11 minute read

ON TOUR

Musicians: Musician • Singer • Ground Vocalist

JOB OVERVIEW

A road musician is hired to travel with an artist and recreate the music on his album and other material as directed.

PREREQUISITES

To succeed, you should possess musicianship, a friendly and positive personality, and be dependable.

A DAY IN THE LIFE

CAREER TIPS

“There is a lot of hurry up and wait, but you have to stay mentally prepared to play. I usually try and get a set list as early as I can and make my notes about what I want to do on it, so I can be as prepared as possible when I step onstage, so I can give the best performance.”—BT

“If the lights are down low and you're reading charts, make sure that you have a stand and lights so that you can see.”—BT

“Being an employee, a sideman employee, there are certain rules of etiquette. You need to keep your comments to yourself unless someone asks your opinion. Don't be negative. A good positive attitude is part of being a professional.”—BT

“So much of this business is people calling people they like to be around. It is personality oriented. People don't just say, ‘Get me a guitar player.’ They know the players and they know what their personalities are like. If your personality works for you, that's going to be a big plus. Then, you've got to be able to stand there and deliver. I was able to come up through the ranks quickly because when people called me, they knew I would deliver.”—TR

“Try to be an easygoing, accommodating person, because out on the road that can be tough when you're cooped up on the bus with six to eight other people for a week at a time.”—TR

“I always thought being on the road was like working the second shift,” says Tammy Rogers. “Typically, you've rolled into town overnight on the bus, and you don't have to show up anywhere until the middle of the afternoon for sound check, and you don't play until somewhere between eight and midnight. By the time you've done the show and loaded everything back up on the bus, you're rolling to the next town around one or two in the morning. You don't get to sleep until three or four o'clock, like the second shift.

“Depending on how far the drive is, you roll into town and you might get there early, and have to wait until your clean-up room is ready, or you might just have time to take a shower and go to sound check. Most of the time, tours are planned to where it's a six or eight-hour drive between the venues, so you usually have time to get up and work out or take a walk, read a book. I used to try to get out and see if I was in an interesting town. Go hit some antique stores, junk shops, or music stores—whatever was local. Then show up at sound check ready to play. There are usually a few hours of downtime before the actual show. That is what you've waited for the whole day: those few moments on stage. That time arrives and you get all dolled up to perform. You play, and when it's over you're back in your sweat pants, tee shirt, and sneakers, and you hop on the bus and roll on to the next town.”

“There are no typical days,” says Billy Thomas. “Artists like to do sound check at different times of the day. They like to eat at different times of the day. Basically, if you're traveling on a bus, you wake up on the bus and go have some breakfast, which is a social time with all the other players. Then you go to your room and rest for awhile, depending on how much rest you got the night before on the bus. Then you shower and get ready. With Vince [Gill], we have a sound check at 3 p.m. every day. Sometimes he'll sound check for two hours, playing and jamming. He loves to play. We use it as a rehearsal time, try out new songs and just play over the top. If you're the headliner, you get that time available to you. It's stipulated in the contract that you want the stage with all the production from 3 to 5 p.m. Then the opening act comes on after us and sound checks. We eat our dinner and then we have downtime until around nine, when we go on. We stay at the venue during that time. With McBride & The Ride, we played sound check and then went back to the hotel, showered and changed clothes, and then came back for the gig. It varies from artist to artist.”

“After the show with Vince, we get back on the bus and change out of our stage clothes, hang out, maybe eat a little something and then travel on to the next city, arriving early in the morning around three or four. We would continue to sleep on the bus until ten or eleven, and go into the hotel and then eat. That was our day. With some artists they want to get off the bus early, when they get in, check into a room and sleep in a bed. Every artist has a different set of rules.”

POINTERS FOR THE JOB SEARCH

“Make sure that you know your instrument. That's the bottom line. Try to get out and meet other players. Try to get as much performing experience as you can, preferably before you even get to town, so that when you get an opportunity, you're ready to step up to the plate. Listen to records. Hear what is current so you kind of know the musical vocabulary.”—TR

“There is no substitute for moving to where the industry is. Technology is bringing us closer all the time, but you still need to be in the city where music happens. The three main cities are Los Angeles, Nashville, and New York. Pick your poison and go after it.”—BT

“It's a real competitive world when it comes to studio or road playing. My advice is to learn to play and sing so you have that competitive edge over someone else that might be good at just one thing.”—BT

THE LEAST FAVORITE THING ABOUT THIS JOB:

“The downside of this job is the stress related to being self-employed. Your employment is based on the phone ringing. Sometimes that can be kind of stressful. When the phone is ringing, you feel good and when it's not, you feel bad.”—TR

“The actual physical part of traveling, I'm not real crazy about. Now that I've seen all 50 states, mostly by bus, I don't need to do that much anymore. I like to stick around town a little more. I'm a dad and a husband and I'd like to spend more time at home. The road can definitely take its toll, family-wise. I've missed so much in my kids’ lives.”—BT

THE BEST THING ABOUT THIS JOB:

“Just playing music. Living here in this town [Nashville] we kind of forget how many players there are out there in the world that don't get to support themselves playing music for a living. Quite honestly, I wasn't able to support myself solely from music until I moved to town. I try to never forget that: how fortunate I am to have the opportunities I've had.”—TR

