Join us as we uncover the stories behind the tours and the mind of a professional who has mastered the art of bringing music to life on the road with Lee Davies. Lee is a seasoned Tour and Merch Manager who has left an indelible mark on the music industry through his work with renowned bands such as Atreyu, Motionless in White, Bullet For My Valentine, and many more. With a wealth of experience navigating the intricacies of tour logistics and merchandise management, Lee brings a unique perspective shaped by the diverse world of touring.
In this candid conversation, we delve into Lee's world, exploring not only the unconventional challenges and triumphs of coordinating tours for iconic bands but also his innovative approaches to merchandising that go beyond the ordinary. From cultural sensitivity to environmental consciousness, Lee sheds light on his craft and shares insights into the ever-evolving landscape of the music industry.
Thank you for taking the time to join us, Lee. To kick things off; how do you navigate the dynamics within bands and crew to ensure a cohesive and successful tour experience?
I think the key thing is understanding. Everybody works in different ways, both physically and mentally, and being empathetic and understanding of this makes a difference. Half of the job is being a good person to be around, you have to spend anywhere between a few weeks and a few months living and working together, It can be an intense environment and being someone that people on the tour can approach to talk about work or life, I think is important.
Touring involves working in a variety of venues. What's the most unconventional or unexpected venue you've had to coordinate for a show, and how did you overcome any challenges that came with it?
I’ve not had any unconventional venues to navigate, but each venue has its challenges, which can be different with each show. For example, Trying to navigate 2 truck/2 bus tours in UK theatre venues can be quite challenging. Often you’ll need to change the production that is taken into each venue due to space/rigging capabilities etc, so making sure you have a solid advance and building a good relationship with the promoters/reps/venues from the outset can alleviate a lot of the problems you can encounter as well as having a great team around you.
It’s always a collective effort, especially when you encounter problems and I don’t have all the answers, so being able to work well with your team, and keeping good relationships with those people you’ve worked with before, allows you to ask for help when you come across situations you may not have faced before. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, you’re all working toward the same goal.
How do you approach cultural differences when it comes to tour logistics to ensure that the fan experience is respectful and inclusive?
The music scene/alternative scene has always been about inclusivity in my opinion. We were all the “alt kid” growing up that found somewhat of a family in the scene, and I think this Transends culturally. From a merch perspective, learning basics in respective native languages goes a long way, even as little as asking somebody what size shirt they want or giving the asking price and saying thank you in that specific person's language shows respect and goes a long way.
In an age where technology is rapidly advancing, how do you leverage innovative tech solutions to enhance the tour and merchandise management process? Any specific tools or software that has been game-changers for you?
Nothing specifically merch or tour management focussed. I think everybody uses Master Tour these days but I still love a printed day sheet if I’m being honest!! It's nothing new but, apps like Google Translate or Duo Lingo can make things a lot easier for you when facing language barriers, and engaging with customers from a merch perspective can be a much better experience for both parties. City Mapper is fantastic for getting around on days off and understanding the local transport options and costs. Parkodedia is incredible for splitter tours, you put vehicle info in once, then type location and the app gives you every parking space around that location that your vehicle can fit in. Really simple stuff but I find them helpful.
Do you have any unique rituals or practices that you encourage the bands and crew to follow to maintain morale and energy throughout a demanding tour?
I don’t have any specific rituals or practices as such, but one thing I think is specifically important is everybody knowing that it’s a safe space to talk. Mental health issues are much more prominent than many people realise in this industry and burnout is a very real thing.
I gained a counselling skills diploma during lockdown so that I could learn better listening skills and give people the opportunity to talk to someone neutral when they are on the road. It’s not a normal environment to be in, away from your regular support network, working long days, for weeks on end and if someone is dealing with something else outside of this it can be very isolating. So just subtle things, like asking if someone is okay twice instead of just in passing, really asking if someone is alright, and listening.
Taking a little break from the venue with members of the team to get a coffee. Making sure everyone goes out as a team for food, on at least one day off. You can’t necessarily bring a team’s morale up in one swoop, but Little things can go a long way for a person’s morale, and that in turn will, hopefully, keep everyone else’s up
Sustainability is becoming increasingly important. How do you approach the environmental impact of touring, and have you implemented any eco-friendly initiatives in the merchandising or tour logistics for the bands you've worked with?
Sustainability is increasingly important and equally challenging in the touring environment. Logistically I’ll try and use bus companies that are closest to the start or end of a tour to cut down on unnecessary mileage, try and get parking as close to the venues/hotels as possible to cut down on ground transport, use public transport to and from tours/on days off.
In Europe especially there is such a great tram/train system that you rarely need to use taxis. From a merch perspective, using a company like P&K helps lower the carbon footprint for UK & EU tours by having a print base in the EU and UK, which means that you can split your merch orders and cut down on air freight/shipping etc.
Attention to detail can really help in small ways too, just keeping a close eye on stock to limit the deadstock at the end of a tour doesn’t just help P&L, cuts down on shipping, fulfilment shipping, packaging etc…it can go a long way.
The music industry and fan preferences are ever-evolving. How do you stay ahead of trends in both tour management and merch, and how do you incorporate these trends into your work with different bands?
From a tour management perspective, talking to other TM’s, networking! You tend to catch up during festival season with a lot of people you’ve worked with over the years, and you’ll often pick up on something that’s changed or is changing, so keeping your relationships is important.
Merch-wise, customers are ALWAYS happy to tell you what they think. So you get feedback in real-time about what the fans want from specific bands. You get a feel for what styles/designs sell well in different countries over time. Cultural differences affect what sells where, as well as the tangible connection to the album artwork/lyrics.
I try and make the effort in my downtime especially, but even on days off mid-tour to try and see other shows and go to local gigs to keep my finger on the pulse of what’s happening. I think it's important to remember we’re all fans of music and it's why we do what we do, so going as a punter can be quite refreshing from being hidden away from it all backstage and can give you some perspective on things.