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Doing It Live: Tour Manager Mike Rosenthal

Rye Rye on stage at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C. in October 2010.
Shantell Mitchell for NPR
Rye Rye on stage at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C. in October 2010.

Baltimore rapper and dancer Rye Rye opened for South African rap-rock group Die Antwoord at Washington, D.C.'s 9:30 Club last October. Rye Rye isn't headlining shows yet — though she's been opening for M.I.A. on and off since 2007 — and her debut album isn't due until next month. So for now she's playing the first set at a midsize club.

Mike Rosenthal is the guy that brought her there. He's done tour management and accounting for groups that play arenas and stadiums, like Blink 182, the Mayhem and Uproar Festivals and smaller acts like Miami metal band Black Tide. Huge-selling acts hire different people to do specialized jobs, but an artist on the rise like Rye Rye hires one tour manager to handle everything.

Now that Rosenthal is working with Rye Rye, his job is to make sure that what happens on the road is up to her standard. He communicates with everyone at the venue, label and the press. He makes sure everybody eats, gets there on time and gets paid at the end of the night.

I spoke with him backstage at the 9:30 Club, while Rye Rye did her hair and her backup dancers stretched.

Where did you play last night?

Last night we played in Boston at the Royale.

What's the first thing you look for when you get to a new city?

A toilet.

Who's the first person you make friends with at a venue?

You advance a show, so you're always talking with a production guy. I've worked with a lot of these people before. I've been to this venue, the 9:30 Club, many, many times.

When you first get in, you talk to the production guy, you get your dressing room sorted, you get, you know, the soundcheck. If we're headlining, we'll have the stagehands unload the trailer, get all the gear on stage, start building the set.

How early do you try to get to a venue?

It really depends. Depends on how early we canget there, depends on how big the band is. If the band is fairly big and they have hotels, they sometimes want to stay in the hotel until the last possible moment.

For an opening band like Rye Rye, we didn't get here until 7 p.m. because we didn't really need to be here. I would have liked to get here at around 6:15, 6, just to do a proper soundcheck and chill, but sometimes the artists don't allow you to do that. And you go with the flow. They're your boss. You pretty much cater your whole day and the way you tour manage with every artist. Every artist is different. Every artist has their different likes and dislikes.

To be a tour manager you have to be able to adapt towards every personality. That's kind of how I've survived. For the most part I'm mellow, but, you know, I can be very stern and mean when I have to be. You got to be able to take care of stuff if things go wrong. Like, you know, if you're settling a show with a shady promoter, and they're charging you $300 for 10 towels, there's something up. You got to be like, "Dude, come on. What's the deal?"

What's the best advice you ever got from a musician you were on tour with?

I didn't get any advice from musicians, per se. I forgot who told me this, but, you know, he pretty much said, "If you throw enough s— against the wall something's gonna stick." And that's kinda been something I live by, for a long time. It's got me this far.

How do you use that in planning a tour or dealing with a crisis?

You just think of as many ideas as you possibly can to solve it, and something is gonna work out. Just start going through the list. There's always a solution for every issue, no matter what.

How do you stay in touch with people when you're on the road?

A lot of my friends are tour people. It's kind of hard. I don't really have actual friends besides my wife.

Obviously, I talk to her every day. We text, and iChat has been huge. I don't know how people did it in the past, but without iChat I'd probably go crazy. And so would she. That's a great thing in technology these days — it's getting easier to kind of see your spouse's face and kind of make it more of a realization than it was in the past.

And friends? They come and go. I have one friend Chip, who I hired as a merch guy years ago and now we're still friends. He moved to L.A. now. He was best man at my wedding. The kind of friends you make are the kind of friends that if you don't talk to them for six months and then all of the sudden you talk to them, you act like you guys never stopped talking, you know what I mean? Those are the kind of friends that are available to you. And that's honestly what makes a good friend. That's my definition of friendship at least.

Have you ever made friends with someone you're working for, someone you're managing?

I've made friends with a few of the artists I've worked with, but for the most part I really do try to keep it business. On days off I usually hang out by myself. Go to a movie and just have my own day. I don't really hang out with the artists.

How did you get started in this business?

When I started tour managing, I started because my band broke up. Got depressed for a couple months and then rerouted my ambitions to being a tour manager. I knew this guy Matt Malles, who's a great tour accountant. He also played in a band called back in the day. He pretty much took me under his wing and gave me a lot of opportunity.

Part of this business is you've got to do things even though you don't really know how to do it, but you got to step up. That's just how it is. I got really lucky with a bunch of opportunities. Like the Blink 182 tour — I never would have got that if it weren't for him. I had to step up and learn a lot really, really quickly. I respect that. This whole industry is about helping people out, helping your peers out, just like Matt has helped me out this whole career. So you just got to be humble about everything.

Can you explain to me what a tour accountant is?

A tour accountant really is only needed on bigger tours like a Bon Jovi or Styx or Journey. Arena tours, things that you'll see going to Jiffy Lube Live here in Washington.

The tour accountant only deals with finances, only deals with settling the shows and the floats. They'll deal with box office and ticket sales. Doing audits. It turns more into a real job. It's a career job.

Do you like your job?

Tour life, I don't recommend it. It's something I fell in to and most of us are just bands that didn't work out. We turned into crew. Pretty much, I'd say half of this industry is just ex-band members. But it's good. This has been the best thing that ever happened in my life. I'm able to support my family, and it's great. I love it, and I really don't know what else I would do.

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Frannie Kelley is co-host of the Microphone Check podcast with Ali Shaheed Muhammad.