Photo by Zoran Orlic
Ashley “PK” Mogayzel has a map on the wall in her apartment in Chicago. It’s dotted with colorful pins that cluster across the US, Canada, and Eastern Europe with random pins stuck in South America, Japan, Russia, and Australia. Ashley travels 200 days out of the year as the assistant tour manager for Wilco and the tour manager for I’m With Her.
At age 12, Ashley thought that she wanted to attend Berklee College of Music as a performance student—she even toured the campus. When she realized that she couldn’t shake stage fright, she gravitated toward the logistical side of the music industry.
“I was very much in the arts, but I hated performing, and I hated being on stage,” says Ashley. “Which as I’m sure anyone that attends Berklee knows, those are two very important parts of being a performer: being on stage and performing.”
In high school, Ashley started booking basement shows for her friends’ punk bands and went on to study Entertainment and Events Management at Johnson & Wales University in her home state of Rhode Island.
After she graduated, she pursued an advanced certificate in Artist Management through Berklee Online. During this time, she landed an internship at Aware Records and A-Squared Management and moved to Chicago. The record label once represented artists such as Guster, Brandi Carlile, Michelle Branch, Jack’s Mannequin, and Motion City Soundtrack. She made important connections working at the label but found her true direction working at the Chicago venues Lincoln Hall and Schubas.
“I started working at a couple of music venues in Chicago while I was interning and while I was finishing my studies at Berklee,” says Ashley. “I just talked to as many touring people as I could that came through, and told them that I wanted to go on tour and learn about touring. Eventually, someone picked me up and took me out on tour for what was meant to be a couple of weeks and has turned into the last five—almost six—years of my life.”
Since earning her advanced certificate through Berklee Online, Ashley has worked with artists and bands including Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats, Deer Tick, Man Man, the Colourist, and the Postmodern Jukebox, before landing steady gigs with Wilco and I’m With Her.
Over the years, Ashley has learned what it takes to be a tour manager and has some advice for those who are interested in a career on the road.
To be a tour manager, you need to:
Be Organized and Detail Oriented
Ashley’s responsibilities vary between bands. She handles travel logistics including flight and hotel booking. She plans with venues, production companies, and promoters. She handles merch. She makes sure that everyone’s favorite snacks are available. She makes sure that venues have amenities for the babies of two of the members of I’m With Her.
Overall, Ashley makes sure everything runs smoothly on tour and that the artists have everything they need. It involves working far in advance.
“Every day on tour, I need to make sure that my work for the next few shows, and even the next months’ worth of shows, is done, or is at least being worked on,” says Ashley.
Ashley says that you need to be able to work in any kind of environment whether it’s an outdoor festival, a large indoor concert venue, or a tiny concert with inclement weather.
“You might have the same exact show that you’re going to put on, but you’ve got to work with what you’ve got,” says Ashley. “You’ve got to work within tight timing restrictions. Sometimes you’ve got to work with a tent as your dressing room, and you’ve got to roll with whatever the day is going to throw at you.”The house lights are going out, the show is about to start! Even if the day was insane, we’re having a concert. —@berkleeonline alum Ashley “PK” Mogayzel on working as a tour manager for @Wilco and @imwithherband #berkleeonlinecareers Click To Tweet
Have a Support System
In case you were wondering, “PK” stands for “pocket knife.” That’s the nickname Ashley was given by her community of female touring managers. They’ve dubbed themselves “The Knives.” These women work various positions with artists including Deer Tick, Bon Iver, Shovels & Rope, Iron & Wine, and Jim James.
“I’m fortunate to be a part of a group of other badass touring women,” says Ashley. “Aside from on-tour friends, these women are always just a text message or phone call away and I owe a lot to them. We’ve helped each other by troubleshooting issues on tour, passing gigs to each other, and just generally being there for someone who is having a stressful day on the road.”
Ashley says it also helps to have a confidant on your team since you can’t always call your friends, family, or significant other on tour.
“It’s a huge help, mentally, to just have that other person, your tour buddy or your tour best friend, that you can talk through things, whether it’s personal or work-related.”
Understand that ‘Touring’ Isn’t Always ‘Sightseeing’
Ashley says that it’s a misconception that you get to see the world if you tour often. Having the time to thoroughly sightsee is rare and it’s not uncommon that she only gets the see a city through a window—sometimes not even that.
“Pretty often, I travel to a place, and then I do a show, and then I wake up, and I fly to another place and do a show,” she says.
She recalls one tour where she was in a new country every day for a week and a half. Even though it can be hectic, traveling is one of Ashley’s favorite aspects of her job.
“I like just being able to travel and experience different cultures,” she says. “Even if I don’t get out of the theater or the venue for the day, you’re still experiencing a little bit of their culture, and it’s pretty cool to work in a new country.”
Love the Excitement of Live Music
Ashley’s favorite part about her job is when a show is about to start and the work she has done from early in the morning until late at night comes to fruition.
“That part of it, the house lights are going out, the show is about to start, the energy of the room is hands-down my favorite part,” says Ashley. “Whether the day was insane and crazy and nothing went as planned, or the day was another day at the office, we’re going to have a concert, and it’s going to be great.”
Ashley says that the best advice that she’s received about concert touring is to keep doing it while it’s still exciting.
“I’ve worked with a couple of very wise people,” says Ashley. “They say, ‘The moment that you are sick and tired of hearing that excitement and feeling that energy on stage right before a concert, you should quit. You should go and find a job at home. You’re done.’ I just can’t get over the excitement part of it, and I hope that it never goes away.”
Someday we’ll find it, the Berklee connection
When Berklee instructor Greg Liszt, contacted Ashley about the possibility of having four Berklee students perform on stage with I’m With Her at the 2019 Newport Folk Festival, she was able to pull a few strings.
“It was kind of a full-circle moment,” says Ashley. “I was a student of Berklee and now here I am coordinating the band that I work with and these students who are excited to be on stage at Newport Folk Fest. It was a pretty cool moment.”
Violinist Louisa Byron, violinist Emily Gelineau, violist Cecilia Vacanti, and cellist Emanuel Keller, are members of Berklee Instant Strings, a student group that can step in quickly to provide a string section for touring bands. They served as the string section to I’m With Her’s song “Overland,” and several other acts during the three-day festival in Newport, Rhode Island.
“I’m With Her has performed with strings in the past, and it’s always a beautiful element that’s added to an already great set,” says Ashley. “It was a really cool thing to see these students, help them get on stage on time, see their excitement in being introduced by a band that I’m sure that they all respect, and performing at the Quad Stage at Newport. Who can say that? That’s pretty cool.”
During the festival, Instant Strings also performed with prominent artists such as Brandi Carlile, Hozier, Robin Pecknold from Fleet Foxes, oh yes, and the real Kermit the Frog.
Violinist Louisa Byron wrote the string arrangement for Kermit’s signature tune, “The Rainbow Connection,” between giving tours of the Berklee campus and into the wee hours of the morning. She recalls watching The Muppet Christmas Carol with her sisters so many times that the VHS broke.
The performance featured Jim James from My Morning Jacket singing the tune accompanied by Berklee Instant Strings.
“The festival gives you a window into any career path that Berklee can give you,” says Louisa. “You can see the people live mixing shows, you can see people managing artists, you can see obviously the artists performing. There’s not just that one spotlight of being the artist and I think that was really eye-opening for me.”