Since the music industry flipped from touring to promote music to releasing music to promote touring, there has been a greater need for teams who know how to manage time on the road. Being a tour manager is often a thankless job that isn’t just making sure the artist wakes up, gets on a place and is sober enough to do a gig. TMs are much more than a glorified traveling buddy. They have to make sure the venue has everything it needs for the show, production is being shipped on time and set up in the new venue and make sure the show runs smoothly. They sleep very little and have to be on their toes for when things go wrong.
Celina Rollon is the tour manager for FKJ and Bishop Briggs, which puts her on the road most of the year. She first started in radio and then moved to Sony Music in 2008 to help coordinate big releases for the likes of Beyoncé, Taio Cruz and more.
Now she lives on the road, coordinating the details of complex tours involving headline shows, festivals and more. Read on our new Industry Insider to learn more about the craft and the hidden challenges of this grueling job.
How did you get into the music business? How did you get your first job?
I was listening to Galaxy 102 Manchester (now known as Capital Manchester) breakfast show and they sounded so exciting! I wanted to work there! I bet a friend that I would work for them one day and the challenge was on. At the time I was attending college full time and worked through the nights at a petrol station. I wrote a letter to Galaxy to enquire about work experience and received a letter back saying they had no opportunities and to try back in 6 months.
6 months to the day of the date of that letter, I walked into the radio station and asked to speak to the lady that signed it. I soon discovered that they sent out thousands of those letters every week and I was the only person ever to walk into the station with the letter in my hand. They told me that their position hadn’t changed; they didn’t have time to train me. I was super persistent and told them I had Fridays off college, I would work for free and do anything they needed including making cups of tea. I was 17 years old. I remember them laughing quite hard at the sheer size of my balls. They had the breakfast producer come out (one of the personalities I heard on air 6 months earlier) to interview me on the spot. Looking back, he laughed at me quite hard too.
I started work experience there the following Friday and basically shadowed every single person at the station. By week two I had a paid position as a tech operator in the evenings driving the desk, running the jingles and advertisements between the music. Every spare moment I could give, I shadowed the team. I watched over people’s shoulders and studied all the roles, Within 6 months I was covering the Breakfast Show Producer while he went on holiday. By this time, I literally could do any and every job at that station. I covered everyone’s holiday including the Assistant Program Director who had not taken a holiday in two years. I made myself indispensable by reading hundreds of pages of an editing software manual (they didn’t have Google back then!) to become only one of two people in the company capable of using it. I was editing shows, creating jingles and station IDs. By 18, I was offered a full time Radio Producer role based in Leeds covering 5 major cities in the UK (Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle, Birmingham and Bristol.) Granted it was a graveyard shift (10pm - 6am) but I was responsible for 8 hours of programming across a syndicated network for a top 40 commercial station. Dreams can come true!
What did you learn about the financial struggles of radio?
In 1999, I was poached to be part of a London based tech startup; an internet radio station called Ammo City. I gave up my promising and very secure job, packed up everything I owned and moved to London. At Ammo City, I was part of the initial studio design plus hand picked the DJs and Presenters. I went from a Top 40 station where you barely got to choose a song outside of the playlist, to be given free reign to select my own genres and presenters. After only 8 months, the bubble popped. My boss at the time took me aside and told me that they were having financial problems. She told me there was a Product Manager job at Sony Music and made an introduction. It was a whirlwind but gave me an early insight into the changing landscape of radio and lead me into 8 years working for a major record label.
The way music is released has evolved rapidly over the past 20 years. What is the biggest way it has changed in your eyes?
I was marketing cassette tapes, CDs, VHS tapes and vinyls (don’t forget the very short lived MiniDisc). The record stores were only able to carry what their space allowed. We fought for key space on the shelves. You could probably name and know every single artist on the charts. Now, technology has opened the floodgates for releasing new music. 1000’s of tracks are uploaded to distribution sites daily. There is no quality control but a lot of great music. You can now create hits on a laptop. It’s an extremely crowded and competitive space. The industry got swept up in the digital revolution. Chasing verifications, likes and engagements. Data obsession has overtaken the art. People’s attention spans are diminishing and its getting more and more difficult to target audiences and keep them engaged. Saying that….I love a challenge, so although much harder; I still love it.
