In Conversation With :Nyla Davison

Tour Manager

We sat down with tour manager Nyla Davison to find out exactly what the role of a tour manager entails, how to get your foot in the door of the live music industry, and tips for living life on the road.

Nyla discovered tour management through attending live shows and meeting bands and their teams. Since then she’s gone on to travel around the world with artists including Ezra Furman, black midi and Happyness.

In the simplest terms, can you tell us your job title and the basic tasks involved in your role.

My job title is tour manager and I take care of all the logistics, so planning the routes that we’re going to take, which vehicles we’re going to use, what hotels we’re going to stay in. I spend so much time looking for the hotel that’s the most affordable and closest to the venue.

Day to day on the road, sometimes i’ll be driving, sometimes on a bus. I look after the band and make sure they’re happy and well and safe and fed.

When we get to the venue, I’ll introduce myself to everyone and be there for soundcheck. During the show I'm basically on hand to make sure that nothing goes wrong. Making sure the sound engineer is doing their job properly so that it all sounds good. Post show I’ll make sure the band are okay and see how they felt about the show and have a bit of a debrief.

It’s basically being the mum to everyone and being the point of contact between the band and all of the staff at the venue. There’s so many different parts to it.

At what point did you realise tour managing could be a career option for you? what drew you to it?

I had no idea that a tour manager was a thing until I went to a couple of Whitney shows. I met their tour manager Alistair and found out about what he did, traveling all around and being part of the live event. I just found it really appealing and was like how do I get into this amazing job. I was working in events previous, for Curzon Cinemas, doing their admin and running their events; anything from a world film premiere to an 8 year old’s birthday party, which I think sums up the live circuit a little bit!

Did you have any official training before you started or has there been anyone you’d consider as a mentor who helped you along the way?

I went on tour with Happyness and I was taking photos and I wrote an article about the tour. While I was on tour with them, Richard, their tour manager, was there so I was just observing what he was doing without really thinking that I was going to go onto become a tour manager. I was just aware of it as a thing and thought it was really cool. He’s always been the person i’ve learnt the most from.

I’ve had no (formal) training. I don’t know if there is a tour manager course or something but it helped that I'd been working in events because, for the cinema events there would be things like Q&As so there would be a live element to it. In that way you can switch out a film for a show, it’s the same moving parts but it’s a different product essentially.

What’s the process for working with new artists and bands. Do you pitch your services or do they come to you?

It’s all just been word of mouth, I've been really fortunate in that respect. I did that Happyness tour across the UK and Europe and then I ended up going on a tour in the US for a month. Then their tour manager dropped out at the last minute and they said “do you want to give it a go” and I said “yeah, sure. Why not!” I went on tour with them and from there I got recommended to Girl Ray and from there it just spiraled.

In the first year that I was doing it, I was hustling a lot and emailing managers saying I’ve done these tours, I can see your artist has got this tour coming up, here’s my CV, do you need someone. Initially to get off the ground you do need to be active at messaging people and letting people know that you’re there and available and that it’s something that you can do.

In normal times, how long do you spend on the road and what are some of the challenges that come with that?

This year I’m on tour pretty much solidly. I’ve got July off and I’m making sure that I'm not booking anything apart from maybe a festival here and there. Then I’m off in December. I’d say for three quarters of the year, you’re away. Challenge wise, you miss important people’s birthdays, weddings. On the sadder side, someone I know passed away while I was on tour and you’re not there for your family or friends so that’s really difficult.

You also have to maintain a sense of sanity and health within yourself by not going away too much. Especially after the last couple of years it’s so tempting to take on as much as possible to try and recoup the loss. At the end of last year I totally took on way too much and frazzled and burnt out and just had to be alone in a hole in bed for like two weeks to just rest.

Not being there for the people you care about and all the fun things.

What support is there available when it comes to mental health in your part of the industry for people in your situation?

