Alice Fraser: Tour Manager
Introduce yourself to us! What do you do in the industry? Where are you from?
One of my best friends told me recently that I write anything – emails, texts, socials - as if my entire life was a blog entry. As a certified Gossip Girl/OC/Bold Type/romance novel tragic, I may actually be morphing. My nickname growing up was Famous. At a surf lifesaving competition when I was around 17-18 the lady I was collecting keys from to our beach rental property was convinced I was famous, she even went as far as calling every single one of her workmates out from the back office to look at me for reassurance (I’m not famous btw). For my teammates, the nickname stuck.
Now, I’m simply known to many as AF, or AF AF (Alice Fraser As Fuck). I grew up in the small beachside suburb of Glenelg in Adelaide, Australia, but while I have a house there, last year I spent less than 30 nights in my own bed, so an early shout out to my friends and Mum for keeping my incessant number of indoors plants alive.
I currently work as one of the co-Tour Managers for King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, Production Coordinator for Tame Impala and Artist Liaison Manager for St Jerome’s Laneway Festival (Australia/New Zealand).
How did you get your start in the industry, and how long have you been in the industry?
My first show was a shit-shirt backyard party at my share house, simply, for fun. I exclusively programmed my friend’s surf-punk-rock bands (disclaimer- these were the only bands I knew) complete with crowd surfers off the roof, putting our beers on top of the ceiling fans and trying to catch, then skull heaps of them, people making out everywhere, every single person in a shit shirt and the stage was made from drama blocks I kind of secretly took from the surf club and returned, not so secretly the next morning. This was 9 or so years ago and it really was the beginning – I just didn’t know it yet.
I was the vice-captain at school and studied hard to get good grades so I wasn’t going to be limited to what the possibilities could be for me post-school – study or otherwise. My thirst and eagerness to see the world, with a tinge of rebellion and some healthy hereditary stubbornness, meant I became a fairly average student of journalism/PR at university, wanting to spend more time at the gigs dancing, understanding set list flow, lights and sound, than writing a review on them. That particular summer I was walking in the city and came across a poster for a “gig” which I bought a ticket for. This actually turned out to be a ticket to a music industry conference and this “gig” was the showcase for featured artists.
What followed were three days, sitting front and centre, furiously writing notes, all amalgamating to the possibility that somewhere in the music industry was going to be a career for me. Straight after, I deferred uni, signed up to evening music business classes at our peak music body Music SA (start local, build local), coupled it with study via the Berklee College of Music E-Learning suite (always think global) and soon after, bought a tour van with vinyl floor, a PA and became a TM In Training for hire. One of the early take-aways for me was that the industry is undergoing significant change right now (around the time of streaming/socials expending etc.), so I committed myself to two years of studying the industry, experiencing it, trialing it, going to every concert I could, attending music conferences around Australia, volunteering at festivals, tour managing anyone from folk bands, to reggae bands to rock bands, booking bands for $10 a week at the surf club (hands down the worst business negotiation of my life), managing my boyfriend at the times band (I know, I’m an idiot), starting to sell merch for bands, enter the local driver field for touring shows and not surprisingly, writing for the local street music mag … doing music reviews. The Circle of Life baby.
Cont’d in next answer.
When did you know being in the business is what you wanted to do? Was there a specific moment where you were like “oh god, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life”?
After almost 80,000km on my van’s odometer, I returned home and plotted a plan to launch my own shows. At the time there was a huge groundswell of support from state and local government for young entrepreneurs in the creative industries to kick-start their careers and projects. I’ll be forever thankful to ArtsSA, now the Music Development Office. From the very beginning of my career I learnt from the artists first and I continue to prioritise this ethos and understanding everyday. In hindsight, with this government support, my timing could not have been more perfect and I went on to build the following …
I had this tiered vision of growth that began with an audience building model. I was still working my butt off running bars and waitressing – but I wanted my early model to not be about the money at all. Essentially I wanted to create value in Adelaide audiences again, one where the crowds listened, it was affordable to attend and finished early – by 9pm – all the while building a culture around my name and my brand. As a result I created this performance concept called The Café Series – unplugged shows in cafes on Thursday nights. The cafes did the food & drink, we removed the tables & organised the chairs so it was always a forward facing audience, there was generally 4-5 artists and they each sung 5 songs – 4 originals and 1 cover. As Adelaide was pretty much a Friday-Sunday city for touring acts, I chose Thursdays so I could hopefully encourage the artists to come earlier & perform at my show – which was always a sell out. The cafes seated between 50-90 people and the only way the audience could get a ticket was via subscribing to my e-newsletter and responding via email. Bookings were personal and honored on a first come, first serve basis. The price of this show was $5 (for the price of a coffee) and while you’ll do the sums and realise we’re talking f-all money here, I only ever took fuel money for myself, paid the artists an even split, allowed the artists to sell their merch/tix to other Adelaide show (taking no commission of course) and I did what I believed all early career promoters should do – build value of your brand with the audience, build trust in the artists and their teams that I could deliver, and obviously had heaps of artists crash on my couch. Why am I’m telling you this? This show series built the entire audience of my promoter arm which I went onto run for the following year and a half, where every show sold out. The shows developed onto boats, into warehouses and over time the capacities got bigger and so did the value of the show. The e-newsletter had an 82-85% open rate, with an equally high click-through. At the time I didn’t probably acknowledge the meaning of “customer data” like this, but this sort of audience attention was infectious and the quality of artists I was booking got greater and greater – like the early days of Marlon Williams and Julia Jacklin.
