The life of a touring drummer is often as changing and fluid as the scenery that flies past the bug-splattered windows of the tour van. most of the time, there is a loose rhythm to it all. You drive, play eat sleep repeat.
But just going on tour is one thing; breaking even and surviving financially is a whole different element beneath the surface of it all. Drummer’s are not only creative with their music, but also with their ways of staying afloat on the road. We asked drummers who have clocked many hours on the road the best ways to save and make cash on the fly.
by Miro Justad
Denver’s stoner doom sludge metal two-piece band that is ORYX has spent its fair share of time on the road, playing in 36 states just this past year. Drummer Abbey Apple plays heavy hitting technical beats on their new split LP with Languish. She suggests being realistic while setting up guarantees with venues ahead of time about your draw and to plan ahead for how much money you will need to get to the next city.
“We’ve definitely encountered some weird moments when getting paid at the end of the night. We had one instance where the promoter was on mushrooms and couldn’t figure out how much money he was holding in his hands. He would add random numbers in and the total would be different each time he counted, but he wouldn’t let anyone else help him. He then realized it was only about $60, which would be split between us and another band, and he started acting really sketchy. It’s a funny story now, but looking back at it, I remember feeling pissed off at how this guy was handling an already awkward moment!
Avoid hotels if you’re trying to stay on a budget. On our most recent tour, my bandmate and I built a loft in our van, complete with memory foam and comfy pillows! We slept on that every night of tour. Our van became our tiny home.”
BAND: BRAINFREEZE, OBERHOFER, SAD13
New York City’s Zoe Brecher tours with numerous bands of different genres. Her punky, upbeat drumming in Brainfreeze (NYC/Madrid) encapsulates her optimistic street savvy style of surviving on the road. She knows to be friendly with the person who is responsible for paying her band out at the end of the night and to save that bag of potato chips from the green room for later.
“On tour, I get a per diem and get paid electronically at the end of the tour for all the shows/days. If it’s a gig, I usually get paid in cash after. It’s always awkward for me to ask, but I’ve learned the hard way that, especially or maybe exclusively in Manhattan, if you don’t ask, no one’s going to chase you down to give you the money you earned. They just keep it.
If it’s free, take it. If you know people in a town who are willing to host you, allow them to. In exchange, buy them a gift, give them merch, or put them on the guest list. Always make sure there’s no buy-out or meal deal “for the artists” before buying yourself dinner. Some of the best meals I’ve had on tour are from the kitchens of venues. What you don’t eat, drink, or finish from your rider, take with you.”
BAND: DEATH VALLEY GIRLS
The dark satanic glam rock band from Los Angeles known as Death Valley Girls has a strong rhythmic backbone, and her name is Laura. This is a well-known fact, but the band has another girl who is their key to touring and that is their van deemed “Judy”. She takes them around the states bringing “doom boogie” music to all while saving them money. From those long drives on the road, Laura has picked up healthy eating tricks to survive.
“Eggs and avocado! We get diner breakfast almost every morning and never get sick of it. I just try to keep the meals simple. I also stock up on probiotics and vitamins to supplement the weak moments of Hot Buffalo Bugles.
We have air mattresses in Judy (our van) at all times so that we can get away with one hotel room if we have to find one. We have made friends all over, too. It’s amazing how many people are nice enough to let us crash at their place for the night.”
Genders from Portland makes beautiful ’90s rock ‘n’ roll soundscapes fitting the northwest scenery. Katherine plays groovy drums and sings backup for this hardworking band that tours America, even opening for Built To Spill on a national tour. Planning ahead is a way that she saves money on the road – having food provided in the green rooms, packing oatmeal for breakfast, staying with family in various places, and having pre – approved deals with the venues for their pay out.
“Normally we play shows where the production manager pays us at the end of the night. We’ll take a look at ticket sales and make sure our booking agent’s deal for us is on file.
We’ve made friends around the US where we can have someone to stay with most nights, but there were some times that we slept in our van in the Walmart parking lot, because they are cool with overnight parking. Not the most fun but we’ve had to take these last resort options, especially if our tour budget was tight. We have a lot of family around the US, so we usually stay with family members and get to take showers and have hot meals, plus the time we get to spend with family is great.”
BAND: HELMS ALEE
Hozoji of Seattle’s dark nautical rock band Helms Alee is a trooper when it comes to touring. She has learned how to eat healthy for cheap and to save on sleeping arrangements. The band’s 2016 release, Stillicide, features strong fuzzed – out guitar lines and heavy, unforgiving rhythms, which perhaps reflects her no – bullshit way of traveling.
“I have slept in the van on every single tour I’ve ever been on. I have slept at truck stops and gas stations. I’ve camped, crashed on strangers couches and floors, and even slept in people’s front yards.
I have found that when the band can afford it, giving ourselves per diems actually saves both the band and ourselves a lot of money. Some tours, when I’m feeling extra disciplined, I actually come home with leftover per diem money. I do that by eating most of my meals out of the van snack box and cooler that I keep stocked with grocery – store foods.
Buy food at grocery stores as much as possible. Convenience is queen.”