Interview:The Touring Life





Burning Spear

The Touring Life


Reggae master Burning Spear books and manages his own tours through his Burning Spear Productions. He travels with a large band and has for years had to deal with personnel issues that keep him in the studio, on the road, and profitable. He had much to say about bookings, keeping everyone happy on the road, and hiring and firing musicians. You oversee your tours and you book your tours. What are some of the obstacles you deal with in booking a tour?


Spear: I have to deal with so many people, people with different natures, people with different behavior, and people talking to you differently than they talk with other people. When you're on tour you have a large group of people with you. How do you keep everything running smoothly on the road?


Spear: It's pretty easy. Like I said before, I've been doing this for many years and I wasn't in control, so it's the same thing. The only difference is I'm in control now. I'm used to having so many people on the road and everybody in line and everybody knowing it's a family and it is work, and we have to do this work. We have to start good and we have to finish good. It's pretty easy for a person who has never done it before. Like I said before, yes, you're gonna be going through some rough times until everything becomes smooth, which would make sense when you're in control of your own business. You can have your say and you can decide yes and no. Everything is through you. Do you hand-pick all the musicians in your band or do they audition for you?


Spear: Yeah, they're all independent contractors. I pick them. If I don't know them, I might ask people who can hook me up with certain musicians. Once I get hooked up with them, we work out a meeting deal. We'll be reasoning and talking. Then we'll discuss music. Sometimes I might set some rehearsal time so I can actually see the person play, and from there I decide if I'm going to use them or not. Do you sign a contract with these musicians for a tour or an album?


Spear: No, that's what I'm saying. Each person is an independent contractor. So it's not like I sign you for two years to do an album or stuff like that. Each person is an independent person. So what I do is I make sure I make myself clear. If you cannot take the job - when I'm ready, you got to be ready. I give you a lot of time in advance to prepare yourself, so you still have time. If you're not going to make it, I'll just have to spread the word that you're not going to make it and it's my duty to move on and find somebody else who is available to do the job. Do you guarantee them a certain amount of work?


Spear: I would say a guarantee based upon the behavior of the individual, the attitude of the individual, all things based upon the individual in those ways. But there are so many good musicians and so many of these good musicians could have funny attitudes and have a funny way of dealing with people. I believe in a lot of discipline and if the musician is not so disciplined, then possibly next I would not be using that musician if it is not good for the band. Each person has to know it is a family and when you come in you became a part of the family. So the less misunderstanding the better it is for all of us. How do you tell one of your players that you are not happy with their performance or their behavior?


Spear: I just look them in the face and tell them that I expect them to do better than what they did yesterday and ask how come they weren't doing what they were supposed to do. I tell them they need to concentrate more, that they have too much interference when playing the music. It's a normal thing that happens sometimes. It's what really happens. Interferences comes across, but it's your duty to create as much of a barrier to prevent that interference from interfering in what you're doing. Certainly you have had to let some people go. How do you tell them this?


Spear: I just tell them the truth: 'I'm not going to be using you next time. I feel that your behavior wasn't so good and some things you had to say and I think those words weren't the right words for you to really say. ' Once the person is not doing what they were supposed to be doing, or what I expect them to be doing, I will tell them the truth. I will just tell them, 'That's not right,' or 'That's not clean and I expect that.' I just tell him like it is.





Reggae Writer
Burning Spear
Thirty-four albums mark Burning Spear as a prolific songwriter and recording artist. Here, he discusses writing and royalties.