Naturally, as a consumer of music, I was always listening to new music but the curiosity swayed increasingly stronger toward the artists routing, what their stages look like, how many people are touring, what techs do they bring, how are they getting around etc. One night I wrote a blind email to Maz at Communion Music in London. He ran a radio show I streamed every week and promoted one of my favourite artists at the time, Ben Howard. I told him what I did, the artists I booked, that I appreciated what he bought to my love of music and we exchanged playlists. Within a week I’d taken an intern role at Communion Presents (the promoter arm) in London, applied for a Skills & Development Grant through my state government to help with some of my relocation and set-up fees, and I was off. This was in late 2014 and when I arrived in London in early 2015 I didn’t even know what a fucking promoter rep was. I learnt fast and I learnt quick. From Camden dives, to overnight grime clubs with Skepta, to Ally Pally it was the greatest time of my life. I said yes to every opportunity, of any genre and just immersed in everything a 7 night a week city had to offer. Something that was so different to what I knew back home. It was also in the kitchen of the Communion office that I met Danny Rogers – co-founder and owner of Laneway Festival and Lunatic Entertainment. We got talking, went for coffee a couple of days later and shortly after he’d offered me a job back in Sydney working as the artist liaison for Laneway and as his EA. As much as London will always hold a very special part in my heart, I was longing for some sunshine and ocean time, was a huge fan of Laneway Festival, so it was a dream really. I returned to Australia, set myself up in Sydney and the rest is sort of history, the last few years have been a bit of snowball.
I’m still working for Laneway Festival, but when it’s not peak festival time I’m in full Tour Management and Production roles. Over the last couple of years I have been lucky to work on tours and shows for Skrillex, Tame Impala, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, FKA Twigs, P!nk, Kendrick La Mar, Jon Hopkins, Mansionair, RnB Fridays with Janet Jackson, Jason DeRulo, Viagra Boys & many more. Variety is the spice of life.
Is there anything you struggled with (or even still do struggle with) being in the industry?
There’s a relentless power to life on the road. It’s an extremely intense 24/7 lifestyle where you push your body’s limits – mentally, physically, emotionally, and balancing the connection to loved ones back home and across time zones can be really hard. For me, the feelings of loneliness and missing out (for real FOMO) are what I struggle with most. Missing out on consecutive birthdays, engagements, weddings, births etc. can be tough on the morale and sometimes you do feel disconnected upon your return, as there’s often the assumption that you’re always away/busy and this is hard. Technology and making a commitment to group chats, sending updates, video calls etc. is making these times a lot easier and I’m really grateful for this. I’ve also recently started a shit postcard club where I buy the shittest postcards I can find while on tour (Nebraska, you win) and send them to friends. Getting post rules.
I’m finding so many companies pull the “everyone’s expendable and many people are lining up to take this role” line as a form of negotiation to downgrade someone’s worth. This is getting tiresome and really gives me the irks – because valuing your dedicated staff and long term contractors should be a key company value. Well, look, it’d be mine anyway.
What is the best part of your job? Why?
The people! Your crew! The artists! The music! Spain! The travel! Finding good spicy Ramen … everywhere! The cultures! The food discoveries! New York! Days off! But seriously, watching the band and crew pull off an insane show and production is the best feeling in the world. It’s what we all work towards, right, and yet somehow there’s a part inside of you that makes it not feel like work. Sometimes it’s hard, but I will always try my hardest to run out the front to FOH and watch at least 1-2mins of the show to just take it in and smile.
Also, bus parties.
Is there someone who you consider as your mentor in the industry?
