A good musician friend of mine and I recently bumped into each other in New Orleans while we were there performing for Jazz Fest. We were walking into One Eyed Jacks to see Ghost-Note perform with Kamasi Washington, Jermaine Holmes, MonoNeon, and all the other amazing musicians who were taking the stage that night. We had been talking about working together for years and as this being the first time we crossed paths in person in a while, it was natural that the discussion went towards future collaborations. To my relatable sadness, my friend informed me that he will no longer perform due to the tinnitus in his ears. The ringing had gotten so bad that the discomfort and the fear of it getting worse, overpowered the love of playing music.
Take Care Of Your Ears
I say this as a touring drummer that has hit enough loud cymbals to be dealing with some a serious case of tinnitus. It’s gotten so bad that the ringing in my ears is louder than the television. Let’s just say–it sucks.
I’ve gone from cheap foam earplugs (which are terrible) to custom-fitted plugs, and now am exploring electronic earplugs in the form of in-ear monitors. The challenge we face as musicians, however, is that we want to hear all the frequencies. So what sense does it make to put things in our ears that cut out frequencies all together? Ultimately, protecting our hearing long term is far more important than the short term enjoyment of hearing all the audio, a lot of which doesn’t even make it to the audience anyways, unless its an intimate setting.
From a drummer’s perspective, I’ve been very inspired by Keita Ogawa, the multi-Grammy-winning percussionist of Snarky Puppy. I recently saw him perform with the great Charlie Hunter and he had custom-built a “low volume” drumset. The drum kit was made out of unconventional objects, making it visually intriguing, but ultimately what he made was a low volume set of drums which had all the tones a percussionist would need.
Sometimes It’s Not Your Ears… It’s The Phone
While I’ve focused a lot of time on surviving life as a touring musician by warning against hearing loss, the truth is, one of the hardest parts of being on the road for long stretches is the art of managing relationships.
Depending on what level of success one is at in his/her career, there are slightly different challenges, but one thing all touring musicians have to figure out despite their success is communicating with loved ones while constantly surrounded by bandmates/road crew/fans. Whether you are on a bus on in a van, backstage with the band or at the hotel room, potentially sharing some kind of event space with others, the need to maintain relationships outside of tour life is crucial without being insensitive to those around you.
Finding ways to communicate with your loved ones (or anyone for that matter) while not making those you uncomfortable takes practice. Sometimes you simply have to take advantage of passing opportunities to make space for yourself.
Make Space For Your Mind
In addition to finding time to take care of your personal relationships, it’s also important to make space for your mind. If that sounds like some vague, hippie lingo for “leave me alone,” it’s because it is exactly that.
In all seriousness, tour life can be very demanding, especially when you are learning new music and working with new people. The time and attention that goes into a tour can demand almost a 24/7 focus and dedication. While I may be projecting my own work ethic onto the experience of touring, I’ve been on the road with long enough to have noticed that the most successful touring musicians have methods to protect their mental health.
Moments of self-reflection can be effective in making sure things like sleep deprivation aren’t affecting your moods too drastically. Beyond just self-reflection, finding ways to quiet the mind all together can be effective. I’ve toured with musicians that used meditation recordings and mental wellness apps on their phones to assist with this.
When you are spending every day in vans and buses, traveling to the next destination, you find yourself face to face with a lot of gas station junk foods and drinks, which are always conveniently located next to a couple of fast food options. Early in my career, I was chasing down double cheeseburgers with zebra cakes and root beer. It was a bad scene and everyone was doing it. If it wasn’t heroin, it was hot dogs. I actually never did fall victim to heroin, but while we are on the topic – There are some drugs you can easily recover from and there are some that you can not. Avoid the ones you can not recover from at all costs. The best case scenario for having a long and healthy career as a touring musician is that your worst problem is zebra cakes and hot dogs.
If the goal is feeling positive and energized day in and day out, while traveling like crazy and sleeping very little, eating as much healthy food as possible will pay dividends, regardless of the extracurricular activities you choose to indulge in.
Sleep is very hard to come by as a touring musician. It’s something that is a challenge regardless of your level of success. If crazy travel schedules with late nights and early call times don’t keep you awake at night while on tour, the lingering adrenaline from performing will. I once read that the drummer for Pearl Jam (Matt Cameron) had such a hard time coming down from the adrenaline of the night’s performance that the only way he could sleep was to take cold baths at night, which would occasionally work.
Whatever the technique, finding ways to manage a healthy sleep schedule (ideally without turning to drugs) is important to keeping yourself sharp, healthy, and professional while out touring the world.
You can catch Adam Chase on the road with a variety of acts including JAZZ is PHSH, James Brown Dance Party, and more. For more information about Chase’s various acts, head here.
For a list of JAZZ is PHSH’s upcoming summer tour dates and ticketing information, head here.