Dream Industry Jobs Q&A

So You Want To Be A Tour Manager? Meet Sammie Goebel

So you want to be a tour manager? Meet Sammie Goebel, a veteran American tour manager who has worked with everyone from Def Leppard to Journey to Paul McCartney. On one of her most memorable tours, she helped arrange a horse for Phil from Motorhead to storm the Testament stage at the Masters Of Rock festival. Hitting an average of more than fifteen countries a year on the global touring circuit, Sammie kindly shares a few tales from the road and tricks of the trade for aspiring tour managers. “You have to be self-motivated, optimistic, confident, flexible, calm, and have the ability to do what needs to be done quickly, this is essential. It’s all about solutions and the way we carry ourselves to get things done. Never let ’em see you sweat.”

Who are you touring with at present?
I am working on a Super Bowl project at the moment.

How many countries/cities do you see in an average year?
Most years, depending on the tour I find we could be in upwards of fifteen countries in an average year.

Why did you want to be a tour manager?
I honestly did not want to be a tour manager – that was not the original goal. This industry found me after being a bar owner for quite a few years and moving to Minneapolis.

How did you get into it?
I was commandeered by management along with a band and was offered some significant incentives to help keep them out on the road and out of trouble. Honesty I spent fifteen minutes outside the bus going “this is the biggest mistake of my life or the most fun I’m going to have” I just didn’t know. All I knew was when it came to time management and getting things done without breaking a sweat, I was on to something.

What do you think are the personal qualities a great tour manager requires?
Requirements start with patience and tolerance. An ability to differentiate between problems that need to be addressed and ones that can just wait. We need to listen and be able to think critically. Qualities of integrity must be in place which represents trust along with knowing we will fight for them each day. You have to be self-motivated, optimistic, confident, flexible, calm, and have the ability to do what needs to be done quickly, this is essential. It’s all about solutions and the way we carry ourselves to get things done. “Never let ’em see you sweat.”

In your opinion, what’s the best first question a rookie should ask on their first day?
I would want to know who my building person is or their assistant. I want to determine who is actually going to get things done for me throughout the day and not tell me “No”, also who am I doing settlement with so I can put a name to a face.

What is the worst thing you could do on your first day?
Act like an ass to your promoter in front of anyone. I would strongly suggest not developing a reputation for being an idiot and always chasing you tail or nickel and diming a venue to death.

What are the three most important lessons you’ve learned on tour?

1. Count to ten before you open your mouth and say the first thing that comes to mind, you will regret it.

2. No matter how crappy you day may be, don’t treat the people around you like shit also especially when it’s not in your nature you wont live it down.

3. Keep an open mind because everything is subject to change at any given time and you may need someone’s help.

What’s been your best “pinch yourself” moment so far?
There are so many that sometimes we don’t realise. While touring with Journey and Def Leppard in 2006 our singer Steve Aguirre was not feeling well. The band had decided that Deen Castronovo would be coming out from the drum kit for the first time to sing from the front of the stage. The rumour had of course run rampant through the tour, every band member from other bands and crew were standing on stage to watch. Deen got off the drum kit dressed in jeans, per the band, so he was soaked from playing; got unhooked from is head set that he sings with and proceeded to stand in the front of the stage to sing “Faithfully” as he does every show from his kit. We all were holding our breath, not that anything was going to happen, but seeing how he was going to approach singing in the front for 25,000 fans and how the fans were going to receive this moment. He had left his drum gloves on, took the microphone off the stand and just went for it. He looked over at the side of the stage with all of us standing there clapping and gesturing him to move across the stage like a lead singer would and he absolutely smiled and took off. He was having a blast and the fans were loving it. It was a moment.

What’s been the most unintentionally hilarious day so far? What was it like sorting a horse for Motorhead and what else was unique from your experience as their TM? Which other bands that you’ve worked with have had outrageous or hilarious requests?
There are many days in a festival that are improv days. You bring up a good point, practical joke day is always my favourite in production when the bands are so humble and jokesters themselves. There is nothing better than working with a “family” that has an amazing sense of humour, does not take themselves too seriously and are so spontaneous in their adventures with the crew and other members you just don’t know what coming next. Pardon the correction but I was not the tour manager for Motorhead, Eddie Rocha rocks that position! He was amazing to work with on the Metal Masters tour where we had the opportunity to prank Testament with the live horse, ridden by Phil Campbell on stage, escorted by Lemmy and Mickey Dee with his donkey outfit. Testament had a plan of attack with a plethora of blowup dolls and live dancing on stage, along with the Dio gargoyles in compromising positions and truck balls hanging from certain places. The beginning of the Judas Priest set started with the first ten rows holding and reading newspapers (done before)  and some more dynamics throughout the day. This was a fun tour and production crew! Thanks Tracey Weideman & Tony Sellinger, miss you both.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with many hilarious bands but would never really out them on requests because still most of the requests are just making sure the promoter is paying attention. Personal requests are private and practical jokes I could discuss all day long.