I was watching an episode of Abstract on Netflix the other night and Neri Oxman, a professor at MIT, said that her work was a “library of experiences” and I felt this is incredibly fitting for how I view my mentors. You tap into a whole realm of great people in this industry and I find myself constantly filing away their golden pieces of advice for reference at a whole host of times.
Haydn Johnson who is the Director of Architects of Entertainment and Production Manager for Laneway Festival, Splendour In The Grass, Spilt Milk and many others is a real gem for me. Wise, humble, dedicated and caring – he always makes time for those around him, even in times of great stress and angst, and I’ve forever admired this. He brings humility and humor to my everyday. Special shout out to the time I pulled a real naughty all-nighter after a festival show when we had back to back dates and he helped me make the plane the following morning! Thanks Tour Dad. Disclaimer: I haven’t done that again since.
What advice do you have for women who want to get their start in the music industry?
There is no harm in deciding your path over time. Time is critical to many great decision making processes and particularly in production it seems a lot of people’s paths are fluid where they navigate a variety of roles until they find the perfect one. I’m a big believer in building your discipline overtime as every experience adds to your unique story and that is special.
When you’re on the road, you can’t be complacent to current industry trends and global events. We need not mention how Covid has shown us this. Whether it be something as simple as the weather, monitoring political instability and how this may affect something like Euro bus routing with border crossings, immigration changes & requirements, transit routing, currency conversations & local taxation laws, ensuring suppliers are on track to deliver, keeping up to date with new technologies, apps to make your life on road easier etc.
I would also like to mention that it’s really important you consider your business on the road, and your business off the road. Please remember to treat yourself and your operation as a business – understand your insurances, income, value, contracts, contract negotiation, taxes (local and international), education and always consider an investment in your future.
Be a good human.
Have you ever been turned down or not taken seriously because you were a female in the industry? What did you do when put into that position?
My dream is to be fucking good at my job and be known for that. I will always act in the best interests of the artists and crew I represent and while it seems crazy, sometimes this pisses people off and I’m not taken seriously. Cue: security briefings where getting instruction from a female is met with a serious dose of sarcasm and disinterest. But in reality, I don’t want to employ, work for or work with people/companies who disrespect me or my team. A couple of times in my career I have had to step away, or in one instance I was pushed out. Those were some pretty dark days for me and I actually ended up stepping away and taking a two month sabbatical to revitalise the soul and fall in love with touring again.
I live a life where I’m a pretty stoked human most of the time and quite frankly I don’t want to be around people who destroy that. It’s exhausting. Arrogance and sexism are ugly qualities. Fact. But I do believe I can play a small but important role in alleviating these traits from our day to day in this industry by always considering my actions, my language, my role, my leadership style and my decisions to ensure workplace equality and the wellbeing the artists/crew are held with the upmost importance. In my advance emails I have some pretty strong wording around the presence of females on our crew and the importance we place on treating them as equals. After an incident in Scotland, we lodged a complaint that an entire local crew be fired after the mistreatment of a female crew member. The attitudes are changing slowly, but it’s still bullshit that we have to deal with situations like this.
It can be the wild, wild west out there full of cowboys and cowgirls. Hell, what industry isn’t. Some days you feel the weight of the world on your shoulders and you’re constantly battling the stigma where some people are waiting for you to buckle under pressure, but you know what, people will respond to positivity. I always have to remember that.
What are some of your other hobbies? What do you do in your free time (which we know can be very hard to find)?
I love the thrill of touring, but off the road I live a quiet life maxing time with friends, family, fresh food markets, cooking, beach time etc. It’s probably why I have a house in Adelaide – it’s like a big country town with excellent food & wine. I really try to make the most of my downtime, which is usually not that often, ok, aside from the entirety of 2020. Although, give me a couple of shots of George Clooney tequila and I’ll be at every house/disco club night as possible. At the end of every tour, if I’m not required to travel with the band, I always try to extend my time by a week or so to decompress and explore a new part of the world.
What is something a lot of people don’t know about production that you would want them to know?
Every touring team operates slightly different. Titles, roles & relationships are generally guided by who the band is, their management and how they roll, how many people there are, old crew, new crew etc. However one thing never changes - be prepared to always be the first people to the venue, and the last people to leave.
What is it like working with such well-known artists, like Tame Impala?
Everything and nothing. Ok, I shouldn’t answer with an oxymoron. But in all honesty, regardless of who the band is the ethos of how you represent them, how you look after the band/crew, catering, ground transport, venue set-up, how you conduct yourselves from the advance until settlement with the venues and promoters – none of this should ever change. It’s just bigger.