“I love the other players in the community. I've been doing this for a long time now, and I feel like the guys [male players] are like brothers to me. It's always a great time to walk into the studio and see half dozen friends sitting there. It's just fun.”—TR

“What I like best about performing live is you have an audience's involvement. Also, there is something about playing drums; it's a very physical instrument. I really enjoy that.”—BT

TAMMY ROGERS, MUSICIAN, CO-OWNER OF DEAD RECKONING RECORDS

The Texas home where Tammy Rogers grew up was filled with musical instruments and sounds. “My dad always had bunches of instruments lying around the house,” she recalls. “My earliest memories are of my parents singing Porter [Wagoner] and Dolly [Parton] songs.” Piano was the first instrument she learned, later adding mandolin to her repertoire. But at age ten, the violin became her passion. “It became what I was all about. It was almost second nature, in a sense.” She spent her teen years performing around Texas in her father's bluegrass band, and won a full scholarship to Southern Methodist University in Dallas as a classical violin major. She later transferred to Belmont University in Nashville to finish her degree. After graduation, she moved to east Tennessee and played in a bluegrass band for a couple of years.

When a friend recommended her for a job playing fiddle and mandolin, and singing harmony with Patty Loveless, Rogers was sure she would never be considered. To her amazement, she was hired in 1990 and spent the next 14 months on the road. “I was totally green. I had never played in a band with a drummer, never played in an electric band. I had either played classical music or bluegrass.” Ready for a new challenge, when Rogers was offered a gig with Trisha Yearwood, she accepted and spent another 15 months on the road. Despite her enjoyment at working with both artists, Rogers felt disappointed at not being asked to play on their records. (Nashville draws a distinction between road and studio musicians.) She decided she wanted to have her own work documented on recordings.

Once Rogers made the decision to actively pursue studio work, the calls started coming in and she was quickly able to make the transition from road musician to studio player. She spent much of her time in Los Angeles for the next two years, playing on pop and alternative country recording sessions with artists like Maria McKee, Victoria Williams, and Rosie Flores. Just when she was about to permanently move to California in 1995, she began getting more work in Nashville, and was soon recording with artists like Pam Tillis, Matraca Berg, and Neil Diamond. That same year, Rogers and several musician friends formed the independent record label, Dead Reckoning, to release music considered outside the Nashville mainstream. Since that time, she has remained in demand for session work both in Nashville and Los Angeles. www.deadreckoners.com/artists/tammy_rogers.html

BILLY THOMAS, MUSICIAN, SINGER

“I started my first band when I was 12,” recalls Billy Thomas, whose first drum set was a discard from his older brother. “I got the drum set out of the attic and started playing it when I was 11.” Thomas taught himself by playing along to Beatles and Gene Krupa records, and learned to read music in the school band. Encouraged by his father, he entered talent contests, and his band played at teen dances in the Fort Meyers, Florida area. He progressed in skill from band to band, finally opening locally for touring groups like the Allman Brothers.

After chasing jobs back and forth between Florida and southern California, with little success, Thomas realized he had to live where the work was, and settled in Los Angeles. “My wife and I drove out with the promise of two weeks worth of work at a little place in Marina Del Rey; that was it. Luckily, she found work and helped support us for a year. I couldn't find work, though, and we moved back to Florida with my tail between my legs.” The lack of opportunity in Florida soon convinced the Thomases to take another shot at making it in Los Angeles. Thomas worked with some groups that didn't pan out, struggled to find session work, and ended up driving a furniture delivery truck. Finally, an audition with the Hudson Brothers led to a touring gig. Between session work and his sideman gig, Thomas learned the importance of professionalism: responsibility, punctuality, preparedness, and the ability to convincingly play different styles of music. After several years of touring and recording with the Hudsons, he put in several more years with Rick Nelson's Stone Canyon Band, and then with Mac Davis.

Realizing that Los Angeles was no place to raise children, Thomas moved his family to Nashville, where he quickly found work. “Our furniture had not arrived from Los Angeles. We were living in a little rental and I got a call from a guy in Los Angeles who was looking for me to sing on a record. I got to the session and the other singer was Vince Gill. We sang together for two days, hit it off, and on the second day he asked if I played any instruments.” As it turned out, Gill was looking for a drummer and Thomas ended up filling the slot. He performed on the road with Gill, and did session work with Marty Stuart, Emmylou Harris, and others. Thomas went out on the road with Harris before being signed as an artist with the band McBride & the Ride.

When his five-year contract with McBride was up, Thomas left the group to return to recording and touring with Vince Gill. Between gigs with Gill, Thomas is in constant demand, both as a studio drummer and as a backup singer. “The thing that has always given me a little edge when it came down to getting jobs is that I have two talents I can bring to the table: singing and playing drums.” Thomas has become a triple threat adding songwriting to his list of talents. He and Gill co-wrote “Nothin’ Left To Say,” which was released on Gill's four-CD set These Days. Thomas also makes time to play with the 1970s pop group The Little River Band.

• • • •

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesCareers in the Music BusinessON TOUR - Rehearsal And Storage Facility: General Manager • Office Manager • Operations Manager, Production: Production Designer And Director • Set And Lighting Designer