There’s Help Musicians, I know they do a lot. I haven’t used them but they have a crisis line that you can call. Personally, I use a therapist every week which is good. They’re quite flexible because you can do it on the phone and on the road. I’m not aware of anything else that’s set up and available for people to support their mental health while they’re on tour. That’s definitely something that needs to be looked at generally.

What would you say the split is between male and female tour managers in your experience?

I personally know less than five female tour managers. It’s definitely something that needs to be looked at. There are obviously more female tour managers out there but there’s definitely an imbalance. I also find that some female tour managers feel inclined to project themselves as more masculine when they’re on the road. I don’t know why but it’s just the atmosphere and attitudes that you come up against, you have to be “tougher”.

I come from a place of thinking it’s always best to be kind and friendly, I think you get a lot more out of people when you have that attitude. There’s so many hyper masculine personalities in music, not just tour managers but across the board.

How can we encourage more women to get involved in what’s such a male dominated line of work? And what are ways the industry should do better?

There definitely needs to be more female tour managers. I’ve just started working with someone who wants to do more tour managing and I’m guiding her, advising her and giving her some of the work that I can’t do just so she can get some more experience. I want to do more of that.

The best way is to dive into it and learn as you go. The best thing about live music is that every single show is different, every band is different. You have to ask yourself, who am I working with, what do they need, so it’s all really flexible and there’s no right or wrong way to do it for the most part. I think that makes it easier to get more people in but it also makes it a lot more obscure because there’s no thing like “oh i’m going to do this course then then I’m going to be a tour manager”.

For anyone considering getting involved in tour management, what are some things they should think about / skills they should learn?

I do know some tour managers that don’t drive but they’re on the really big tours where there’s sometimes three tour managers. I guess, just go to shows and be present and really friendly. Have the right attitude.

You need to learn about getting a carnet which is your passport for people’s gear. I started off by doing smaller budget tours and on those tours you throw a lot of caution to the wind and sometimes hope that you’re not checked because they’re expensive. But that’s something you definitely need. You can get fined thousands of pounds if you don’t have one.

You have to really get to know and love spreadsheets. I never thought that I’d enjoy them. I find lots of numbers on a page can be overwhelming and confusing sometimes so finding your way into that and making sure they make sense to you and that are clear is important. Budgets are also something you need to be aware of.

Do you need to know much about musical equipment?

It depends on what type of tour you’re on. The DIY ones, people very much look after themselves. You do need to know the basics, the difference between a guitar amp and a bass cab and a head. The technical side is probably where I lack the most in terms of my knowledge but because everyone’s different you just need to chat to the band and see what they require in terms of backline. What kind of amp they need. If they’ve got a drum kit, what set up do they have. The technical side is more for sound engineers or guitar techs or monitor engineers, they’re the ones who need to really be across it. As a tour manager you’re there to communicate the band’s needs rather than having the technical knowhow.

I know there are tour managers who are way better than me at it and know how to fix an amp or a guitar pedal but that’s something I’m focussing on for myself this year. I did a live sound course and I’m going to be learning from a sound engineer how to do sound. It’s just something I want to know how to do. I don’t think I want to be one of those tour managers who does sound and tour managing because I think I would absolutely crumble. I have so much respect for tour managers who do that, it must be so exhausting. Most of my teams have a sound engineer they tour with or they have a guitar tech so I lean on them to pick up some of that slack.

What’s been some of your highlights as a tour manager?

That first tour I did with Happyness was pretty wild. Going to the US and driving all around the country for a month was amazing. It really solidified that that was something I really wanted to do.

My first bus tour with black midi was a real highlight. It was exciting to find out what life on a tour bus is like as it seemed pretty mythical before, it definitely made me feel more like a “proper TM". The entire tour was sold out and the shows were a lot of fun, everyone’s spirits were high throughout which isn’t always the case and it was great start to finish. 

To be honest, anytime I get an email saying this person recommended you, that makes me feel really good, that’s a little highlight each time.