Rapper Dessa on hard truths about life as a touring artist
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Dessa is a rapper, singer, writer and member of the Minneapolis-based hip-hop collective Doomtree. She talked with Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal about making a living as a touring musician and her new book “My Own Devices: True Stories from the Road on Music, Science and Senseless Love.” Dessa said she’s had to hustle and sacrifice to make life work as an artist. “I have earned the dark circles this year,” she said. “If you are an artist that’s really eager to maintain artistic control, you’re going to have to learn how to be your own publicist, merchandiser, tour manager, strategist, et cetera. I’ve been willing to do both.”
We asked Dessa to give us a list of some of her favorite songs for us to use as bridges (the music that plays between each segment) on today’s show. Here’s the playlist she gave us:
The following “glossary” for life on the road has been excerpted from Dessa’s book:
Draw: The number of fans a performer can attract to a show.
“What’s your draw?”
“A thousand at home, 250 on the road.”
Day sheet: A detailed schedule of the day’s events on tour, including drive time, phoners, time zone changes, opening acts, club Wi‑Fi passwords, catering information and set times.
“What time do we hit tonight?”
“Check your own damn day sheet, my guy.”
Door deal: A show that pays performers a cut of the money collected at the door. Generally less desirable than a guaranteed fee.
Drop: Merchandise shipped from a warehouse or manufacturer to be intercepted by a touring party to replenish inventory on the road. Often addressed to a club or a hotel. Lost in transit approximately 30 percent of the time.
Hit the split: To draw enough fans to warrant a bonus at the end of the night. If and after show expenses have been recouped, an artist typically earns 60-80 percent of the profit.
Laminate: The laminated pass a performer wears to prove to security staff that he or she is part of the touring party and should be granted backstage access. Usually affixed to a lan‑ yard, often threaded through a belt loop. Worn around the neck only by tour managers and nerds.
Phoner: A publicity interview conducted by phone. While on tour, this type of interview often happens in a moving van, with bandmates listening in, mocking your answers, or talking whenever you’re silent, pretending to be the interviewer on the other end of the line.
Radius clause: A term in a performance contract that prevents a musician from booking a second show within a certain number of days and a certain number of miles from the first. Designed to consolidate draw and ensure that an artist does not book shows that might compete with one another. Very difficult to explain to old high school friends asking if you’ll perform at their son’s best friend’s school’s fundraiser.
Tour blues: Spells of sadness that hit either midway through the routing — when you sulk against the window with your headphones on for seven hours a day — or after you’re home, where you have to do laundry at regular intervals and maintain human relationships and everyone confuses your job with a vacation which is insulting and you are exhausted and have what might be bronchitis and you’ve lost a lot of muscle mass sitting in the car all day and have blown out your knees by jumping on them as soon as you’re out of the car and now that there’s actually some downtime you’re not sure how to function without the adrenaline baseline of living in a moving vehicle with the other Lost Boys.
Van call: The time of day at which all members of the crew must report to the tour van for departure to the next city.
From “My Own Devices: True Stories from the Road on Music, Science, and Senseless Love” by Dessa, published by Dutton, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright (c) 2018 by Dessa.
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