Steve Bryan: Tour Manager for Eric Paslay
Feature by Taylor Ostrick
When most people think about concerts, images of glamorous superstars, screaming fans and loud music often fill their minds, but those who work silently behind the scenes to make each and every tour possible hardly earn a passing thought. Arguably the most important of these underrated but essential jobs is that of the tour manager.
Most people have heard the title of “tour manager,” probably thrown around ambiguously in casual conversation, but few have knowledge of what they actually do and how critical they are in organizing, managing and facilitating the concerts and tours that entertain thousands each year.
Tour managers are the epitome of the hard working, under-appreciated teammate. Think the guy in basketball who plays physical defense, crashes the boards and throws his body around the hardwood after loose balls, while the likes LeBron James and Kevin Durant can fadeaway jumpers and bring the house down with thunderous dunks night after night, while racking up MVP and All-Star votes. The scoring, and the acclaim that comes with it is important, but teams don’t win games without players who are willing sacrifice and to do the dirty work. Tour managers do the dirty work, and on the way they become essential in helping their clients earn fame, fortune and success.
One person who understands the ups and downs of being a tour manager is Mount Vernon, Ohio native Steve Bryan, current tour manager for up and coming country star Eric Paslay, who is signed with major music label EMI Nashville. Bryan, who has been working with Paslay for a little over a year and half now, works in many areas in order to advance his clients career, and make his live shows successful. Before signing on to work with Paslay, Bryan was part of the business management teams for big name stars such as Taylor Swift, Miranda Lambert, Kip Moore, Craig Morgan.
“My general overall responsibilities include oversight of Eric’s tour operation, working seamlessly with his management team, and keeping our small band and crew working smoothly as a team,” Bryan explains. “Day to day I advance each show with local venues, arrange band/crew travel, serve as a primary contact with venues and radio, facilitate anything Eric may need or request and be present as a decision maker if anything doesn’t go as planned.”
Bryan grew up with a love for music, and although he may not have known the specifics of how, he knew he wanted to have a future job or career where music would remain a huge part of his life.
“I’ve always connected with music, and knew early that I wanted to be a part of it somehow,” he said. “I like to think that I will listen to and appreciate almost any kind of music.”
“I dabbled with a few different instruments before I realized I didn’t have the commitment needed to be a musician. Around the time I entered college, I realized there was a whole business around music that I could set my sights on.”
Bryan attended college at Mount Vernon Nazarene University, a school in his hometown, where earned a degree in Management and Finance. One might not view a Management and finance degree as one that would be helpful when pursuing a music career, but Bryan knew he had to be practical when deciding what he wanted to study in college. His mature decision making and foresight ended up paying off.
“I looked into attending a school with a traditional music business degree like Belmont or MTSU in Nashville,” he explained. “Ultimately I decided that the smarter route would be to get a degree that would support a career outside of music, just in case, so I ended up majoring in Management and Finance.”
“It turned out to be a blessing, because my first job in the music industry was in business management, and working with artists’ financial dealings in touring, publishing, merchandise, and personal finances. That experience ultimately helped me get the other jobs I had after that.”
It is no secret that whether you are an artist or part of management, music is a tough career to break into, and one that can be difficult to keep up with once you get there. Ultimately though, many who are experienced in the field speak highly of the qualities that make it such a worthwhile and fulfilling job.
“There are definitely easier careers to get into, for sure,” Bryan reveals. “But music is exciting and full of passionate people who have worked hard to be a part of it. Anyone who wants a career in this industry needs to understand that first, and prepare themselves to be a part of that environment.”
Bryan’s experiences in the music industry similarly to most, were not always easy. Two years ago, he had left his business management job in order to encourage himself to look for something new. After months of searching, but failing to find a new gig, Bryan, incredibly, landed a job on Bon Jovi’s 2013 “Because We Can” tour as as part of his management team. The story of how it came about just goes to show that even in conjunction with hard work, sometimes a little luck, and being in the right place at the right time can really go a long way.
“I will always feel like that gig fell out of the sky for me,” Bryan said. “I had left my business management job, and after a couple months I hadn’t found anything and was beginning to worry. Then on a Monday afternoon, a buddy I had known for about 5 years gave me a call and told me that his friend with Bon Jovi needed to quickly fill a position within his management team.”
“After my beautiful, wonderful, understanding wife agreed, I put in my name,” he explained excitedly. “The following Friday, I was on a plane to Europe to join the tour. I’ll never understand how a guy with no touring experience (at that point) got hired onto one of the biggest tours in the world that year. I can only chalk it up to being completely available at the time.”
Achieving that management position on Bon Jovi’s tour ended up changing Bryan’s life in ways he could never imagine, leaving him with unforgettable memories and experiences that would shape him and his career moving forward. It is no surprise, as Bon Jovi is one of the most famous, beloved and recognizable rock stars of an era.
“Being on that tour completely forced me to come out of my comfort zone,” Bryan expands. “I had just held a desk job for the past 5 years. Now I have 16+ hour days, traveling all the time, living in hotel rooms and venues, and higher working standards than I had ever experienced.”
“Being able to embrace that made it one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had,” he explained. “I got to visit dozens of cities around the world, witness crowds upwards of 75,000 at times, and work closely with people at the highest level of touring. I left with memories I’ll probably never experience again, but will always remember.
