It was a complete fluke that, four years ago, Martin Atkins began teaching his university course on the business of touring. Turns out he also never planned on coming out with his latest effort either, Tour:Smart, the book he wrote and edited that details what it takes to be a touring musician.
“I started to write a PiL coffee table book,” explains the artist-turned-educator whose long career as a rock drummer has included playing with Public Image Ltd., Killing Joke, Ministry and Pigface. “Then I thought, because I had started teaching by then, that I should add in a couple of chapters about touring. Then, bang…that side of it took over.”
The 592-page, illustrated book is an informative collection that covers every aspect of touring—like driving a tour bus 330 miles in unfamiliar conditions at 4AM after just leaving a gig—that incorporates another hundred experienced voices (from bus drivers to bass players) weighing in on the topic, including Henry Rollins, Steve Albini, Kevin Lyman of the Vans Warped Tour.
Atkins runs a record label, invents new types of drums and, several years ago, set up his own booking company, which was easy enough after his own extensive touring background. It was only later that the collegiate life took hold.
“I went up to Columbia [College] here in Chicago to tell them about one of the package tours I was putting together so that I could get armfuls of free intern help,” he explains. “I did a quick presentation with all of the materials—posters, postcards, shirts, promo CDs, sponsorship stuff—and they said, ‘Great! When can you start?’”
Much to his surprise, Atkins was soon heading “Arts, Entertainment and Media Management” at Columbia College. When seeking out suitable textbooks for his new course, he noticed he was severely limited, so he decided to put out his own.
“There are a couple of books but they are both written by lawyers. One of them actually says in the introduction: ‘The most important creative decision you will make as an artist is choosing your attorney’! Give me a fucking break. When was the last time you heard of a band breaking up because they chose the wrong attorney?”
Tour:Smart digs deep, beyond contracts and itineries, and offers insider details on the trials of being a rock ’n’ roll band on the road. For example, there’s the essential advice on the dangers of allowing sex tapes to surface (don’t) and, of course, something synonymous with rock stars: drugs.
“Drugs are a huge part of touring and the music business. Even if you aren’t on something, someone or everyone else probably is.” says Atkins. The book advises against smoking weed while touring but acknowledges that, if you must do it, then smoke out when the tour bus is moving (not parked) and take that toke down the back of the bus with the window wide open. Lee Frasers of Sheep on Drugs, one of the book’s contributors, describes being on stage while on acid, and how his bass guitar felt like it was made of sponge rubber.
Atkins has his own ideas of what a band has to do to be successful in this new digital age of the music biz: “Adapt, re-create, open your eyes! Most bands that get it are on the road now, fine-tuning their machinery. Prince is all over it. He has ingested the newest state of play and is working on the next one.”