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Daniel Huffman has played guitar with bands like Comet, The Flaming Lips and The Polyphonic Spree and has several years of touring experience behind him. Currently, he is performing as the guitarist, keyboardist, laptop artist and singer for his solo project New Fumes. We recently spoke with Huffman about life on the road, and he was kind enough to share some tips for artists headed out on tour for the first time.
What tips do you have for first-time touring musicians?
My biggest tip would be to take plenty of socks. You can wear the same shirt every day, but you can’t wear the same socks every day. You don’t want to get athlete’s foot on the road. And it’s good to take a plastic bag to put your dirty socks, underwear and laundry in. This doesn’t go for everybody, but for me, I have special dietary needs so I take plenty of snacks because gas station food doesn’t do it for me. But if I had to give one tip, it would be the sock thing.
What are some things to avoid while on the road?
No matter who you’re on the road with, if you’re on the road long enough, tensions will rise when driving long distances with the same people, weeks or months on end. Before [a tour], I take some deep breaths and just know that it’s not always going to be pleasant or easy, but I remind myself to have patience and avoid confrontation with my band mates. When you’re in that situation, it can be fun, but it can be tense, too. And something I learned is, you can’t stop and pee all the time, so I think it’s better to drink water than to drink bottled tea because then you have to pee every five minutes. I think it’s a good idea to drink coffee, but if you get a bunch of drinks that make you pee and you have to stop all the time, then you’re going to be late for load in.
Any tips on gear transport and safety?
If you can take a trailer, do it. No matter what, when you’re loading into or out of a club, never leave your vehicle unattended. You can take turns, but always leave someone watching the gear. Don’t walk away and leave the gear unattended because it will walk off quickly. In the Spree, there’s so many people, there’s always someone there. In other bands, we rotate. One person will watch as the others will go in and grab stuff and everyone will bring something out, and the guy that watched will run in and grab something, and somebody else will stay and watch. When you stop at a restaurant, park by a window.
If you can invest in some good road cases, that’s good to protect your stuff. If you’re carrying a guitar around in a canvas bag, I think your stuff’s gonna get destroyed. And if you have to fly on a plane to get somewhere and you have to check your stuff, airplane people just don’t care. You can see those people loading the stuff on the plane. You’re sitting in your seat and you can look out the window and you can see them taking the gear, and they just throw it. They don’t place it nicely.
Any tips for achieving great onstage sound?
You aren’t always lucky enough to have your own sound engineer and sometimes sound engineers don’t care. For me, this isn’t practical for everybody, but something I learned pretty quickly, was bringing my own stuff. So if I’m showing up at a house party or I’m showing up at Center Stage [a venue], I’ve got my own speakers and everything I need to sound good to me. Because if I can’t hear what I’m doing, I can’t play; so I invested in some monitor speakers – then I don’t have to worry about the sound guy.
Any other advice for dealing with life on the road?
Try to get enough sleep and try to get enough nutrition and liquids. I’m a nutrition freak, so nutrition is important to me. You can’t always get all the rest you need. If you can’t get enough [sleep], at least get some good nutrition to try not to get sick. People get sick on the road. You get tired and get slow and every tour I’ve been on, near the end of the tour, people start getting sick.
Any general advice for freelance artists seeking work with established artists?
I think if you’re gonna work with anyone, people have to want to work with you. I think it helps to be friendly and helpful to people. That’s with any job, people don’t want to be around you if they don’t think that you’re helpful. But there’s kind of a fine line between being there and being in the way. I think being friendly is a big thing as far as working with anybody.
Any tips for bookkeeping, taxes, expenses, income tracking?
The people I know that have been doing it the longest, the real pros, have a credit card they use as a company credit card, so I’ve seen that before. I haven’t done that yet. I have to start thinking about that, but I’m not there yet.