Being a tour manager involves a myriad of wonderful and unforgettable experiences, but it undoubtedly is a stressful job as as well. Being in charge of making sure each show on tour runs smoothly requires superior organizational, communication and problem solving skills, adaptability and an abundance of patience, especially during times where a problem arises, or when things don’t go as planned.
“I think the best way to avoid problems and stress on a tour is to get information well in advance, and communicate heavily with everyone I work with,” Bryan said. ” I try to touch base with each show 3-4 weeks in advance and spend as much time as needed outlining our expectations and negotiating, what we can actually expect them to provide. Then I turn around and distribute that information to my band and crew, making updates as soon as they come in.”
Bryan takes his job seriously, and puts a lot of personal responsibility on himself to make sure he does everything possible to ensure the people he works with are put in positions to succeed while avoiding major blunders and miscalculations.
“I’m always trying to head off and avoid problems from people not doing what was discussed or expected,” Bryan elaborates. “A part of me is always thinking about worst-case scenarios and double checking people’s work.
In perfect consistency with life in general, sometimes mistakes are unavoidable and inevitable, but that doesn’t make them any easier to swallow.
“It’s so hard to catch everything that could go wrong, so when I miss something that makes my team’s day harder I take it pretty hard.”
Traveling is another inevitability of touring, stitched tightly into it’s very nature. You can’t have one without the other. On one hand traveling allows for the opportunity to visit new places and meet new people, but on the other it can be draining, and requires those who participate in it to spend extended periods of time away from home and family.
“Any position on tour requires a ton of traveling,” Bryan said. “It can be a draw, for sure, but it has it’s challenges. I have collected experiences and memories over two years that I wouldn’t have even imagined before. I think the number one challenge anyone will tell you about touring involves your home life. Always being gone means you miss a lot of things at home with family and friends.”
At the end of the day, one of the things that makes the downsides of extensive traveling worth it for Bryan is the pride he and his team feel after months of hard work pay off with successful, and efficiently run concerts.
“As cheesy as it sounds, I feel really good at the end of the day when Eric (Paslay) comes off stage talking about how well the show went and later, my production manager tells me he didn’t have any problems on his end,” Bryan offers. “Sadly, that does not happen as often as I would like, but when it does it means that 2-3 weeks of work and communication were done well.”
Another often overlooked aspect of being a tour manager is the opportunity to meet and interact with new people, with the chance of advancing one’s career. Being on tour, Bryan inevitably meets a myriad of talented, successful, important people, and in turn gets the chance to gain work advancement opportunities for himself and his clients through networking and demonstrations of his teams hard work and diligence.
“Working on tour is a great networking opportunity,” Bryan explained. “Every day you are dealing with different people who could be movers and shakers in their own right. I think I’ve felt the biggest impact of that when opportunities, either for the artist (he is working with) or myself have arisen after those people work with our team and leave impressed.”
Bryan has built an incredible collection of memories and experiences through his work in music, but his current job as a tour manager with the ridiculously talented Paslay may turn out to but some of the most fulfilling.
“Eric is great to work for, not just because he’s my boss,” Bryan offers with a laugh. “As a TM, he makes my job so much easier than it could be with another artist. He’s not demanding, but has a firm idea of the direction he wants his tour and life to point, which allows me to work to accommodate that.”
Paslay made his way into the country music scene in 2011, when he first singed with EMI Nashville. In February of 2014 he released his debut self-titled album, which garnered critical, radio and commercial success. Paslay also has proven to be among the song writing elite, penning #1 hits for country stars Jake Owen, Rascal Flatts, Eli Young Band, and Love and Theft. He achieved a major milestone in 2014 when he earned the first #1 hit of his career (as an artist) with the catchy and infectious “Friday Night.”
Outside of country radio, Paslay, with the help of Bryan, has found touring success as an opening act for Little Big Town, Dierks Bentley, Eric Church, Blake Shelton, Eli Young Band and Jake Owen. In late 2014, Paslay set out on his own 30-stop headlining “Make Every Night Friday Night Tour, which will continue through April 2015. The successfulness this tour has found is a result of both Paslay’s talent and rising popularity, and Bryan’s tireless efforts to ensure it runs smoothly and efficiently.
For Bryan, it’s easy to work with someone who’s talent and vision you believe in and are invested in helping grow and flourish.
“It’s a great thing to work for someone with such serious talent,” he said. I can stand behind that belief that his music is great and work to help his career grow.”
It comes as no shock then that Bryan’s favorite memory as a tour manager is one he made with Paslay and his team.
“There have been some really great memories and a lot of them coincide with great moments Eric’s career,” Bryan said. “One in particular would be watching him play at Stagecoach last year in front of 55,000 people. He played his #1 single and it seemed like the entire crowd stopped what they were doing to join him in singing. People as far as you could see singing and dancing.”
Bryan may have seemingly reached one of the industries pinnacles when he worked on Bon Jovi’s tour, but right now, he is finding immense joy in taking playing an important part in Paslay’s burgeoning career. He is content to keep working hard and see where life ends up taking him.
“Ultimately, I know I’m not a lifer, but I enjoy what I’m doing and being part of a growing camp,” Bryan reveals honestly. ” One thing my career so far has taught me is that I can have an idea of what I want to do, but intriguing and challenging opportunities can pop up anywhere.”