A Week In The Life Of… A Tour Manager, Darren Hawthorne

DARREN HAWTHORNE is the Event TM for Soundwave Festival, and also Tour Coordinator for Soundwave Touring. Soundwave Festival is an annual event held in major cities around Australia. It originated in Perth, & began travelling to the other Australian capital cities in 2007. It features a number of international and Australian music acts, from various genres including rock, metal and punk. The festival has been headlined by Metallica, Soundgarden, Linkin Park, The Offspring, Nine Inch Nails, Faith No More, Iron Maiden, System of a Down, Marilyn Manson, Slipknot, Green Day, Judas Priest and way too many more. In fact over the course of the event approx 700+ acts have been performed. Soundwave Touring produce on average 14 tours per year, ranging from club to arena size.

I caught up with my old mate Darren last week as he was rolling Gaslight Anthem into a hotel foyer after their long haul inbound flight. We didn’t have much time, I had a plane to catch myself, so we just raced through a 10 minute Q&A about his work as TM for Soundwave. It is astonishing how much the guy does, and he makes it look so effortless. Here is the transcript:

[Martine] Brief description of what your job entails?

[Darren] Setting up the entire tour…once I get the dates from the promoter, I start to put together everything else to build the tour. This includes organising all the travel, flights, ground transport, accommodation, the advance with all the venues and any additional requirements such as audio, lighting or particular risers. In some instances bands will require additional visual production for their show such as a video component or pyro and confetti cannons [laughs] you know, whatever stage gags they may have. I coordinate and put together all of the above so (hopefully) our days are as easy as possible. The tour books are then created from all this information.

[Martine] What are the highlights and lowlights of your job?

[Darren] The months of February and March every year are a definite lowlight [laughs]. Sometimes it’s busier than others, but those months get extraordinarily busy. Once the festival is over for the year, you forget about it quite quickly, it’s weird, it’s really weird. It gets very stressful, so it’s important to not let on that you are stressed. For example, if you’re driving a band around and you get lost, just find out where you’re going and they won’t know they’re lost. At this time of year I’m liaising with 60+ tour managers who email me from overseas requiring information and answers about flights, hotels and all that kind of jazz. So you may wake up in the morning with an overwhelming inbox. It’s like playing a game of human tetris where you’re trying to squeeze bands into properties (hotels, etc), it’s full on.

[Martine] So what are the highlights?

[Darren] The highlight is the period immediately after Soundwave [laughs]. Look it’s all good fun, it beats having a real job. If you didn’t like it, you wouldn’t do it. I mean I’m sure there’s people out there that do do it that don’t like it, but they’d be miserable. It’s taxing physically, mentally and emotionally. It puts a drain on friendships and relationships and you know over the course of my life I’ve missed everything you can think of; weddings, funerals, births, deaths and birthdays. You have to be prepared for that, prepare for your partner being alone or whatever. It’s difficult at times but I don’t know what else I could do [laughs] I’m stuck.

[Martine] Words of wisdom for people who might be considering a career as a tour manager?

[Darren] I don’t think that it’s something that you just decide you want to be, I think you just wind up there. For Example, you can start off by selling t-shirts at a local gig/tour, be a sound engineer or you’re in a band. You need to be able to think on your feet and most importantly, you need to be organised. I think you need to know your place and by that I mean you’re not in the band, so it’s not always acceptable to get wasted every night after the show and roll up to hotels smelling like yesterdays rider. You’ve got to know your limitations… and I know what mine are. I like sleeping, so if I’ve got a choice of going to a bar for two hours that I’ve probably been to a million times before, or getting an extra two hours of sleep, I’ll take the sleep. It is easy to get caught up in the moment, but it’s about knowing yourself and being organised. You need to be prepared to answer questions or solve problems at the most obscure times of the day or night and they could be the most obscure problems.

[Martine] Does it ever feel a little.. do the bands sometimes ask too much of you?

[Darren] Depends what they are asking of you. Most of these bands come out here with their own tour managers, so that person has already been employed by them and flown halfway around the world to do a job so it’s just about facilitating their various wants, needs and desires and pointing them in the right direction.

[Martine] What did yesterday look like for you?

[Darren] Yesterday I was picking up stuff and getting ready for the tour. I went to an audio company and grabbed some gear that the band wanted. Had a meeting with someone else about Soundwave, walking him through some stuff. Each day is the same but different.

[Martine] So when you say you were picking up gear for the band, you’re meaning unique audio from various different locations?

[Darren] They just wanted to hire some gear for the tour, so I just hired that from a place around the corner. I went there yesterday and picked it up for them.

[Martine] So… a meeting, and a million emails no doubt?

[Darren] Yes, all sorts. Happy ones, sad ones [laughs], impatient ones, clueless ones. Where are our flights? What hotels are we staying in? What time are we playing?

[Martine] So, each day is the same but different – kinda like Groundhog Day, yeah? And how do you keep all that information? Do you have a system?

[Darren] Honestly, a lot of it in my head. I don’t know how or why, but I have an weird ability to recall a lot of information and I try to limit the amount of documents I have for reference. So if anybody wants to call me now about Soundwave, I would refer to my Dropbox account where I have four documents in there. One is a list of all the artists which includes all their names for immigration so we know who’s coming out. Another document is a spreadsheet with five tabs. The first tab is a calendar with all the bands in alphabetical order and what they’re doing day by day. For example, a band might arrive on NZ135 at 10:05 this morning from Auckland and then they have a show at Coolangatta the next day etc etc. The second tab is for VIPs, the agents or managers that are coming out to the event. I record information of what they want to do or when they’re arriving. The third tab is a list of band out standings where I don’t know the arrival details of 20 odd bands on the line up. The fourth tab is all the sideshows. Once the sideshows are announced, I put together another little calendar of their travel details of when and where they’re going to fly. This calendar shows me their activity of where they will be in between their Soundwave festival dates.

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