How do big touring acts stay so tight?


Dang Twangler
Next weekend there's a big benefit show for Gatlinburg residents with several big country bands. Some have been on the road, others haven't lately. I am sure they'll all be well-prepared, but I wonder about the logistics of making absolutely sure a band is ready when members may be flying in from all over the place and maybe haven't played together in a while.

So a question for guys with road experience: what do big touring bands do to keep their show sharp both on and off the road?

I know there are rehearsal spaces where bands can practice their entire production with lights and all. Obviously the members can prepare individually too. Is being ready at all times just part of the job when you're in a big touring band?

And who drops the hammer if someone shows up and doesn't have it that night? Artist, stage manager, musical director? If a guy performs all the parts but looks bored on stage, who talks to him about it? How many chances do they give someone to shape up move on?

Just curious. I've seen a lot of shows and I have a lot of respect for a professional performance.


Senior Member
No personal experience, but I'd guess from years of playing together and knowing how each person will react, for them it is just another jam session. Just at a whole higher level.


Gold Supporting Member
Haven’t been in a big touring band but my here’s my take on this:
An opening act only has to have 45 – 60 minutes of material rehearsed. You rehearse your entire show and get it tight and then go out and play that rehearsed show for the entire tour.

A headliner may have 90 – 120 minutes of material. You rehearse the entire show (including between song banter, which songs run into the next without any breaks etc, etc) and go out and play that rehearsed show for the entire tour.

There may be some tweaking of the rehearsed show during the tour as things develop.

Keep in mind, this is all they need to concentrate on. This is their full time job. Some shows are probably just as rehearsed as a broadway musical (not all). Add to that, they are playing songs they wrote and know them very well.

With that in mind, us weekend warrior cover band players need to have at least 180 minutes of material that we didn’t write and can sometimes struggle trying to learn it all. This is done with trying to squeeze in short rehearsals because we all have 40+ hours a week day jobs and family lives going on.
One of the cover bands I play in has been playing the same three rehearsed sets for over a year and makes it much easier having everything worked out.

A band I sub for has been using the same four sets for the last two years every time I sub with them. They use the same in-between song banter (with slight variations) but it’s consistent enough that I know exactly when to start a song.


Silver Supporting Member
The Kinks used to play the same show tour to tour with the same banter between the same songs!


Based on my experience way back in the 70's mostly hauling and setting up stuff for a traveling choir. Labeling everything clearly and having a stage chart that shows exactly where everything goes on stage is very important. So, lots and lots of gaffer tape.

While every stage is different, try to keep stuff as close as you can to rehearsal positions. This allows the performers to be more comfortable and avoids confusion on stage.

As the saying goes, proper preparation prevents poor performance.


Silver Supporting Member
I've had a chance to several decent size tours and even though we had several weeks to rehearse ..... we rarely needed it. Most of the time was spent for the artist to get comfortable or for the tech to get worked out ... things like in-ear monitors, tracks ....

Truth is the music is what it is .. learn it ... show up and play. On a professional level there is no room for someone not to come in prepared and or not be able to make sudden changes at the drop of a hat (transpose a tune, change the groove or the form).

As far as who drops the hammer ? Never had to deal with it as I live in L.A. and everyone comes in ready to go ... if they don't there is a long line of people who would love the gig and are capable of taking care of business. BUT , it would be the musical director. On that level the artist isn't usually involved and musical decisions are left to MD, I've been fortunate to be in that position on the last few bigger gigs I did and found that as long as the right people got hired ... I didn't have to do much.

Now all of this is more of an artist with sideman type of situation ... haven't been in a band for years and don't ever want to be. I like this format better ... it's always more tricky where every one gets a "equal" say. Politics , personalities and musical tastes hardly ever line up ..... the MD situation is much better. Follow what the MD says and let them take the heat for the decisions.


I can't imagine the characteristics are any different than other folks at the top of their profession.

Good Attitude


I remember seeing Sknyrd around 2000 and was impressed with their tight show but also realized that they play about 13 songs night after night for the past 30 years. Yeah the songs are impressive to hear live, but it's only 13 songs.

I play shows and have about 130 songs on deck that I have to belt out at a moments notice. I'm not nearly as impressive though, but I have a day job and have to shelp my own gear too.

The Funk

Senior Member
Some bands are rehearsed like that where they have the sae show night after night, same banter, etc. That's actually easy to be tight with. You just know the program, show up, and play the songs. Thats professional music on the broadway/touring show level.

To me, though, I tend to like more spontaneity in my rock and roll. If everything is super rehearsed, it can be a great show, but the music itself gets boring. Phish has never played the same show twice in 30 years. Most jam bands are like that. While I'm a weekend warrior, every band I've played in plays a different set every show. We have to. There has to be a reason for people to come out and see you night after night. As a result, we know hundreds of songs, and we might pull out any one of them at any time. How do we do it? Muscle memory. Rehearsal. Everybody knowing their stuff. Generally the rehearsal before a bigger show, we'll run the set just to make sure its all good, but we could easily play for hours more, as long as our singer's voice holds out. But then, when we are on stage, sometimes we end up jamming, a bit. We'll push solos for another cycle through if its building up. We'll take some liberties with arrangements on the fly, or we'll switch up the set depending on how the crowd is doing. You do that by staying relaxed and going with whatever happens as a unit. You keep your ears open to everyone in the band. That makes you tight.


Senior Member
Back in the day, I was in several local/regional circuit bands, never global, national or multi-regional tours. We would open for other bands (usually first, second or closer depending on the gig) though we did headline and play some solo shows. We also played shows with friends bands, taking turns opening/headlining, etc.

Most of us knew each other or each other's bands or someone who knew someone in the other band, networking. Bands were constantly reforming, changing members, etc. from the same pool of people, though some would come and go too.

The most common approach was to have 30, 45, 60 minute sets rehearsed and ready to go. All of the 30 minute set songs where in the 45 minute set; all of the 45 minute set songs were in the 60 minute set. All of the moves, banter, where we would stand, when we shared mics, etc. were all planned for each song, everything was rehearsed and choreographed at band practice. Once we had everything worked out, we would record our practices and time them and adjust as needed. We would update and rotate songs over time or if we were going to play the same venue again within several weeks.

Each song had pre-banter defined, some songs would transition to the next song without a break; after 2-3 songs (IIRC) there would be more banter so we could tune, take a drink, etc. In the hair metal band, we would even plan what we were wearing! If someone needed more time or something unexpected happened, those who were ready to play would ad lib banter, e.g., in the hair band we'd talk to girls in the crowd and hit on them, make fun of the guy next to them, etc...until we were ready. What's great is this was some of our standard banter, and it actually worked meeting girls.

It was like I imagine acting in a play would be. That's why it started to feel more like work to me, because it was. Even playing songs we liked or wrote got stale after awhile so few bands lasted very long.


Musicians like U2 - are well versed with each other - so that after years of touring they
fall into the groove naturally. As noted above most rehearsals are about getting a feel
for the space/stage - and what things sound like.

For long time touring bands - that maybe have a star or two upfront (like Rascal Flats)
the backing musicians are professionals who get maybe one or two days of rehearsal.
And usually they are the same guys/gals from tour to tour (like Rascal Flats). They are
Professional - they play at a standard light years beyond a bar band.

As for who cuts the fat when things go wrong or are not working? Usually the Business Manager
being directed by the owners of the band. BTW it doesn't happen very often - players are vetted
long before a tour starts;and numbnuts don't get job offers ; neither do wannabes; or people who
question what's being played or make mistakes; nor people who can't play on demand.

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