Tour:Smart – And Break the Band
by Martin Atkins
“Touring is war.” So declares drummer Martin Atkins, who has played with Ministry, Pigface, and Public Image, Ltd.
Even if these band names mean nothing to you, this book will. It’s an insider’s view of touring that can serve as a guide to any musician hoping to navigate the physical and emotional trauma that is touring. The above bands are just a few of the projects that Atkins has worked with and this book records his experiences as well as those of many of his friends and collaborators. By his own admission, the book is extremely repetitive, but Atkins’ goal is to hammer home what he considers the main points. Atkins presents this publication as a kind of boot camp designed to provide you with the weapons necessary to win the war.
Atkins takes on every aspect of touring, and because touring is a twenty-four hour a day existence, the subject matter is broad. Very broad. Perhaps too broad. The main subject is rock n’ roll: everything from tour management to merchandise sales to sound equipment. The frightening financial calculations and depressingly unprofitable budgets are slightly more easily stomached when they’re interspersed with the amusing anecdotes that Atkins throws in — as well as frequent anecdotes from other touring musicians of groups such as Black Flag, Suicide Girls, and Nine Inch Nails.
Unfortunately, Atkins also takes on a slew of other subjects including (but not limited to) sex and drugs. He dedicates one chapter to each, and the book would read infinitely better without them. Such a superficial glance at these subjects is almost an insult to the reader. His sex advice can be summed up as follows: don’t have unprotected sex and don’t have sex with anyone underage. His drug advice relies on equally brief and superficial observations. If you really want to know about drugs, I recommend that you read From Chocolate to Morphine by Andrew Weil, MD. You can skip these disappointing chapters in Tour:Smart and enjoy the areas where Atkins has developed a real expertise.
The meat of this book is the collection of lessons and organizational techniques for touring that the author has developed over the last few decades. Atkins has approached his experiences with a brutal work ethic to develop the type of thought process and approach that is necessary for a touring musician. It can’t be summarized briefly (or he wouldn’t have had to write the book in the first place), but suffice it to say that Murphy’s Law plays a huge role.
The breadth of the book weakens the power again when Atkins oversteps his demographic. The book purports to be a guide for the reader to “break the band,” yet Atkins spends countless pages describing logistics for stadium shows and touring festivals. These topics are completely out of the range of the book, but in the end, they become an entertaining read because of the stories that come with them. If you’re trying to break the band, you probably don’t have to worry about planning stadium shows, but Atkins includes these scenarios nonetheless. As a reader you could choose to skip these sections or attempt to draw from these stories the lessons that apply to all scenarios, from the lowest levels of the industry to the highest.
Unless you plan to attend Columbia College in Chicago where Atkins currently teaches, this book is your only opportunity to harvest the nuggets of wisdom that the author has collected over many gloriously painful years of experience. If you’re interested in working hard and achieving success as a touring musician, this book is an invaluable tool.