|Photo by: Graphic by Matt Anderson|
As testosterone reign supreme in the world of touring, a slowly growing number of females have claimed some of the dominant backstage positions. Like a determined bullfighter holding the horns of a raging bull, these backstage girls clench their titles tight for the sake of their love for music, traveling and for once, being in control.
If passion is a career, then running a show is no exception, but it’s not elementary. Whether it’s booking, tour managing, or handling merchandise, a fondness for music is barely a baby step. Try throwing in the physical demand of a construction worker, the mental assiduity of an accountant, a high level of patience, and 3,000 mile long game of stop-and-go. Those who can’t handle it find themselves taking a one-way Greyhound trip back to their abode.
But those who succeed, like tour manager Jenny Douglas, who has handled bands like In This Moment, Walls of Jericho, and currently New Found Glory, don't do so overnight. After transferring through three colleges, all of which didn’t cater to her career path, she attended and graduated from Full Sail University in Orlando with a degree in live sound. Although her first experience in live sound occurred at The Outland Ballroom, Douglas’s career took off after moving to Los Angeles, where she landed her first job at Whiskey A Go Go.
“In Los Angeles, I felt like I had made it, and I found a lot of friends who liked the same thing as me,” Douglas explained. “The music industry is so condensed here. I could work at an agency, a record label, an A&R – so what’s the point of leaving?”
These connections proved rewarding. As 2002 became 2006, Douglas found herself in the position of tour manager for In This Moment, then for Walls of Jericho, and the rest is history.
This position, she explained, demands 15+ hours of labor everyday. Douglas is the first to wake up at the tour stop and the last to get some shut-eye. From checking flat tires to organizing sound check and calculating money distribution, she truly is the ringmaster of the show. “On the road, if I’m awake, I’m working. If I get six hours of sleep, I’m stoked."
When it comes to juggling every task imaginable, tour managers are not alone. As Lindsey Bathke, merchandising manager for Canadian duo Tegan and Sara, revealed, “roadettes” don’t have to be in charge to multitask. Her position as the “merchandising manager” does not solely consist of t-shirts and counting change, Bathke said.
"We all work together,” she said. “When on tour, if I have time, I, for example, put together the dinner menu. Touring is like a family business, you can really help each other out.”
The anything-goes atmosphere tends to stir anxiety in the Denver native. Before the doors open, Bathke admits that nerves are at an all-time high “because there will be an onslaught of people coming through for the next few hours.”
For Douglas, anxiety comes from fear of petty confrontation and scheduled disruptions during the show. “Whenever I want to throw in the towel, it’s always about some verbal fight between two people or someone yelling at me for something out of my hands,” she said. “You've got to be patient with people and understand where they’re coming from.”
The input and determination of these ladies have garnered them a level of respect and identity in the touring industry amongst each other and their male colleagues. Unfortunately, they often must push twice as hard as men to succeed. Karen Soskin, founder of the Brooklyn-based, all-women booking and band management group Strength in Numbers, claimed that women push themselves every single second of their lives to be taken seriously.
“There is always someone waiting to tell a woman that she’s less of a human being, less of an independent thinker,” said Soskin. “And that she’s less in control of her own body than she is.”
Soskin started Strength in Numbers with her heart on her fist. As a reaction towards a music industry that she claimed glorified “misogynistic cool-jerk bands like Wavves and Jay Reatard,” Soskin created the organization with an intention to provide an “in-road” for touring bands with women. In addition, Strength in Numbers provides opportunities for women to learn every angle of show production – from managing and mixing live sounds, to money distribution and touring.
Members of Strength in Numbers have been on three tours, managing Brooklyn bands like These Are Powers and Telepathe. Soskin noted that the organization owes a lot to the Riot Grrrls of the '90s for advancing women’s roles in the music culture and their freedom to love music in any form and style. Although tour life has caused friendships to blossom and spread the message of the organization nationwide, Soskin said that the “boy’s club” mentality has yet to dissipate despite changing times.
