Q&A with Tour Manager Alex Rivas
by Shannon Pires (Music Industry), published February 2nd 2016
Santana. Alanis Morissette. Ms. Lauryn Hill. In the span of her still-young career, Los Angeles-based tour manager Alex Rivas has already worked with a smattering of renowned artists. In an interview with Tastemakers Magazine, Rivas offered career advice for aspiring music industry professionals, described the challenges of her own position and explained the value of “road family.”
Tastemakers Magazine (TMM): What are your day-to-day responsibilities?
Alex Rivas (AR): Day to day responsibilities really depend on whether I’m home working or on the road. Most of the work is prepping for an upcoming tour. Anything from advancing shows – which means to discuss with the venue everything needed for that day – to production and hospitality. Travel is a major part of the day, so coordinating everyone’s moves from point A to point B is crucial. Just maintaining those phone calls and emails is very important, I’d say. Making sure everyone is good and everything is prepped and ready to go.
On tour, the responsibilities are a little more structured and routine. Everyone in the tour/production management world has their own way of doing things. I keep things pretty laid back. I like to create a mellow, positive atmosphere. I even light incense in my office. Hanging signs, making day sheets, and coordinating hospitality backstage in dressing rooms are basics to do daily at the venue, first thing. Once talent arrives, it’s important to keep the same calm energy. Never stressful.
TMM: How did you get your start in the industry?
AB: I first started in the music industry by working with the legendary Santana. I’m so grateful and blessed to have had my start with Carlos and his wonderful band and crew. I was assisting the video director, cueing video content. They really are the ones who molded me and gave me the knowledge to how touring works. I consider them my tour gurus. I still remain close with them and go to them when I need advice.
It’s really a treat when you get to work with personal favorites. I grew up listening to them. My family always had some sort of Santana album playing in the background. Even though I was doing creative work, I was still searching for other options in the business. I was taking college classes and really wanted to dive into the business side of the industry. Then I got a call to work in production for will.i.am and that really opened my eyes to what I ultimately wanted to do. Those two really kicked off my career – actually, those were my first gigs in the business.
TMM: I assume your hours on tour are early mornings and late nights?
AB: Yes, the hours are quite constant. Typically an 8 or 9 a.m. load in, which goes into the afternoon. By 12-1 a.m. we are loading out. Hopefully, finishing load out. Days off, I try to maintain the same schedule of waking up early, so I don’t get thrown off, and I just catch up with phone calls and emails. Sometimes I will plan family dinners or a day of sightseeing if we’re able to work it into the schedule.
TMM: Out of all the things you are responsible for, what do you think is the most difficult part of your job?
AR: I would have to say being the first up and last to sleep. There are quite a few sleepless nights. The travel is something I have a love-hate relationship with. Sometimes I fly, land and go straight into show mode. Or the way routing can end up, we’ll do back-to-back shows.
Another major factor is sacrificing your personal life for the job. There have been some moments where I had to miss family events because I was away on tour. I’m very family oriented, so that has been a hard one to adjust to.
TMM: Do you think it takes a certain person with certain skills to get this job done right?
AR: I believe so. But practice makes perfect. It’s all in the attitude, really. That’s my number one belief of how “good” one is in this position. You can have all the experience in the world, but if the energy isn’t right or the person is creating a negative working environment, I truly believe that’s not someone with the “skills” for the job. I like to create a family environment. That’s maybe why I am drawn to intimate tours and artists. I just like the family atmosphere. Either way, big touring party or not, the family environment is a must in my book. I can’t stress that enough.
TMM: Do you have any advice for someone trying to get their feet wet on this side of the industry?
AR: My only advice is to research, network, and repeat. Attend concerts. Talk with various people in the industry. I cherish my special relationships with the few that molded me in “the biz.” It’s a small community, even though it doesn’t seem that way. Everyone is connected somehow. You never know when you’ll suddenly need someone for some gig. There have been situations where I’ll call up someone and say, “How soon can you get to the airport? I need you here in the morning for a show!”
It’s crucial to know all aspects of the business, not only touring. You’ll be involved with all walks of life, all sorts of people with various positions. At any given show, I can be in a room with agents, photographers, managers and talent.
TMM: How does one seek out opportunities to gain experience on a tour, whether it be managing merch or assisting a video director like you had mentioned?
AR: Working at The Observatory in Orange County exposed me to all sorts of touring camps. It also gave me an outlet to see the other side of the job. I have a great appreciation for the venues and their staff, having worked on that side of things. You can do production based jobs – [working in] hospitality [or as a] runner at a venue – which could really open up some doors. LinkedIn, personal websites and other social media platforms also help. [It’s a] great tool to use, to meet people in the industry – just utilize it properly.
I always think about the following when getting into a new tour or job: Will I grow from this job? Will I be surrounded by the right people? Will I be an asset to them? Is it positively challenging? And last but not least, will I be happy?
TMM: Do you change the way you tour manage depending on who the artist is and where they are in their career?
AR: Great question – I definitely approach each tour differently. I like to keep my style somewhat present at all times, but it’s crucial to tweak things based off of what the artist wants and needs. There are so many different personalities on the road, so I try to have things organized in a way that they all understand and can flow with.
I definitely look at where the artist is in their career [to determine] how we travel, budgeting and hospitality. But another aspect to that [is] understanding what kind of atmosphere they want me to create. Being a band road manager, I must oversee the band and keep them on the right track. So the artist or band just has to focus on the music and not worry about anything besides that. The ultimate goal is to keep everyone motivated, smiling and grooving.
TMM: Are you in charge of the actual routing and booking of the tour? Do you book hotel rooms and handle all the financial aspects, or are you mostly responsible for making sure everything is in place and everyone is working efficiently?
AR: I’m not in charge of booking or routing. That’s typically between the manager-artist liaison and booking agents. Once I receive the routing schedule from them, I get with the travel agents and we book travel – hotels, flights, bus stop offs on long drives, airport greeters and car service. It really depends on what the artist and their management want me to do. For Alanis Morissette, I assisted the tour and production manager and I also operated the teleprompter for Alanis during her performances. For Ms. Lauryn Hill, I was the band road manager, handled travel, oversaw hospitality and assisted in accounting.
I truly enjoy the work, but a major factor is how much freedom I get. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with artists and management, where they’ll let me do my thing.
TMM: What is your favorite part of touring?
AR: My favorite part would have to be the wonderful people I get to work with – the talent and crew. I’m telling you, no one understands how special road family is unless you’re on the road. I’m beyond grateful for the people I surround myself with. They’re like my brothers, sisters, aunts, and uncles. And, the travel, that’s pretty special too. Helping put on shows around the world, for people of all cultures and religions… nothing beats that.
TMM: How do you define success for yourself and what quantifies it?
AR: Success to me is finding a group of people I can be 100 percent happy working with. I’m at a point in my life where I look for growth with an artist and their crew, rather than dollar signs. There’s a lot my job deals with, so I want to represent a production I’m proud of and passionate for. I’m at a point where I’ve reached certain goals, but I continue to challenge myself. I don’t want to plateau, which is very common to do in this industry. I’m successful in certain ways, but I still have a lot to accomplish.