1. Muji Aromatherapy USB Air Diffuser. Because boys stink! 2. Warm glow fairy lights, because, well, bus zen is important.
3. My Mariah Carey Eye Mask. Thank you Vegas.
4. Hats, Jumpsuits & Sparkle Jackets.
5. RIMOWA suitcases change lives.
6. Double keys to hotel rooms for the peak-partiers.
7. Set up Find My Phone for the notorious wanderers so you can find them. Hopefully.
8. Ensure buses park near scooter zones.
9. Travel with a basketball or football. 100%.
10. For bands – travel with at least 972343820 spare phone charges & international power convertors.
What is the best/worst tour memory you have?
Best: Dancing onstage with Nile Rogers in a 300pax club, wrapping my head around Thundercat travelling with his light saber through airport security, sold out Alexandra Palace (10k +) with King Gizzard, Stonefield & ORB was monumental and I think about it all the time, my first Coachella with Jon Hopkins, Four Tet’s curated Warehouse Project in Manchester HUGE, being on a nightclub dancefloor at 2am holding x2 double Jamo’s on ice with Bluetooth headphones in pushing back the departure of Skrillex’s plane on a tour and any tour with Mac DeMarco – ever.
Worst: food poisoning stomachs and forking toilets onto stages, losing passports between check-in and boarding, getting phone stolen in New Orleans from a pick-pocketer and tracking them to a side alley, but for one of my first ever driving jobs on Stereosonic (an EDM touring festival that used to exist in Australia) I was picking up LMFAO, where I 1. spelt their name LMAFO 2. didn’t know who they were & 3. had never driven a push start, pimp as hell SUV. I had to ask the band in their wiggy wiggy leopard lycra how to start the car. D E A D.
Who is your all-time favorite artist?
The impossible question. I organize my Spotify by genres and moods. This is a pretty good indication of what I love.
Link here if you like: https://open.spotify.com/user/_alicefraser_?si=qtQG3VVjRbqXeAu6c1gz9A
What is something you can't live without?
Fresh Air, soda stream & sending iMessages with lasers.
Go-to Karaoke song?
Ace of Base – All That She Wants or ABBA – Gimme Gimme Gimme!
Tea or Coffee?
Equal parts love. All of the time.
First concert you went to?
Some of my fondest early performance memories are actually going to the ballet with my Grandma when I was 7-8 years old. Even then I was captivated by every element of the performance, especially the music of Swan Lake. Somewhere there’s a diary – yep, an actual Dear Diary – where I wrote about these shows.
Although I must admit my family were always music lovers, Dad was into dance/techno music (LOL), Mum into indie, and in middle school they used to write my homeroom teacher a note granting ‘Alice a mental health day today so she can go to the Big Day Out Festival with her Uncle’. Little did they realise eh? Growing up and being educated by the likes of Sonic Youth, Bjork, Ramones, Rage Against The Machine, Prodigy, Patti Smith, Hole, Fat Boy Slim, Basement Jaxx, Chemical Brothers, Jurassic 5, Radiohead, Iggy Pop, Queens of The Stone Age is something I’ll never take for granted. They were the glory years. Especially being (I think) 15 in the Boiler Room for Prodigy. My love of lasers came early.
But I’ve got one real vivid memory of MOBY being my first real concert. I bought a ticket, lined up pre-doors, drank a lemonade, waited front row & then sung every lyric to Honey and Bodyrock extraordinarily loud. I went with one of my best friends and her dad. Shout out to Peter. It was wild and before every song MOBY announced, “this is a sexy song”. Possibly partly inspired by this, the only merch left at the end (I know, rookie purchasing move) were a couple of hideous 2XL blue t-shirts. Which of course we bought. Then we cut the sleeves off and the neck out for the off-the-shoulder effect. See, sexy. Thanks 90s. Much flex. Ok, probably a little too much 90s flex. But it was the best and naturally we’re still best friends.
What’s something that you always have on you?
Red Lipstick & Hoops. Ok, and my phone. One of my dearest friends who I met working at a folk festival in Queensland gave me this book about the rise of female business managers in the 80s. Its title was “Lipstick In My Briefcase” and the message of the book is self-explanatory … “attention ladies - sassy & spicy are the flavor. Don’t be boring and be ready for business, at any time of the day.” We were working at a folk festival where the office was essentially in a treehouse during the Australian summertime and we remained overwhelmingly committed to wearing black leather jackets. We were destined to be friends.
Who is your dream artist or band to tour/work with?
