“Behind the Show” is an ongoing series where we spotlight the work of people who help make concerts happen! Let us know who we should interview next: [email protected]
This week we talked with tour manager Andrew Sprague who has worked in the music industry for almost two decades. He has been Taking Back Sunday’s tour manager since 2014 and the tour manager for Anberlin for 6 years before that!
Backstage Pass: How did you get your start in the music industry? How did you get from there to being a tour manager?
Andrew Sprague: Here’s the short answer: I dropped out of college and started meeting people.
The longer answer, I was handing out show flyers around Milwaukee, a local management company said they needed some help in the office. I started working for $0/hr. For experience. One of their bands was about to go on tour and they needed a merch seller, so they asked if I wanted to do it. Of course, I said yes! I’ll never forget my drive home from the office that day. I don’t think I’ve ever been that excited about anything.
From there it was taking whatever work I could, trying to go above and beyond what was asked of me, and learning everything I could about the music touring business. There were a whole lot of mistakes and a whole lot of learning experiences. I took advantage of whatever opportunity presented itself and always worked as hard as I could.
My first job tour managing, I took over for a TM who was quitting a tour. I happened to have a printer, so they asked if I wanted to do it. As they say, luck is when opportunity meets having a portable printer.
BP: What does your day usually look like when you’re on the road?
AS: I try to wake up before everyone else on the bus, which isn’t very hard. Mornings are usually the only time I can be alone, so I value that alone time to read the news, do the New York Times crossword, and get my brain ready for the long day ahead. We’ll have a quick walkthrough of the venue, then load in. It takes about 3-4 hours between load in and soundcheck. After that, sorting out guest list/press list, have a security meeting, running a meet and greet if we have one, etc. Once doors are open, I try and catch up on any administrative work I have, emails, advances, etc.
BP: Other than you and the band, who else usually on the tour?
AS: For Taking Back Sunday, we have a guitar tech/stage manager, merch seller, sound engineer, monitor engineer, and lighting designer. Other common positions on tour include an assistant tour manager, VIP coordinator, and drum tech.
BP: You’ve done lots of national headlining tours, but also quite a few international tours and festival dates. How does an international show or festival differ from the average US show?
AS: That always depends on the country we’re in. Not to say any one is worse than the other, I’m never dreading working in any country. Just different circumstances to deal with; language barriers, working with rental gear (sometimes you’re at the mercy of whatever is available in that country), and then just small cultural issues that might have to be dealt with.
BP: Over your career, you’ve worked with just a few different groups. Is it the norm for the industry to only work with a few artists, or is it more common for TMs to work with multiple artists every year?
AS: I don’t think there’s a real norm for the industry. I tend to work with one band at a time. That’s just my personal preference. I need to have a connection with the band that goes beyond work. This is also my family 6-8 months out of the year. And my own happiness and mental stability is very important to me.
BP: How do you spend your time in between tours?
AS: Decompressing. Then getting ready for the next tour!
BP: What’s your favorite part of your job? What’s the hardest part?
AS: All the travel and people I get to meet while doing this. I like solving problems and I like controlled chaos.
Hardest part of the job, I don’t know if there is one. I love every part of it! (Maybe that’s the current quarantine situation talking though.)
BP: What’s one thing people would be surprised to know about your job?
AS: You tell me? If I had to guess it’s that being on tour is not as glamorous as people think, but I think it is as fun as people think.
BP: Are there any specific moments/tours you’ve been a part of that stick out as favorites?
AS: Every tour I’ve done over the past 10 years have been great.
BP: How about any horrible experiences you’ve had that you maybe wish you could forget?
AS: I wasn’t very happy the first few years I started touring. There was no specific reason for it, but I was around people that didn’t necessarily help my unhappiness. I ended up leaving the industry for a few years and started working in marketing. I always said I would never go back on the road, unless Anberlin wanted me out since they were (and still are) some of my favorite people in the world. When that opportunity came up in 2009, I quit my marketing job and went on Warped Tour and haven’t looked back.
BP: What advice would you give to someone who wants to be a Tour Manager? Are there any qualities you think are super important for being successful in this role?
AS: Everyone has a different path to success. My idea of success is going to be different from another tour managers success. But I think being organized and having patience are key elements.