ELECTRIFY MY SOUL: Taking Care of Business On and Off the Road
Every so often, I get on Facebook and solicit questions to inspire this column — usually when I feel like I’ve run out of ideas. I ask people, non-musicians in particular, what elements of a musician’s life they’re curious about. In addition to that, I also get questions from audience members after gigs, non-musician friends and family members, and editors of this publication (hi Stacy!). And in all of these interactions, I am asked fairly regularly about how touring musicians deal with routine life tasks — bills, haircuts, mail, doctor’s appointments — when they spend so much of their lives on the road. I’ve gotten so used to my way of life at this point that I sometimes forget how abnormal it is, so when I get these kinds of questions, I go, “Oh, right. Good question. How do I deal with that stuff?”
For me, the short answer often is “I don’t.” One of the best and worst things about life on the road is that many parts of your life just have to wait until you get home. I often enjoy the immersiveness of touring, the all-encompassing state of constant motion, but then I return home and am met with stacks of mail, dead plants, and a reminder from my doctor that I’m four months overdue for a physical. When you’ve been meaning to clean out your closet or get a haircut, touring can make it really easy to put those things off for, like, a year. (Just two random examples that are definitely not from my life.) When it’s a persistent health problem that you keep meaning to get checked out, or an urgent bill that needs to be paid, it becomes more worrisome.
Relying on your friends can be a good way to deal with many of these problems. If I’m expecting an urgent piece of mail, I will see if it can be delivered to wherever I’m going to be on tour, or I’ll just ask one of my housemates to mail it to me. I’ve had my housemates deposit checks on my behalf as well. A friend of mine recently posted that he’s looking for a very specific type of instrument to replace one that was lost, and since he’s traveling so much he may not be able to play it before buying it. Imagine buying a car without test-driving it, or having a friend go to a shelter and pick out a dog for you! Buying an instrument without playing it first seems a little like that to me, but it’s not uncommon (and of course, musicians are always buying and selling instruments and gear, so the stakes aren’t really that high). I’ve even had friends who had other people go to apartment viewings for them when they needed to find a new place to live. It’s not ideal, but if a friend whose opinion you trust is able to take care of something like that for you, you can settle for the next best thing to being there yourself.
Dealing with your health is one of the most difficult parts of being a touring musician. Traveling all the time takes a toll on the immune system, and if you get sick on week two of a five-week tour, I believe the industry term is you’re screwed. Getting sick on tour is an experience I would not wish upon my worst enemy, because you can’t just crash in your bed for three days and sweat it out, so you can’t really get better. The cold will linger for the rest of the tour, and unless you’re really, really sick, you will probably still have to play a show every night. If it gets really dire, you can find the nearest emergency room or walk-in clinic, but it fortunately hasn’t come to that for me yet. That’s why it’s so crucial to take care of yourself on the road, and why my backpack is always full of various vitamins. I’ve had a couple of minor health problems over the last year or two that have required repeated follow-ups, and that is quite difficult to schedule around my touring. Doctor’s offices, as I’m sure you know, often book appointments weeks or even months in advance, and I may not know the full details of my touring schedule at that point. Plus, my time at home is so full of various tasks that I couldn’t take care of on the road (not to mention wanting to spend time with people other than my two bandmates), it requires some serious scheduling and time management to make sure that time can be both productive and relaxing.
I think as I continue to tour, I will get better at this. Things like being able to easily get your hair cut by the same trusted stylist every time, instead of trusting a friend with a pair of scissors or Yelping a decent hair salon in Des Moines on your day off, become small luxuries. I don’t even realize I’m missing those things until it’s the day before I leave for tour and I realize that a haircut was the thing I kept forgetting to do. I guess the silver lining is that if anything has made me start to whip my notoriously poor time-management skills into shape, it’s being home from tour with a long to-do list!