How Do Soloists Tour?

Usually when a group tours, you know who’s in the band…pretty much. But when the lead goes “solo”, how exactly do they do that? Do they continually pay for a studio musicians to accompany them? And what do they do about touring? Do studio musicians tour with them?

There are as many different arrangements as there are touring acts.

Generally . . .

First, the easiest answer: a lot of solo musicians tour solo. Just the artist and her/his instrument.

An unsigned touring artist would be paying out of pocket for any additional accompanying musicians. The accompanists would negotiate a set rate per show, plus per diem (for meals), plus pay for any days off (since being out on the road they are unable to book other work), plus hotel. An unsigned artist would have to be confident of money coming in during the tour- guarantees from clubs, strong “street teams” in each of the cities being played who can drum up a good turnout and CD sales- because the accompanists’ rate negotiated pre-tour will be owed to the accompanists whether there’s any money coming in or not.

A signed artist faces the same situation except that the record label would be paying the accompanists. The artist would have to submit a request that the label pay for accompanists but there would be no guarantee that the label would approve the request. They may just say there’s no budget for it and insist that the artist do the tour solo.

An unsigned band would have an agreement about joint responsibilities for expenses and a sharing of any money coming in. If no money comes in from the gigs and CD sales, then none of them make money, if there is money then they all get a little.

A signed band will have the band members contractually defined. When that band tours each of the contractually defined members are guaranteed to be on the tour and will be paid as contracted.
This is not always obvious. Some artists prefer to use a band name when it’s really the frontperson as the driving creative force with the rest of the band on as hired guns- they may choose to always bring in the same hired guns, thus the audience perceives the group as equal collaborators, nonetheless it’s essentially the same as a solo artist with a backing band. In such a case the record contract would define the band as the one artist but could specify an allowance for auxilliary band members with hiring and firing privileges attributed to the signed artist.
Those examples should be taken as only a very general explanation. Again, actual arrangements will vary for every tour and for every act.
ETA: The term “Studio Musician” would only apply to musicians hired on for work in the studio while recording. The musicians hired on for the record may also be hired on for the tour, but not neccessarily- they may have conflicting jobs, they may just prefer to work in town, whatever. Still even if they’re the same line-up as on the album, they are not working as Studio Musicians while they are on tour playing live.

Also, some work out arrangements with the local symphony, etc…
Example: David Byrne with the Anytown,USA Philharmonic, live, December 12th. Buy your tickets now!

Chuck Berry used to hire (and underpay) local musicians to play with him. It was pretty much a pickup band and the results were wildly variable and often just plain bad, especially since the bands never rehearsed (Berry assumed they all knew his songs).

Some actual name musician did play with him (Bruce Springsteen, Steve Miller, and Elton John), but all before they had record contracts.

As I posted in one of the “Brushes with Stardom” threads, in the late '60s my cousin backed Wayne Newton for two weeks. He got the job through the local musician’s union, who got a call for a keyboardist. There were other sidemen at the gig, and they probably got the job the same way.

Some solo artists tour playing only their instrument, but others use back-up recordings or (more recently) sequencers or computers to play their backup. Imogene Heap is a great example of how it’s done, recording her backing vocals live and singing over everything.

I heard Berry had short rehearsals before the show but maybe that depended on if he had played with the guys before or not.

bienville gave a pretty thorough explanation.

I have a friend who is in the touring band for a solo female artists. He’s been with her (as a musician) for a year or two but he didn’t have anything to do with her album, and probably does not have the guarantee of being with her forever. He is pretty much an employee of a company just like anyone else. He just happens to travel all over the place doing it.

Similarly (sort of), Ben Folds has a band of musicians that play with him, but he does his albums himself for the most part. I don’t think he had the exact same band with him when he did his first solo tour as when he did his last one. Inbetween all that he also just toured as himself with a piano.

Some solo artists do have a regular band that always plays with them, both on recordings and on tour. For example, Weird Al Yankovic works this way, and I think Billy Joel did.

I had heard this complaint before, but I hadn’t heard the underpay element of it.
Underpaying quality support, when there’s plenty of profit coming in, isn’t o.k. but disregarding the underpay aspect for a moment, the complaint never really stirred up any sympathy from me.

“Learn the songs and be ready to play them” is something you need to be able to deliver if you’re selling yourself as a professional for hire musician. I, myself, only ever schedule one rehearsal per gig- and my songs don’t stick to the basic blues/rock formula that all of Berry’s songs consistently observe.

