Touring: A Cautionary Tale
Posted on October 9, 2014
October 9, 2014
by Tony Thaxton
When I was growing up, playing music for a living seemed like the dream job. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. My 11-plus years of touring the world with Motion City Soundtrack were incredible. I just don’t know that I handled it the best that I could. I’m not here to complain, I’m here to help you learn from my mistakes.
When you’re on tour the majority of the year, you get really used to being gone. It almost becomes more normal than being at home. And if your band reaches a certain point, there are plenty of luxuries on the road. So many things are taken care of for you: Your travel arrangements are taken care of; food is ordered and brought to you; you get free drinks every night. Sometimes your laundry is even sent out for you. It’s pretty great. But I think it kind of stopped me from learning how to be an actual adult. Everything became so easy, I didn’t know how to do much for myself. And even if I did, I could have our tour manager take care of the little tasks that I just didn’t want to deal with myself. It wasn’t that I had anything better to do with my time. If anything, I had TOO much time. My days were spent wandering whatever city we were in, watching TV, or playing video games. Sure, that might sound like the dream, but it actually started affecting me in a negative way. Even though this should have been the perfect scenario, I started getting depressed. All I really had to do every day was play a show. That’s it. Even though it’s a great feeling knowing that people are paying money to come and see you play, it still made me feel kind of worthless. Now that I have moved on from band life and am trying to accomplish other projects, I look back wishing I had taken better advantage of all of my free time. When you don’t have any obligations, it can be easy to fall into the trap of also not wanting to do anything. That doesn’t give you a big sense of accomplishment.
One of the toughest things about being on tour is being with the same group of people, basically 24 hours a day, every day for months at a time. Imagine having a slumber party with your coworkers every single night. That’s kind of what it is. You need a break sometimes. Getting some alone time can be really important. I would often wander off by myself just to get a little quiet time. But, I think that I maybe took it too far. Sometimes it was my choice to sneak off to be alone, but then I started getting in my own head thinking that no one wanted to hang out with me. That made me withdraw even more.
Another thing with touring is constantly meeting new people and new bands. Having a new group of people around can also help break up the monotony. But again, I was withdrawing from everything. I was so used to being alone, or just spending time on our tour bus, that I wasn’t making a very big effort to hang out with the other bands. I would say hello in passing, but would get anxiety about much more than that, which then led to me basically hiding on the bus, not doing much of anything. Not a great way to handle anything.
I was always grateful for being able to do what I did. It’s an amazing feeling to play music for a living. But it also can start to feel very routine at times, as much as you try to avoid it. Chances are, you’re playing basically the same songs every night. If you have ways to mix up your set, I recommend it. Whether it’s rearranging the order of the songs, throwing in a cover, taking requests…I recommend it. It adds some life back into the show if things are getting to feel like you’re just going through the motions. It sounds minor, but it really makes a big difference for me. I always enjoyed tours much more when it wasn’t the exact same show every night.
Something that you absolutely must do is get out and see things. You never know when it could all end, so get out and see the city. That’s actually the one thing I got better about as time went on. In the early days, sometimes I might be tired, or maybe just in a bad mood, and I would avoid going out to see the sights. Who knows, it could be your only shot in a certain town. If I had to do it again, I certainly wouldn’t let my bad mood get the best of me the only time I ever played Dublin. I went to a Hard Rock Cafe by myself. I wish I was joking. I saw next to nothing in Dublin that day, and I never got to go back.
Last year, it came to a breaking point for me. I felt that I had accomplished more than I ever imagined I would, but I was just becoming more and more depressed. It felt like it was time for me to move on. I realize I’m a lucky guy. I lived a ton of people’s dream. Learn from my mistakes, and have the time of your life. When you do it right, it’s incredible. If you start to struggle, talk to someone. Don’t let depression get you like it did me.