On tour, what does your day typically look like?
Every day is different, spanners are thrown into the mix constantly. I juggle 20 balls in the air and have an extinguisher attached to my belt to constantly fight the fires that arise! This makes it hard to say what a typical day looks like but if we are talking basics (and without fires) then we usually load into the venue between 8:00am-10:00am and finish around 1:00-2:00am. I’m responsible for the artist and the full touring party. I create the schedule (load in, soundcheck, set times, load out), oversee the creative, promo (press, radio and TV interviews), manage the guest list, create set lists, book travel, transport, hotels, map routes, make sure everyone is fed, settle shows (accounting from venue at the end of the night.) I’m responsible for the hiring and the firing. I conduct security briefings with the venue manager and head of security to ensure the safety of the artist, crew and crowd. I’m the key point of contact for the artist, musicians, crew, venue, promoter, agent, manager, label, bus and truck drivers. After the show we travel to the next venue and do the same all over again! I oversee pretty much everything and lead the charge.
What is an under the radar aspect of being a TM that many fans don’t see?
The lack of sleep we get. We are constantly on. While others can sleep on planes and have days off, our job never stops. We are creating financial budgets from offers, planning the next set of shows, making advance calls to venues, booking travel and updating Master Tour (an application we use to keep everything and everyone organized.)
How does being a TM for DJs compared to live performers?
The main difference is the amount of gear on stage and quantity of audio channels used. A DJ typically has CDJs and a laptop. A live performer can have guitars, keyboards, saxophones and drums, which creates more audio channels, needing more crew and a lot more variables for something to go wrong.
What are some of the key differences between being a tour manager going to a festival, concert hall and then club?
They are generally the same except the time of the show, in other words a DJ set at a club could be 3:00am where as a concert hall is generally around 9:00pm. For festivals we generally load in 4 hours before the set. Concert hall performances have way more moving parts and people involved; we are usually on site for 14-18 hours.
Tour logistics feels like a nightmare. How do you ship production, instruments and more around the world with only 24 hours between some shows?
24 hours…if we are lucky! A few weeks ago, we finished a show at 2:00am in Lisbon, Portugal and were due to be on the stage in Barcelona, Spain’s Sonar festival at 12:00pm the following day. It was a logistical nightmare! With FKJ we carry 38 large cases including a huge curved instrument rail that holds 4 guitars.
In Europe the check-in desks only open 2 hours before a flight. The early morning flights typically have only one employee opening the check-in desk so you have to get to the airport at least 3 hours ahead to be first in line and find a customs officer to stamp your gear out of the country. You have to push really hard to get the bags checked as quickly as possible. On top of language barriers, every check in agent seems to have their own system creating new obstacles to overcome on the fly. The Oversize bag drop is usually in a different location. We organize the bags in order of biggest and heaviest first. As soon as the oversize bags are weighed and tagged, I send some of the crew to drop them off while I push the small ones through and pay the excess baggage fees. I literally had to sprint to every single gate on our last European run. Tour Managing is exciting but certainly not for the faint hearted.
As someone involved in the House Of Blues Music Forward Foundation, what can music charities do more of to impact more people?
I came from a small town where they thought I was crazy for wanting to be a Graphic Designer as it was “a one in a million job and too hard to achieve.” My high school career advisors sent me to boots (pharmacy) for 3 weeks work experience. This really killed my dreams! Luckily I have a mother who wanted more for my life. She picked me up from 6th form school and drove me to the nearest college and pretty much dragged me through the gates and told me to enroll in media studies. She wouldn’t allow my dreams to be shattered.
Now, my personal mission in life is to encourage youth that no matter where you were born, how much money your family has or what your gender, skin color or sexuality might be; you can be and do anything you want. HOBs Music Forward is an amazing foundation as they work with young people ages 12-22 in under-represented communities. They provide workshops and showcases to inspire the next generation of music industry leaders. There are some great music charities around, some that focus on mental health, some on the environment.What we really need is more mothers like mine and teachers who encourage children to follow their dreams no matter how crazy they may seem. Our dreams should never be dismissed or tamed.