I can’t afford to pay musicians for more than one rehearsal, so I can’t afford to play with musicians who aren’t professional enough to learn what they’re getting paid to learn.

I even had one gig with a keyboardist who I had never heard before the actual gig. He had been recommended by someone I trust, I booked him telling him he would have to learn the songs from charts I provided and from listening to the CD then show up ready to play them. He did so without a single slip up.

I’ve also had shows when organizing all members for one rehearsal just got too difficult with everyone’s schedules, such that one player had to be left out of rehearsal but be ready to deliver the goods come gig time.
Sure, rehearsals are nice, but for Berry to maintain a road schedule and fit in rehearsals- the rehearsals just end up being an unaffordable luxury. As I mentioned, his songs follow a basic formula, and allow for improvisation- and they’re really well known songs. Any musician who can’t learn his songs and be ready to go at gig time should not be offering themselves as a professional “for hire” player.
Yeah, he should pay appropriately, but even if it’s a low wage the players are still getting the pay they agreed to when they signed on. If you offer your services at an agreed upon wage, it’s totally unprofessional to use the low wage as justification for delivering half-assed work. Plus, these are people who have chosen to make music their life- and they have gotten an opportunity to play with Chuck Berry! This is one of those situations where the players should consider the experience to be its own reward.

You might have a point if Berry were using top professionals, but most of the time he went into bars and picked up musicians pretty much at random. We’re not talking about people making a living by playing music – it was usually the type of bands who play high school bands or for tips at the local bar.

The general consensus about Berry’s concerts in that era was that the bands could be pretty awful. And Berry was always willing to use non-union musicians.

The work wasn’t half-assed. The musicians were probably working hard to do their best. But since Berry didn’t screen for talent, the talent was hit or miss. You could have a Bruce Springsteen behind you, or you could have a Joe Schlabotnik who barely knew the chords, or Fred the drummer who couldn’t keep a beat.

Now, maybe you could come up with a decent show with that sort of lineup with some rehearsals, but even that lifeline was unavailable to the players.

Yes, they got to say they played with Chuck Berry. That’s all very nice. But it’s also exploitation.

And Berry wasn’t on stage to feed the egos of the musicians involved. It’s all very nice that they had the experience*, but he was on stage to perform a show for his audience. But using substandard talent, he was ripping them off.

*I find that “experience” in an artistic setting is just another word for “exploitation.” If you want musicians, you pay a fair price for them, not a cut rate because you’re also giving them “experience.”

Yeah, I think we’d be in agreement looking at it from the same perspective, RealityChuck.

Your point about the crappiness of the shows is important. Before our little back and forth, however, every “Chuck Berry uses locals and doesn’t rehearse them” story that I had ever heard had had the focus of “That’s so unfair to the musicians!”.

Your posts are the first I’ve seen come at it from the “That’s so unfair to the audience!” perspective. I’ve never seen him live, and if he’s not booking solid pros from the local market- thus resulting in crappy shows- then we see eye to eye, I would echo your complaint.

Slight difference of focus, I wouldn’t say “The show was crap because he didn’t rehearse the band”, I’d say “The show was crap because he was working with non-professionals of limited talent.” And if the choice to go with “non-professionals of limited talent” is simply based on it being cheaper for him, then, yeah, that’s a slap in the face to the fans.

As to the exploitation aspect, I didn’t mean to imply that “Any musician should be thankful for the experience of playing with Chuck Berry and should therefore not gripe about pay!”

No, any musician can certainly say, “Fuck that, I ain’t working for crap pay!”

What I meant was, if Chuck Berry is offering crap pay and you agree to the crap pay and choose to book the job, you are doing it for the experience- while other musicians who would not value the experience simply choose not to book the job. If the pay is crap, and you have no other incentive, you simply say no.

I can understand the suggestion that it is exploitive of Berry to use of his reputation to entice players to accept crap pay. I simply can not get worked up about someone getting exactly the pay they agreed to. This isn’t the coal companies in the 1800s taking advantage of people who have no other options, exploiting them to the point that they owe their souls to the company store.

These musicians are freelancing- with every job they book, they negotiate a rate of pay. The Berry gig is just a one-time job, they are not being manipulated into a life of indentured servitude. And, if your suggestion is accurate, they are not professional musicians- they don’t depend on music to make their living. Most people would be happy to collect any money at all for an activity that they simply consider a “hobby”- and if they’re performing like hobbyits, then I see no problem with paying them like hobbyists.