Name: Sharon Levinson
Bands worked with: Amon Tobin (TM/FOH/PM), Swans (TM/FOH), Arcade Fire (FOH), Colin Stetson (TM/FOH), Wolf Parade (TM/FOH), TR/ST (TM/FOH), Suuns (FOH), plus many others
FEMMUSIC: How did you become a tour manager?
SL: I’m primarily a FOH sound engineer, but I started TMing on the side sometime in the late 2000’s. I was already doing tech advancing so it felt natural to start advancing day-of-show logistics, then hotel bookings, then transpo, then tour book writing. And poof, I was pulling double-duty. The TM side of touring wasn’t my first inclination, but it helped me appreciate my control-freaky side. It was nice to know for sure where we were going the next day, and that we wouldn’t be driving around, failing to find a hotel at 3am that night.
FEMMUSIC: What are the biggest challenges of being a tour manager?
SL: I’m not one of those effortlessly organized people, so it took me some time to nail down my process. In the beginning, I was constantly afraid that I’d forget some tiny detail that would somehow ruin the show, so advancing was stressful and time-consuming. But I got quicker as I gained confidence. The key lay in refining my tour book template and using it as my main data-entry file.
For production-heavy shows like Amon Tobin’s ISAM Live, I confirmed tech details in the same way by adding daily tech sheets to the tour book. The crew really appreciated knowing where to find answers. Plus it encouraged everyone to read the tour book, which is always gratifying.
FEMMUSIC: What challenges does being a woman tour manager present?
SL: Some tours make it easy to fall into a naggy-mom/screechy-HR-lady role, especially if the tour party is all younger dudes or there’s a significant party vibe to the tour. It’s annoying to find oneself lecturing a grown-ass person about making lobby call on time. But sometimes it has to be done.
FEMMUSIC: As a woman in the music industry, have you been discriminated against?
SL: I was a house sound lady, then a touring sound lady for many years before I started doing TM work. So I was a rare female in that job, plus I’ve always looked younger than my age. So in the early/mid 2000’s, a band would walk into my house gig, or I’d walk into a club as a touring FOH, and the band or some old-guard house guy would find himself working with a girl who looked 16. Confidence was not always inspired. But I’d just launch into tech stuff and be really, really nice and really, really competent. Ninety-nine percent of the time we’d be doing great after five minutes.
But there’s always going to be that last 1% who will not be convinced. That’s when the yelling would come in, which can be surprisingly effective after an hour of unrelenting niceness and diplomacy.
FOH’s and TM’s of the world: if you are a young-looking and/or female person whose show logistics or personal mental health are being threatened by some jerk who’s not taking you seriously, your ultimate power lies in truly not giving a shit whether that asshole likes you or not.
FEMMUSIC: What one thing would you like to change about the music industry itself?
SL: I’d like to check back in on that. After February, I’m going on indefinite hiatus from touring to have my first kid in May.
It’s frustrating to face the unfixable conflict between parenting and having a career as a touring crew member. It’s nobody’s fault but touring simply doesn’t work with being very pregnant, having a baby, and raising a small child. Bands with kids can structure their tours as they wish, but it’s a rare tour that can provide childcare for crew kids and a workday with adequate down time for parenting.
My short-term solution is to transition from touring TM/FOH to at-home Preproduction Wizard: advancing, hotel/transpo booking, border-crossing paperwork, tour book, send them on their way. It’s a useful service for bands that tour without a TM, or for bands with a nonstop touring schedule and an overwhelmed double-duty TM/FOH. And I can do it in my pajamas.
Anyone looking for some preproduction help: feel free to get in touch. And TM’s or FOH’s with kids: I’d really love to hear about your experiences. My contact info is on my web site, selsound.com