Anticipation: A Lesson in Road Management

I don't envy road managers.

It's one of the strangest positions to be in. You're "in charge" of many aspects of a tour, and yet at the same time completely powerless over others. You're simultaneously the leader and the servant.

Basically, if it needs to be done, you're probably the most available to do it, or at least be responsible for making sure it gets done. Sure, there are really important tasks on your plate - like sending out day sheets, making sure catering is up and running, keeping the bus stocked with essentials, giving bus drivers their instructions. But the majority of your job is catching all of the things that are about to fall apart. 

The best road managers are chronic anticipators. They constantly live 5 minutes-12 hours ahead of everyone else. They have immediate answers to most any question you ask. They can spot a potential problem before it becomes a full blown disaster and head it off before anyone even knows said problem exists. Those road managers are magical.

Our culture encourages us to live in the moment and that's absolutely a beautiful thing... for everyone else on a tour. But if you're serving in a capacity where you are the first defense against all out anarchy, you need to stay one step ahead. Here are some helpful tips:

1. Be proactive, not reactive.

This is the hardest thing to teach a new road manager. You are the only person who has the time/energy/responsibility to anticipate what's coming next. That's what you're paid for. Don't look to your artist, your band, your production manager, to dictate what needs to happen next and then act on their instruction. If you aren't one step ahead, you're behind.

2. Memorize your day sheet.

You should know every possible detail about the day without having to refer to the day sheet. Your goal should be to know what the arch of the entire run looks like, but at the very least you should know today and tomorrow's plan well enough to answer any questions without looking it up. Are showers on site? Are there runners? What time is soundcheck? These questions should be no-brainers. When these details are memorized, it's much easier to spot potential problems.

3. Listen.

Listen to everything and everyone. I can't tell you how many times I've been able to clear up a potential problem in it's infant form because I happened to overhear a conversation where the artist was making plans after-show that conflicted with the schedule, or a band member mentioned extra guests coming to eat dinner and the catering numbers weren't high enough. Also - when you have the day sheet memorized, then when you overhear something that conflicts with the facts you know, you're well equipped to fend off the potential disaster.

4. Down Time = Anticipation Time

It's a fact. Road managers don't really ever get time off. If that's not something you're down for, I highly recommend you jump ship now. When everyone else is taking their afternoon nap, a great road manager will be calling ahead to the next day's hotel to make sure the rooms are set, or checking bus stock, or finding after-show food options. The more you look ahead, the less you'll be scrambling last-minute.

5. First off, last on.

It's an absolute must for the road manager to be the first body off the bus in the morning to get signage up before another soul sets foot outside. Otherwise you'll spend half the morning on your heels, explaining to your touring entourage where breakfast is while trying to do a walk-through and get showers situated. In the same sense, you should also be the last person out at the end of the night. Dummy checks are important. The one time you're too lazy to do it will be the time you leave the artist's wardrobe in a closet (true story) or worse... leave a man behind.

Bottom line, your job is to see what your team needs before they even ask. Take pride in your ability to do that. And when no one has any questions, that's a job well done.