Hands down, Daft Punk. Very closely followed by Pharrell Williams, Studio 54, NWA (Straight Outta Compton tour) and Destiny’s Child. But look, I’d also jump on a Boiler Room tour of Ibiza at any point really.
What does a typical day at work look like for you? (on tour / off)
Typical on day
Arena tours usually start at 1am. Yep, that’s tracking for a 28hr day.
Otherwise when on buses usually arrive mid-morning after the tour from the night before have departed, so we can head in get the bus powered and parked up.
Begin with venue walk-through (usually with security) & find towels for everyone to shower.
Pull together everyone’s washing if it’s washing day.
Put up signage so everyone knows where they’re going and you don’t get 65 messages asking the same question.
Meet with the drivers to run through next 24-48 hours before they sleep so we’re all on the same page.
Double check band dressing room for all structural requirements (lots may be arriving later in the day when venue crew bump in – morning are often skeleton)
Hunt out coffee & scooters.
Meet the local runners
Set up the Prod Office and especially the printers so you can get run sheets put up in all rooms (soundcheck schedule and show times – which of course may change … but everyone will usually disband for a few hours in the morning so get these up before you lose ‘em.)
Ask the resident tour-city gurus for local tips on the hot spots. Record store, galleries, cafes, cool areas, etc.
Run around and put the schedules up. Including a few onstage & at FOH so local tech crews know times right from load in.
Then it’s usually a bit of email time, ensure catering is on track, double check menus etc.
Check press schedule for the day
Get ticket counts (if not sold out)
Ensure Merchandise team are good to go. Merch has arrived etc.
Check in with support band, find out when they’re going to be arriving, are they all good with travel, instructions, double their check riders, production etc.
Run through riders with the venue’s hospo manager
Go through and reconcile receipts from petty cash
Go through interim settlement before doors
Triple check advances for the following days, weeks, months
Double check immigration requirements for days coming up (i.e. does the band have to ditch their weed between US states)
Commence load in, soundchecks, find band members, put out spot fires, ensure everything is tracking on-time etc.
Do security briefing
Venue walkthrough before doors – does everything look good? How’s the weather outside for the punters inline (i.e. contingency if it starts pouring with rain), final ticket counts, ensure VIP areas are ready, any guests to consider for arrival/VIP treatment, what about family and accessibility etc.
Once doors open, monitor ticketing and how quickly FOH are processing the punters, keep an ear out for any issues
This is when you also look after the band – pre show is important. Fed, watered, beer’d.
Get everyone psyched pre-show
Prod Manager calls the show
Once band are onstage: watch them side of stage for first song to ensure all is good. Then head BOH to start pack up.
End of show let band chill, reconfirm bus departure time & pack up.
Check on merch team and ensure they are all good, check stock levels & make sure venue are helping with load out.
Wrangle everyone & get them out of the venue and onto the buses. Allow heaps of time. Add an hour to whatever you’ve estimated.
There will likely be some fans around the buses, so triple check.
You are the last tour party member to leave the venue as you check everywhere for lost band items. Every. Single. Time. There’s Something.
Get to bus. Head count, grab beer, cheers everyone and put feet up and commence RnB bus tunes.
Typical off day
Hopefully scooting around, eating oysters, fresh seafood and drinking beers.
Also, quite unlikely.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Continuing to Tour Manage bands around the world – hopefully the same ones that I’m working with now – watching them soar. I try to take at least two months off every year and spend them laying on a beach or boat in the Mediterranean. I’d also love to do a stint working at Coachella, Primavera, Glastonbury or Something In The Water.
Outside of music, I’m super keen to work on and invest in a set-myself-up-for-early-retirement business as I know touring can’t be forever and this gives stability outside of the fluctuations. But mostly lead a happy, healthy, culture-rich and inspired life with loved ones.
What do you hope to see done in the industry within the next few years?
I can’t wait to see how the intersection and expansion of production, lighting/video/performance design, state of the art stage technology and compelling art curation take off. App design to manage tours and festivals is going to really going to come under the spotlight. I love TM (http://tourmanagement.com/) and loadin.com (https://loadin.com).
We have an obligation to instill environmental and equality considerations into how we tour – starting now. It will also be so important to support the independents, our industry’s ecosystem needs them. But most of all, looking after and supporting the well-being of the live touring industry, our friends & colleagues should always be at the forefront of our minds and hearts.
Online passports? Ha. I wish.
Lastly, what saying do you live by?
For work: “Assumption is the mother of all fuck-ups”. For life: “Three things in human life are important: The first is to be kind, the second it to be kind and the third is to be kind.”