I know a lot of the times they are miserable but that’s because they have the most thankless job in rock. So be sure to thank them while you’re on stage as well. It goes a long way. Besides, shouldn’t we be nice to one another anyway?
Ask The Audience For A Place To Stay- The chances are they are there to see you and therefore would be happy to put you up if there is no hotel in the deal. You may even develop a friendship that will last so you can call them next time. On a side note: this method has proven to me time and time again, the people who have nothing are the people who give you everything.
A Spectacle Never Hurts- People see shows all the time. There are a million singer-songwriters and bands out there and most them aren't good or bad. They're just alright (I'd always rather see a really bad band than an average one). Do something different. Be spontaneous. Do something that will make them talk remember you.
Things have changed over the years and perhaps someone who still tours Canada would have a few more things to add. For me, these rules helped tours run a lot more smoothly.
#Joey is an amazing person. Antidicdotally, the awesome thing about him is that if ever a bar owner was threatening not to pay me, I’d just say I was going to call my agent and they’d cough up immediately. I think a lot of them thought Joey Balducchi was like a mafia guy (Hamilton has a history of being a mob-town). Little did they know; Joey is a skinny hippy with a huge heart.
*this was when cell phones and plans were really expensesive. I’d still suggest a long distance card or a cell with a really good roaming and long-distance plan
**this is before I was really aware of the damage that plastic bottles do to the environment. If I was writing this now, I’d suggest having re-usable water bottles, fill them up after every gig and take them with you in the car.
***obviously, nowadays there are countless other ways to get music onto a device and therefore in a car.