Getting paid to perform at music venues across the world is pretty much living the dream. But the musicians that do get these opportunities will tell you that it isn’t always easy navigating a routine in which they're essentially partying for a living. There are numerous physical and mental factors to consider when you spend a lot of time away from home, balanced meals, and access to a gym or running trail. Artists are often inside a bus or plane for extended amounts of time, away from family and friends, and might find themselves drinking or smoking a lot.
Some young artists have ditched the rebel lifestyle to save their own damn lives. Even when options and resources are scarce, these people are doing whatever it takes to care for themselves. We asked a number of these model well-people what tactics they’ve tried in order to remain physically and mentally healthy while traveling for work. You might not be hitting the stage tonight but if you have habits suspiciously close to that of a rapper on tour, you might want to steal a few of their tips, which are loose on the science but effective enough to keep these musicians on the road and rising in their careers.
Anthony Raines (DJ Marauder), 26, Washington, DC
Staying healthy on tour is more difficult than the actual job you're touring for. I started in LA this last bus tour and ended in DC, and it was difficult for my body to adjust to the different climates. I got sick two days into the tour and I think it was being in close quarters with other people, on top of the changing weather environments. I took vitamins, drank tons of water, and tried my best to eat right consistently. The lack of sleep and healthy meals, and the crazy schedule kills the hope of staying healthy.
Drinking fresh fruit smoothies and taking Airborne helped a lot as the tour progressed. Any free time I got, I tried to do something beneficial for my body. I’m big on boxing, basketball and just about anything I could do to get the bad late-night food options out of my body. I also combatted sleep issues by buying noise-canceling headphones, which blocked out all ambient sounds on the bus so that I could sleep better. Having the headphones boosted my energy because I was getting an additional two hours of solid sleep per night.
Joanna Wallfisch, 32, singer/songwriter, New York
During the summer of 2016, I chose to go on tour on my bike in California because I was really tired of the planes, trains, cars, and the confines of touring like that. Touring can leave you really lethargic and exhausted by the end of it. So I decided to just go on my bike. I thought, if the gigs aren’t spectacular then at least I’d be having an adventure.
The idea was a challenge to execute. I’d never done this but I figured I could ride 50 miles a day—that’s when I started googling venues at 50 mile intervals. I was out about five weeks—about 18 shows—all the way down the west coast. I would try my best not to have a gig on a biking day so I would ride and then I would rest and then the next day I would do the show. Sometimes I had to do both. I had my concert-sized ukulele and some equipment with me, plus a few kilos of water. Most of those shows were solo.
People used to be like, ‘you must be so tired,’ but the amazing thing about it was that I kept getting more energized as the tour went on, as opposed to the opposite. It was a constant cycle of energy; whatever I put out came back in. I don’t know if it was because I was full of endorphins or just the effect of being outside, the people I met and the landscape I was a part of. It was a self-fueling trip.
I’m pretty sure my eyesight got better during the tour. I spent all day away from screens, staring out into the pretty far distance. I could pick out every single detail of everything I saw. I was like, Wow, I’m both literally and existentially seeing things differently. At the beginning I ate too much. I was like, 'I’ve got to eat everything even if I’m not hungry—in order to energize.' I’m vegetarian and I thought I’d start eating meat during the tour, but I really didn’t feel like I needed to. I was in California, so I got to experience a lot of great Mexican food. [I drank] a lot of water. I had a little regime: Every three or four miles, I’d stop, stretch, eat something, and then keep going.
Zachary Young (DJ Money), 32, Los Angeles, CA
I've been traveling consistently as the DJ for rapper Wale for years now and I spend about half of the year on the road. Traveling so much, along with all the time restraints, thoroughly affects what you put into your body. There are sound checks, the actual concert performances, meet-and-greets, and then I make more money by DJing after parties late into the night. It’s rare that I get three good meals a day when I am traveling.
Luckily, I don’t get sick that often. I think it comes from the amount of water I consume. I stay hydrated at all times. Also, I know this sounds weird, but I’m really big on drinking lime juice, which has become a regular ritual for me. It’s kind of like orange juice and it’s supposed to boost your immune system and breaks down the acid and mucus in your system and improve your vocal cords. I’m in a space where I am talking and interacting with crowds night a lot and that wear and tear on your voice can be really bad.
Joy Williams, singer/songwriter, 35, Nashville, TN
Being about to have two children instead of one, it will be beneficial to have a more set schedule; that is going to make dealing with health a lot easier. I started touring earlier than I originally planned to when I got my first record deal fresh out of high school at seventeen. I moved to Nashville with two suitcases and soon after, hit the road doing about 250 shows in my first year. During my peak traveling days, I was on the road about ten months out of the year. Unless you are a grade A artist where you have the ability to have a chef on the road, you are really at the mercy of whatever city you land in. I’m big on researching local farmers’ markets wherever I am and walking there instead of driving. That way, I get exercise by constantly moving around and carrying my groceries.
A big part of staying healthy for me is making sure that I’m taking care of what’s going on internally. It’s important sometimes to just remain still, meditating, and taking time to myself away from people, which can be impossible when you’re on a bus. I get so overwhelmed and distracted by the amount of activity people constantly around. You have to work so hard as a touring musician until you get to a place where you can really call all of your own shots on the road about how often you’re out performing.
Malik Stewart, percussionist, 25, