Phone Calls from the Road

By Kenny Kerner

By now, we’re all pretty familiar with the responsibilities of a personal manager. We can recite their day-to-day chores in a snap, and understand that they are on call 24-7. So one would think that when an artist goes out on tour, the manager gets a breather—a chance to kick back and chill, right? Wrong!

Aided by the booking agent, business manager, and attorney, the personal manager must now quarterback the tour—make certain that everything runs like clockwork. Though most managers are organized and prepare for the unexpected, it is the phone call from the road that presents the greatest challenge yet to the manager’s organizational skills and to his sanity.

Oh, c’mon now. We all know about those “legendary” road stories. Truth be known, most of them really happened. And though I tell my artists to call me after every single show when they’re out gigging, the second that telephone rings at three in the morning, my pulse quickens and my heart beats faster. Incredible thoughts of disaster race through my mind. I can only think that the worst has happened. What have they gotten themselves into now?

To help shed some light on the plight of the personal manager (and mostly so you all can feel sorry for us), I’ve decided to make a list of the 10 most-feared telephone calls from the road. Each begins with a familiar phrase or word that strikes fear into the very soul of a manager. These are key words we listen for on our answering machines and during the conversation when we’re half asleep. These are telephone calls no manager wants to receive—ever.

Please Bring Bail Money

Bail is a short, four-letter word that means disaster. It evokes pictures of jail, court dates, attorney expenses, hard labor. I envision my artist in a prison work yard breaking rocks with his $5,000 custom made guitar. It means the police were involved and there’s hours of paperwork. But most of all, it means that I have to get dressed in the middle of the night and fly to Anywhere, USA, with a pocketful of cash!

How Did I Know She Was Underage?

You don’t have to be Einstein to figure out what this clue means. Underage means below the age. For what? For sex, you moron! The story usually begins with—she looked a lot older so we went back to my room after the concert and next thing I knew, the sheriff broke in the door and was standing there with a rifle pointed at my face. What could I do?—What you could have done is immaterial at this point. When you’re gigging, always remember that safe sex is no sex! Try thinking about your career and not your hormones.

I Was Just Holding It for a Friend

I never understood why artists who waited so long for success would hurry to just chuck it all for a minute of fun and pleasure. Isn’t the performing and the applause enough of a rush? You’re supposed to go out and have fun on the road, but you’re also expected to come back home with a career and not a jail record.

So, a friendly tip: party with people you know and not with strangers. Keep the noise down—especially in hotels—and limit the amount of pedestrian traffic to and from your room. I’m beginning to sound like a cop! On the road, almost everyone you meet will want to get you high. Get off on the music, dummy.

Was the Insurance Paid?

These are band code words that usually mean the equipment was stolen. All is lost. Time to reach for that revolver and the one bullet you were saving for a time like this. Cancel all shows. Fire the crew. Have the agent call the promoters. Notify the police and the insurance company. With any luck at all, your premium was paid on time and you’ll only lose a $25,000 van, all the band’s equipment and about six months of gigs. Then, one idiot group member will always say something like—“well, it coulda been worse.” That’s where the bullet comes in!

We Had to Spend Your Commission

Oh, the plight of the poor, lonely personal manager. How hard we work to earn our meager pittance. No salaries for us! No bonuses for us! We only earn money when the artist earns money—whenever that is. So what if one of your band members decided that he couldn’t live another day without that brand new customized beaver guitar strap for $3,000 and had to use part of your management commission to pay for it. Who cares? It’s only money, right? He’ll pay it back pretty soon. And besides, he wouldn’t mind if you did that with his money. That’s what friends are for!<p>

We Forgot to Pick Up Our Pay

This is really infuriating for a manager. You didn’t forget to pick up the beer, did you? You didn’t forget to pick up the girls, did you? The money, you forgot!!! How hard is it to remember— “Sound Check, Show Time, Get Paid”—if you remember nothing else, you’ll have a successful tour.<p>

Where’s the Equipment Van?

For most bands on tour, your van is your home away from home. Many of you live in it and sometimes sleep in it. The equipment van belongs to the entire band. It is their work station, if you will. Their meeting place. It is not to be used as a taxi or a delivery service. Whoever is in charge of driving it must be sober enough to remember where the hell it is parked. Keep your eyes open for warning signals like—Tow Away Zone and No Stopping/ No Parking Any Time. Don’t call up your manager 2,500 miles away and ask if he’s seen the van. That question alone is enough to kill him!

Meet Us at the Hospital

This one’s not funny at all. Leaving your manager a telephone message to meet you at the hospital is certain to age him 10 years. In the event of a real emergency, try to reach your manager in person—even if you do have to make several inconvenient calls to do so. If you must leave a message, try leaving some details that briefly explain the circumstances at hand. “Meet us at the hospital” is a message that leaves far too much for the imagination. Oh, yeah—be sure to say which hospital and what floor. Remember, you’re on the road and your manager isn’t.

Sorry We Didn’t Call for a Few Days

If your manager asks that you call after every gig from the road, it’s because he’s genuinely concerned about your well being and the show you just completed. It can’t possibly take you more than 60 seconds to make the call and file a short, concise report: “Hi, Kenny. Show went great. We’re all OK. We’re heading back to the hotel and we’ll be leaving Tucson at 11 tomorrow morning. See ya.”

Notice the key words—“show went great. We’re all OK.” To your manager, this means he can get to sleep without the handful of pills he prepared. Remember to take a minute to keep in touch.

The Band Broke Up

This is the Mother of all road calls because many bands do break up on the road! If you are having difficulty getting along, ask your manager to set up a band conference call or have him fly out on an off day for a meeting. Don’t abandon all you’ve worked for because of one argument or a series of misfortunes. It’s never as bad as you think it is in the heat of an argument. Always let cooler heads prevail.

Well, there you have it. Ten phone calls your manager does not want to get from his artists when they’re on the road. Rest assured that, regardless of how gloomy a situation may appear to you, you can always count on the kindness of your personal manager to smooth things over. And that alone could account for his high blood pressure.

Excerpted from the book, Get Smart! : Essential Tips for Success in the Music Business by Kenny Kerner. To order a copy, e-mail