Tour Survival 101 with Sugarland’s Annie Clements

Brenda Pike
August 1, 2011
Alumna Annie Clements '03
Clements came prepared, with a PowerPoint presentation complete with videos from the road.
Photo by Phil Farnsworth
Photo by Phil Farnsworth

Annie Clements has a busy touring schedule as bass player for country duo Sugarland. But when both of her younger brothers were admitted to Berklee's Five-Week Summer Performance Program, the 2003 alumna made time to stop by and give students advice on how to get—and keep—a gig like hers, from how to stand out in an audition to how to make long tours manageable.

She began at the beginning. Practice with a metronome, she told students, because now everyone is wearing in-ear headphones and running a click track during live performances. Also, make sure to show up on time for auditions, dress for the part, and be prepared. For the Sugarland audition, Clements bought their CD and listened to it over and over again, "until it was embedded in my soul," she says. (She confesses that she still gets nauseated when she hears the beginning of the first song, remembering how nervous she was to play it at the audition.)

At this level, Clements said, "everybody's great. Now it comes down to splitting hairs. How do you stand out?" A lot of times it comes down to how well you get along with everyone in the band, and lifestyle choices—like smoking, drinking, or taking drugs—make a huge difference. "No one wants to share a tour bus with someone who smokes," said Clements. She told about having to leave a roadie behind on the way to Canada, because a past criminal record meant he had a hard time crossing the border. Students should be on their best behavior on social media, too. It's an important way to connect with fans, but it can also be too revealing. "I know people who haven't gotten calls for gigs based on their Facebook pages," Clements said. "Look at it like a living, breathing resumé."

In terms of the music itself, Clements emphasized the need for flexibility. Drummers and keyboard players should learn to run tracks with Ableton Live and Pro Tools. Singers should accompany themselves on guitar or keyboard. Bassists should learn to sing. That's how Clements stood out for the Sugarland audition: she wasn't asked to sing backup vocals, but she requested a microphone for the audition.

However, her flexibility extends beyond performing. She tries hard to cultivate "multiple income streams." She blogs, sells guitar jewelry made out of picks, writes for Bass Player magazine, and is a session background vocalist for production company Sorted Noise. As if all this weren't enough, in her free time she's also working toward a certificate in music business with "Never stop learning and growing," she said.

When she's not on tour, Clements lives in Nashville, and she encouraged students to consider the town. "It's affordable, you can gig every night, and there's a great music scene," she said. "Berklee has a big Nashville outreach. I wish I'd gotten more involved with it early on."

Clements's brothers Austin and Tyler aren't the only other musicians in her family. Her father is New Orleans blues guitarist Cranston Clements, who has played with Dr. John, Maria Muldaur, Boz Scaggs, Ellis Marsalis, the Neville Brothers, and more. The whole family was in attendance at the clinic, and they performed a concert together at Berklee that night.

Family and friends have been important to her success, Clements said, and she encouraged networking. She keeps a daily journal and has made it her own personal rolodex, with names, numbers, and some personal tidbits about the people she meets (for instance, that the sound guy at a certain venue likes pugs). She exhorted students to connect with people both a few notches above and a few notches below them—you never know where you'll all be in a few years. For instance, Taylor Swift opened for Sugarland three years ago; now she's headlining sold-out stadiums. Clements suggested that students reach out to their favorite artists, but show that they're really involved and ask smart questions. Despite her busy schedule, she encouraged students to pick up a flyer with her contact info on the way out and keep in touch: "I'm always interested to talk to Berklee kids."