The Sensitive Musician’s Guide to Touring

Tuesday 27th, March 2018 / 10:12
By Marlaena Moore


EDMONTON – I am a sensitive musician. Okay, if you made through that sentence without activating your gag reflex or rolling your eyes, I think you are safe to continue reading.

In 2014 I was 21 years old and like many, the idea of touring was very exciting; new friends and fresh, magical memories hidden in bars and house parties waiting to be discovered. The last thing on my mind was “I must be very aware of my needs and not run myself down.” My thinking was probably along the lines of “PARTY FOREVER.” Sure enough, the first tour I ever went on was fueled by cigarettes, no sleep, alcohol and general good time seeking. It was fun for the first seven days but by the time we reached our last tour date, I was completely burnt out, crying uncontrollably while alienating and confusing my bandmates. I felt very embarrassed and disappointed that I couldn’t seem to keep it together. Though this really sucked, this experience led to me finally deal properly with all of my mental health issues that have affected me my entire life (anxiety, depression, thoughts of suicide and substance abuse).

I knew two things for sure: “I want to be a professional musician and that includes touring” and “My nervous system cannot tour like Motley Crüe.” A lot of musicians like to wear their touring experience as a badge of honor “Yeah I toured for six months straight to every small town in North America, only sleeping an hour a night in my van, ate nothing but hot dogs and I have to do at least 3 shots of tequila before I play” and so on. It isn’t a surprise that most artists run themselves ragged. Art is still not taken seriously as a career path, so we probably feel the need to overwork ourselves in order to be taken seriously. But artists are also, more often than not, sensitive and emotional people. This is good. This why we make things; to express ourselves. I’m here to confirm something for you: no matter what you choose to do with your life, you still deserve to be mentally well and feel at home in your body.

To be fair, not everyone is like me. There are those who are rejuvenated by traveling rather than drained. This is wonderful and it will serve you well. I’ve come to learn that I almost have to parent myself. I will never be a whiskey drinkin’ axe wielding road warrior because my body and mind don’t function with that lifestyle. Here is a small guide I have created to help make touring a little more comfortable for us sensitive souls.

Be Aware of Your Needs

In all of the following segments, we’re going to see a very common running theme: mindfulness, mindfulness, mindfulness.

We’re gonna start with our bodies. While you can survive a couple days on the road with McDonald’s, Red Bull and 2 hours of sleep, this is a recipe for disaster long term. That is, if you’re anything like me, and you plan on embarking on anything longer than a week.

Try to make grocery stores the most common stop for food. It can be cheaper and better for your gut if you stock up on healthy snacks and try to eat at least one salad a day. Now this doesn’t mean deprive or restrict yourself. I love a Big Mac on the road more than anyone but I also know if a burger and fries are my daily source of calories, my body will not be happy. Keeping dry healthy snacks in the van is a good idea so you aren’t starving between gas stops (and also saves money since you wouldn’t have to get a snack every time you stop). Try to stick with tea and coffee, reserving energy drinks for the nights you may have to drive a little longer.

Bring a comfy pillow you love (don’t leave it in Medicine Hat like I did). Your sleeping situation might not always be ideal so it’s good to know at least your head will always have a nice surface to rest upon.

Ask yourself, other than food and sleep, what do I need in my day to day to feel good? See if you can create a tour version. I know that I need to exercise a little bit everyday so I have more energy and can sleep better. Being on tour, exercise doesn’t always feel like an immediate priority so I do jumping jacks at every stop (my last tour I brought a skipping rope with me). Exercise is good for your brain and also helps if you’re like me and get sore restless legs being cooped up in the car.

Put the Music Before the “Good Time”

Part of the excitement of tour is the hunger for the next good time or wild experience. I’ve had my share of drugs and alcohol and had both positive and extremely negative experiences as a result. I will not promote nor hate on a good time but if the reason why you are touring is to further your band, I highly recommend limiting your substance intake. Again, everyone’s tolerance is different, this is once again about being mindful. I have learned that if I get drunk more than two nights in a row, I usually feel a little more sad without knowing why and my energy gets zapped; not to mention it affects my singing abilities.

There will almost always be a party in every town. You can do whatever you want but remember what you came on this tour to do. See if the fun can find you rather than going out to look for it.

Band/Van Dynamics and the Art of Not Taking Things Personally

The dynamics of a touring band can be very bizarre and they can change depending on who you are traveling or playing in a band with. It’s like being in a family where everyone is also dating each other (gross, right?). There’s the partier, the adult baby, the punching bag, the dad, the one always rushing to get to the next town, the one you have to physically drag to the next town… to name very few of the potential tour mates you’ll encounter.

Traveling with others can heighten tension and bring out the worst in everyone, especially when traveling with very little luxury. Here’s where I get a little tough: these people are your band and they probably have the ability to drive you crazy. But I swear, no one is trying to ruin your tour experience.

I believe that alone time is a big key to sanity. The perfect window is usually between load in or soundcheck and when you actually play. Go for a walk, go eat by yourself or relax in the van (if nobody else is.)

Give others space. If it seems like someone is having a hard time, let them know they can talk if they need but do not pry and DO NOT MAKE IT ABOUT YOU. On the flip side, everyone can usually sense if someone in the car is feeling down and it can affect the mood of everyone in the car. If you’re traveling with friends I would recommend talking about what’s bothering you and who knows, it could even bring you closer. If it has something to do with someone you are traveling with DEFINITELY TALK ABOUT IT. Pent up feelings can lead to passive aggression which can lead to potential blow ups. If it has nothing to do with the band and you do not feel comfortable talking about it, just say exactly that. If you’re in a band with people, chances are you probably like and trust them at least a little bit, so they are probably understanding. Also consider that it is not your personal responsibility if someone else in the car is feeling down. Be caring and open but it’s always best to focus on your own mental well being first.

Accept the Shitty Side of Touring

There are many things that can go wrong while touring and all of them suck. The van breaks down in the middle of nowhere, your place to stay falls through, no one comes to the show or you play a bad set.

Here is where the real learning and growing happen. There’s not much to learn from the great side of touring, you play a great set to a full bar, get paid a decent amount and you sell a bunch of merch and get new fans. That rules, but it doesn’t teach you anything.

Practicing being present and knowing the absolute worst possible scenario isn’t actually the end of the world is where the growth happens. Keep your head and heart in the moment and let go of all control because on the road you have none. You can steer the wheel in the direction of the show but you can’t control whether the car breaks down and you can’t control how many people come out to you see play. The only thing you have complete control over is yourself. Getting overwhelmed and anxious by these scenarios can happen. But in my own personal experience (therapy, mindfulness training, years of reacting and not being mindful) I have learned that my feelings do not control me, they just feel like they control me and crumbling because of a shitty situation on tour has only brought me pain. So I love looking at tour as the perfect opportunity to practice accepting what is and being in the moment when my emotions want me to be elsewhere. I am far from a master at this but I do know that in the times I have been able to keep my cool and see the bad for what it truly is, it has helped me grow.

I find it so interesting that while making music is probably seen as a sensitive person’s outlet, there’s still very little room for sensitivity within it. We’re told to “grind it out” and “pay our dues” and while that is very valid, we can are still allowed to be human. I was convinced for a time that I would not be able to tour because it was too scary and I wasn’t tough enough to do it. I have finally learned that all it really takes to tour successfully is wanting to play music every single day. That’s it. Period. If you have the desire, you can learn to adapt to your surroundings. I wish you the best of luck and believe you all will be just fine.


Marlaena has yet to release her touring schedule for 2018, but watch for details by giving the like button a slam on her Facebook page:

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