“People are surprised when a woman introduces herself as a tour manager,” Soskin said. “It’s a total thrill, but sometimes totally depressing, to infiltrate the boy’s club.’”
She delved further into her disappointment of booking agents she has encountered who don’t respect women enough to work with them professionally. "Booking agents are often the keepers of valuable information that you need to help the band on a nightly basis, and this can lead to shows that fall through and other tour obstacles.”
Bathke too has sampled a taste of the boy’s club on the road. As she sifts through the sea of large-sized t-shirts for a small while in her preferred tour attire of leggings, she often senses an air of male surveillance in the atmosphere. However, roading with Tegan and Sara has provided a security blanket that makes sure everyone is comfortable and in care.
“There are times when I feel like I’ve been looked at under a microscope and people are thinking, ‘What does she want? Who does she want to sleep with?’” Bathke said. “With the girls, everything is more sensitive and more open with more girls running the ship. They’re heavily not into sexism.”
For Douglas, being a female boss has managed to attract a sleuth of people trying to take advantage of her, both monetarily and mentally. Having contacts collected during tours from every city and (almost) every country has proved valuable. Calling back-up is just a speed dial away.
“They feel like they can play the sympathy card, saying things like ‘Oh I can’t give you all the money for guarantee because my brother fell down the stairs,’” Douglas said. “But the fact that I made so many contacts on the road now, and that I know so many people from so many cities, it keeps me from getting fucked with – and that’s pretty fucking great.”
Among them is Dustin Schoenhofer, drummer of Detroit metalcore band Walls of Jericho and tour mate for the past six tours. His relationship with Jenny is both personal and professional. “If Jenny is not with us on our tour, I don’t feel like touring.”
Having both a female vocalist and a female tour manager isn’t something the band puts in focal attention. Schoenhofer explained that singer Candace Kucsulain joined the band because of her vocals and her stage presence, and that the “female-fronted heavy band” wasn’t an initial image the band wanted to front anyways. Schoenhofer believes that sexist tension in the touring world depends on the band and its scene.
“There are bands out there that can’t believe we have a girl fronting our band, and would say things like ‘Oh man, that Candace, she’s so hot,' but that’s those kind of bands,” Schoenhofer explained. “But then there are bands that have gotten used to it for so long that there is no present bias. It depends on who you are and how you think of women in the first place.”
Regardless, these women don’t plan on shaking out anytime soon. For Jenny Douglas, her steadfast passion keeps her in the game. Lindsay Bathke has found a traveling family among the Tegan and Sara crew. And as for Karen Soskin, giving girls a chance to overcome sexist boundaries and enjoy music is a rewarding fight.
The touring lifestyle shrinks the world around you, as both Douglas and Bathke agreed. Bathke explained that this realization sets in when “you suddenly know someone in another city or country, and you can get a hold of them.” In Douglas’s case, her recent trip to South America has blessed her with lasting relationships equivalent to one with the jolly neighbor next-door. With that said, the world is next door when on tour.
Enduring this on a daily basis can cause a vein to twitch, even for the professional of professionals. Douglas recommends that girls interested should go to school for business management to better comprehend the overwhelming paperwork down the road. She also notes that interning for sound is vital, and can be self-taught with enough practice.
“Sound is such a creative process, that it’s hard to label it right or wrong,” Douglas said.
To go through the worst of times, Bathke advised that heavy emphasis should be put on being “thick-skinned." “You’re constantly being questioned on your intentions on the road, and, for me, I’m very emotional,” Bathke remarked. “Try to remain who you are, as corny as it sounds, and showcase that and why you’re there in the first place.”
At a Rollins concert, then 15-year-old Douglas remembered the female microphone tech for the opening band. She notes that perhaps seeing her might have sparked the fire that started this career path. In retrospect, Douglas hopes to continue the tradition she’s blessed with and cast an impact on those to-be.
“Maybe to that girl who was going to slit her wrist that night, she can go to a show and forget about the problems she has at home,” Douglas said. “She can go to the show instead with her friends and have a good time, and then see me out there and be inspired to do it. This will get her out there to do something. You know, I’m really lucky.”
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