The explosion of dance music around the world has created an expansion of business opportunities for various sectors within the music industry, one of which is touring. As DJs now command greater salaries than before. They are being booked like crazy for gigs everywhere, the demand for a tour manager is high. In order to better understand the world of these on-the-road specialists, we had a chat with Manny Zeyala, who oversees one of the most successful EDM touring companies in North America, On Tour Management.
Hi Manny. Tell us about your company, On Tour Management, what it does and how it came about.
We provide tour management for some of today’s bigger name DJs. About 2 years ago, when I was on tour with Erick Morrillo, who I worked with for five years, I realized that there were a lot of guys out there who weren’t really tour managers, but were still working with artists as if they were. In reality, they were just friends of the artist, and every time something would go wrong on stage, they would turn to me and say “Hey Manny, can you help me with this?” That’s when the light came on in my head, and I thought, “Why don’t I take some of my peers and create a company to look after tour management in the Americas?” Adding to that, was the fact that a lot of young up-and-coming artists in Europe can’t afford to bring their tour managers to North America, since they would have to pay for long flights, hotels, etc. So I felt that I could provide that kind of service in North and South America, and it was well-received. On Tour Management already has worked with Erick Morillo, Nicole Moudaber, Jamie Jones, Borgore, Nicky Romero, Dannic, Dyro, Hardwell and most recently, Markus Schulz.
The overall goal for On Tour Management has been to have 10 full-time tour managers working with today’s biggest DJs. But we don’t want to stop at that; we want to move on to work with artists of other genres, such as rock bands, and grow as a company.
Many up-and coming artists have trouble distinguishing the role of a manager from a booking agent or tour manager. For the sake of others, can you tell us what the job of a tour manager is?
It’s funny that you mention that. Nowadays, I get so many messages on social media from people that want me to “manage” them, or “be their agent” or something similar. I tell them, “We’re none of those things. We’re tour managers.” Our job entails handling everything from logistics and booking flights to communicating with venues. We send out advance sheets to venues with the flights, car transfers and hotels that need to be organized. We also need to confirm the artist rider with them, and other idiosyncrasies (like certain types of food or certain types of linen or clothes in their room). We handle all of that. Our job is to make the life of an artist easier when they’re on the road.
When you’re on the road with artists, what tends to be the day-to-day interaction that you have with them as their tour managers?
Well, it really depends on the artists themselves. For example, when I was working with Erick Morillo, I wouldn’t hear from him on my days off. We did our own separate things. But with that being said, my days off are never really days off. If Erick had called me and asked me to get him some food or pick up a cable for his laptop, I’d go. Normally, I’ll talk to the artist and let them know what my plans are for my off day, and if they need me, I’d be on my way. But now I have other artists that want to hang out, and want me to show them fun places in the city that we’re at, like a museum or an amusement park. So it’s all about what the artist wants.
To be honest with you most artists prefer not to hang out with us. They draw employee-employer lines in the sand, and once you cross that line and start becoming friends, it becomes harder for them to reprimand you when things go wrong or if mistakes are made. I’ve noticed that with a lot of big artists, and I respect that.
Has it become a tendency for tour managers to take a team of people with them on the road?
Well, when it comes to big artists like Hardwell, who I tour manage full-time, we do have a team. I come with a lighting director, a visual guy, a sound engineer, etc. We hang out together and let the artists rub shoulders with other people in the industry. I also need to spend time with the crew to make sure everyone is on time and has what they need. If someone oversleeps or is late, I’m the one who gets chewed out, so I need to be on top of that. Everyone that I’ve worked with thus far are all grown men, so we handle ourselves well. I’ve seen differently in other camps though.
One of the major changes within the music industry is that touring is now the primary source of income for artists, as record sales dwindle. Has the new-found importance of touring affected the job of a tour manager?
When I first started, I never saw that many tour managers. It was only the upper-tier guys in dance music who had them, as it’s an expensive cost. You have to factor in the tour manager’s yearly salary, his flight, hotel stays, meals, etc. Having one could cost you anything from $220,000 – $300,000 a year. When I first started in 2009, only a few big-name artists like Steve Angello, Carl Cox, David Guetta and Erick Morillo had them. Up-and-comers didn’t know how long their careers would last, so having a tour manager may not have made sense to them. But with dance music now exploding, artists are making big salaries, and almost everyone has one. Five years ago, if you were a DJ, and walked into a room with a tour manager, everyone knew you were doing well for yourself.
Seeing as you’ve been doing this before dance music blew up globally, would you say that 2010 has brought a rise in the number of gigs that DJs play yearly? Particularly around 2011-2013, you used to hear about how the popular DJs at the time were playing 300 gigs a year.
I did hear those kinds of stories. But if someone said to me that an artist was playing 200-250 gigs a year, I’d have to ask how many of those were actually good gigs. I’ve been fortunate to work with some of the biggest artists, and those guys play around 120 gigs a year, and all of them are kick-ass. I have wondered whether these guys that play several hundreds of shows a year are burning themselves out, and if it’s worth it for them.
As a tour manager, you’re aware of the benefits that you bring to an artist’s touring life, so can you tell us about what you’ve seen in the lives of artists that don’t have tour managers? In your opinion, are they able to manage their touring affairs on their own?
One thing I noticed is that when something goes wrong, like a blown speaker or pulled-out cable, and you don’t have a tour manager, there’s nobody that has your back. So now you’re turning around, walking away from the stage, trying to find the stage manager and explain the situation. God forbid you’re in a foreign country and are unable to speak the language, and can’t communicate. Now you’re all flustered, and the audience can see that. I see things like that when I’m on the road, and it’s one of the biggest differences between having a tour manager and not having one.
What aspects of social media are involved in touring, and which ones do you tend to be involved in?
I don’t have anything to do with an artist’s social media accounts, though one of the things that I have my tour managers do is to chase the venues for photos from the show. If I have a gig tonight, I want the photos tomorrow, without watermarks. It’s important to have them uploaded on an artist’s social media pages as soon as possible. 48-72 hours after a gig, those photos will have lost their value. By then, a new gig may already have happened, and people don’t want to know about the gig that occurred three days ago.
I’m very big on social media for my company, and I am always pushing On Tour’s brand on Instagram and Twitter, so I understand the importance of it. I encourage all the artists that I work with to be big on it as well.
As someone who understands the importance of social media, do you think the service that JustGo offers would be useful to you, as a platform that lets you manage all your social media pages from one place?
Absolutely. Social media is important for brand recognition. When I started On Tour Management, I was going to build a website to give my company some credibility. But at the last minute, I changed my mind and thought “I’m going to do the opposite, and use social media, which is free. Then I’ll take the money for this website and invest it into my brand and make it recognizable to the artist community.” It’s only now in January that I’ll be launching my website. This way was financially smarter for the company. So I’ll definitely be looking into JustGo, and I think everyone needs to look into it, as it can only help.
Glad to hear it. Wrapping up, how do people reach out to you to work with On Tour Management?
You can reach out to us in multiple ways. People have reached out to us through On Tour Management’s Instagram and Fac