It’s our pleasure to introduce you to not only Dan McKay, but to our brand new feature called “Tricks of the Trade”. In all of our other features, we highlight bands/artists; now we want to take you into the world of the people who work for a band on tour, their crew. For this first feature, we teamed up with Dan “Coach” McKay, tour manager extraordinaire, who is currently tour managing alr rockers, AWOLNATION. You can can find out more about Dan and advice he has for people interested in hitting the road (his “Trick of the Trade”), after the break.
Dan “Coach” McKay
Current tour manager for AWOLNATION, formerly with Billy Talent, Metric, Brody Dalle, Gerard Way, Melissa Auf Der Maur, The Chieftains, Lights, etc.
What positions have you held (i.e. Tour Manager, Front of House, etc.)?
Tour Manager, Tour Manager/Production Manager, Tour Manager/Production Manager/Front of House, Front of House.
Your first touring gig:
Who did you work for?
House Head audio in various venue in Montreal
How did you get the gig?
When I was 14 years old, I played in punk rock bands, we went into the studio to record a demo and I started getting into the audio side of things. When I was 15 , I started working at a venue operating out of the back of a punk rock record store/skate shop. I didn’t really know what I was doing, but had a bit of guidance from the engineer who recorded our bands demo. He played in a well established death metal band. We had shows every weekend, all the cool punk bands came through, and eventually, I started working for more established and larger venues in Montreal. At around 20, I became head audio at the Spectrum, 3-4 years before they tore it down. From there I got my first tour as a FOH (Front of House) guy. Three months into the tour, the tour manager quit and I convinced the band and management that I was the guy for the job, have been a professional tour manager since.
What was (is your continued) motivation for wanting to start working for tour bands?
At first when I was doing sound, it was my passion, its what I was doing at the time, playing in bands and geeking out on the mix etc. But when I became a tour manager, I was driven by the logistics and organizing side of things, but mostly looking out for the bands I was working for. I had gotten screwed by promoters and got in fights with bar owners with my bands. I wanted to make sure the bands I was touring with were taken care of and represented in that aspect as those things had happened to me when I started out.
While growing up were you involved in your local music scene? If so, how did you get involved?
Absolutely, being in bands meant I was all hands on board. At first its organizing shows, renting a church basement, renting PA’s, advertising , getting the cool local bands to play, etc. Little did I know that I was taking the role of a “make shift promoter” back then, but that’s what you had to do to play. Also, I was involved with the record store I was mixing at. When that store opened I helped out a lot, skipping school to go price tag vinyls and sort out the stock. Don’t skip school kids. Then it was setting up the venue for shows and attending a bunch of local shows. Ended up that our “crew” of friends would drive 5 hours to Boston to go see shows there and that escalated to driving to Syracuse, Buffalo, Burlington, NYC, etc. The scene was my home and all who were in it was a tribe I was a part of. The scene is where I became me.
If you could recommend one piece of advice (“trick of the trade”) to current or aspiring tour managers, what would it be?
You know what, when I first started out, a mentor told me that touring with bands is 70% attitude, 30% know-how and experience. That was not so long ago, but is considerably long enough ago in a industry that’s not that old, that I think that ratio changed to 70% attitude and 60% know-how. That means you are giving 130% of yourself and that’s kind of how it is.
Now, the increase in the know-how ratio can be attributed to the fact that we kinda used to be viewed as “Roadies”, now a days, we are “Technicians”. Its not about the party and the hanging out backstage as much anymore, now, this is your profession, your career, you are a technician, a specialist in a field. Technology is evolving so fast these days, it’s a lot more than plugging a phone jack into a guitar. Now we got moving trusses, video walls, insane lighting fixture, PA’s have never sounded so good, and then all of this is synced up together on time code, etc. Today, it’s more like launching a rocket then when we were using old defunct military technology to power up fixed aircraft lights and dimming it up and down on static colors. I am not dissing those times at all, we owe it all to those times, I am just saying that things are advancing faster and faster, and you gotta keep up. And that is applicable to the tour managers, as well. Things are done in a different ways now than even 10-15 years ago. Things are happening fast, we got email, we got text messaging, wire transfers, apps, Skype, CAD, you can build a HUGE calculator on Excel to make a tour budget and it all fits in your pocket or lives in a cloud somewhere. It’s exciting and you have to keep in sync with that technology.
And then there is your attitude. The attitude is always the most important, cause you can be the best sounding FOH guy in the world, or the best production guy in the world, but at the end of the day, you are living in really tight quarters with a lot of people, that view themselves as professionals, with reason, day in and day out, sometimes for months/years, and if you come in with a shitty attitude and you are not being part of the team, you’re only looking out for yourself and don’t have the band’s (project’s) best interest in mind…. You are going home my friend. You’re out of a job. The job is demanding, you have 12+ hour days and you have to work within a team. There is no time or room for drama on the road. Also, it’s a tricky one sometimes to be able to talk to and understand what a artist (your boss) wants or is trying to communicate to you, your attitude can come a long way in avoiding awkwardness and make things go smoothly. Always remember why you are there. Touring is not always easy so its important to make it fun. -but not too much. It ain’t the 70’s anymore.