What are your touring essentials?
Newly replaced Swiss Army suitcase, lifetime guarantee, a great new pair of shell toes, or plush converse shoes, no chucks sorry. An ammo utility belt for all the things we need to carry on us as expected, besides the crappy electronics we have to tote these days. A functional production road case please. Personally I have a nice blanket for my bunk along with memory foam since I’m old. The rest we can get on the road because there are comfort foods and other bus essentials I throw in the mix. Don’t forget a good bus driver that takes care of us and gets us to work on time, safely.

What’s your ultimate goal? Ultimate band, ultimate show? Has it already happened?
The ultimate goal is each time we leave home, we all come home safe, and it always has been. I really thought the ultimate band and ultimate show would be Paul McCartney as part of his crew. I only had opportunities to work on site for multiple shows in many cities but not a part of the touring crew, they are amazing. I would have loved to do a tour with Pink Floyd but hell sometimes I felt like I was there anyway.

Who is your favourite musician to watch from side of stage?
There are many great bands out there but it’s still Rage Against the Machine (during the Republican Convention, below) and the Beastie Boys, RIP Adam.

What are the benefits to working on the crew rather than playing in the band?

Everything, I wouldn’t want to be a musician and have to go through trudging the road to some destiny that has a very unknown factor. Or telling me these days that I had to play shows seven days in a row. I get to stay removed from a lot of the demands, fan expectations, management expectations and if I’m not the TM, no press demands with the exception of the 5am calls for TV shows, everyone’s on the same ship for this one.

What’s the biggest misconception in your opinion about the touring lifestyle?
That is an absolute party all the time, and back stage is where it’s happening. Not so much. Crickets and tumbleweeds my friends … chaos presents problems and angry production managers. We work twenty hour days most of the time, it’s hard work and on a day off you’re lucky to leave your room to get some fresh air.

What’s the hardest part of the job, in your opinion?
Consistent time changes, routing changes, sleep wake cycles and just taking good physical care of ourselves along with promoting this throughout our crews. The days that family comes out can be hard because you just need it to be perfect and comfortable for everyone.

What’s the best part of the job? What makes you love the road life?
Each day I wake up with the people that have been my family and friends for years is the most comfortable, insulated feeling I’ve had since starting this business. This has been my world for many years, I’ve been surrounded by the best for so long sometimes you forget what else is out there. I love this life because no matter what the job is I have always felt free enough to make decisions that will affect my future and retirement.

How important is the phrase “what happens on tour, stays on tour”?
It’s important to the extent of protecting our world. There is nothing worse sometimes when a fan sees something they shouldn’t out of a crew member (who is a representative of the band) or even bad behaviour out of a band member and it ruins their image of what may have been, its just a bad moment. I think protecting our fans and our world from things that can be misinterpreted is vital.

You have travelled pretty extensively, what have been your favourite cities, venues or festivals to play at? Where are the crowds that give you goosebumps?
I personally always enjoyed The Gorge in Washington State for the view, Red Rock just for what it offers, Sweden Rock because it’s like a reunion for all the bands and crews to say hello, Coachella just for the unknown of something that may shock me, and honestly I enjoyed Big Day Out. My favourite cities I adore include Edinburgh, Prague, Lisbon, Capetown, Rio, Vienna, there is something about Oslo, Norway, Stockholm and Sydney, Australia that I can’t explain either.

For a young aspiring Australian tour manager (or a fan dreaming of being a tour manager) what would you recommend they do first? Is it best to start working for or selling merch for local bands or try and head overseas? What’s a good entry level gig to prove yourself first?
There are many things you can do first, be a runner if you’re good, keep your receipts straight, can think out of the box and remain organized – you never know who’s going to pick you up as a production assistant. If you sell merch, great, another start, but where the learning opportunities present themselves is in the clubs. Set up, tear down and learn some skills, audio, video, tech equipment, learn how to rig … do something that way you are never unemployed when you go home. Trust me, this comes in handy if you don’t work for a production company.

How do you think the crew side of things has changed over the years you’ve been in the game?
Jeez you should sit and talk with some of the people that have retired from this business or started thirty years ago or more. Listening to how they advanced shows before cell phones and computers would blow your mind. I have no business even comparing. Social media and technology have been in place since I started touring.

One thing I can say it that tours are now seem very compartmentalised and many times to cut costs, production is wearing way to many hats and being paid for one job instead of 4 or 5 jobs. My heart goes out to the ones still doing TM/PM/FOH blah blah. We know who you are!

What’s your favorite Australian band?
AC/DC of course, Jet has a great sound also.



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