Erik Parker: 5 Tips for a Career in Touring

By Erik Parker on Sep 8, 2014


This week, Erik Parker joins the Lounge to give a few tips to those who are preparing for a career in the touring industry.  Parker is the Associate Director of the Touring Career Workshop, a Nashville based program that helps prepare future members of the touring industry for a career on the road.  The main TCW event is held in November and is free to attend.  Panels focus on a variety of topics including financial management, business skills, retirement planning, and much more.  For more information (or to register to attend), visit the official site here.  Take it away Erik!

When I was a kid I remember looking through the Country Weekly magazine and seeing all these country stars that I thought were awesome and telling my family that someday I wanted to move to Nashville and be a star. I quickly realized that with the lack of musical talent I needed a backup plan. My dream of being the next Garth Brooks quickly turned into, “I want to work in the music business”.  I thought I may want to be an artist manager, but the plan ended there, so when I graduated high school I made the move to Nashville to see where that path could take me.  In the nine years I have called Nashville home, I’ve been able to make a small mark in the lighting business and do some insanely crazy stuff.  I’ve travelled places that the high school kid I was in 2005 didn’t even know was a possibility and I’ve worked with some people that I only imagined could happen. 

Yes, there are bad days. Yes, there are days that I want nothing more than to have a simple nine-to-five office job and not have to deal with the issues of that moment. But, in each of those times I remind myself of why I got into this industry, and in the following thought, I remember the joy we help provide people. I remember the release we help give fans from all of their problems, and I remember the alternative of that nine-to-five job.  Yes, there will be stressful moments and there will be times you want to no longer work in the business, but remember why you got into it.  Remember the joy and spark it first gave you.  With that being said, if you truly don’t enjoy your job, not to be blunt, but it’s time for you to find another one.  It’s not worth it for someone to continue doing something they don’t enjoy and it’s not worth it to the people you’re surrounded by.

That being said, with my several years of experience and many mistakes made, I thought a few things I think is important to know as you continue your path in touring….

1. Be prepared for rainy days

Unlike many other career choices, a job in the touring business could have extended periods of time where no income is made.  There are obvious exceptions to the rule, but if you are a freelance contracter and work with a band that does not offer a salary or retainer, when they don’t work, you don’t work and you don’t get paid.  Be prepared for this, whether that’s with lining up another job or with money saved throughout the busy season.

2. When you can, get out and see the town

I don’t know how many times I’ve toured with people that spend their entire days off in their hotel rooms.  I TOTALLY understand the rest that we need and want on days off, but this business has the potential to take you to some really cool places.  Make an effort to go see at least a few of them.  Some of my fondest memories on the road are the times a buddy and I would leave our hotel in the early afternoon and explore the city well into the evening meeting people and taking in the culture.  There’s some crazy stuff out there, check it out! Who knows when you may be back there.

3. Appreciate the local help

Yes, we’ve all had stagehands that we just want to look at and ask what went wrong in their genetic pool.  Understand, though, that you don’t know that person, their history, or how they got to the position they’re in.  That person currently has the job to assist you in whatever it is you need. Saying ‘Thank You” or “Good Job” will go a long way; yelling and belittling them will do nothing but create anger and cause them to not put in their efforts that you need to make your day successful. Appreciate what they do and, if needed, take time to help them learn.

4. Shut up and listen

How many times has some punk kid come up and tried to tell you how to do your job?  How many of those times have you wanted to punch them in the face or say some not-so-nice words in their general direction?  I have been on both sides of that on many occasions and to that I tell myself to shut up and listen.  Older folks and people that have more experience than me have have some of the greatest lessons to share, but then the punk kids have some good thoughts as well.  There are definitely times when you need to interject your opinions, but there are also those times when shutting up and listening to what others have to say is the better action.  Learn as much as you can from as many people as possible and use that knowledge to improve what you have to offer the world.

5. Get a mentor… Then give back too.

I have been blessed with an incredible mentor through my career. Actually, I’ve been blessed with several incredible mentors.  A mentor is someone that you can get advice from and could bounce ideas back and forth with; Someone that could help you on the skill side of things, as well as the business side of the touring industry and even with personal stuff. I highly recommend seeking a mentor; finding someone you can talk about whatever with and gain some great knowledge that you may not have otherwise gotten.  A good mentor can save years of mistakes and havoc should you do everything on your own.  At the same time, appreciate it and give back as you can.  Don’t forget those that brought you up in the industry or those that are coming up behind you.  Become an asset to not only yourself and your immediate organization, but also to those others that surround you.

This is by no means a complete guide to touring in the music business, but some basic life tips that I have encountered that I think will help someone making their way into this lifestyle. At the end of the day, enjoy what you do and be a team player. Even those two things will be apparent and help your career. 

Oh yeah, there is one more important one… don’t s&%t on the bus. Trust me.

Erik Parker is a Nashville based Lighting Director and Programmer who has worked with acts such as Jennifer Nettles, One Republic, Billy Currington, and more.  He is also the Associate Director of the Touring Career Workshop.  For more info on Erik visit www.eriklparker.com
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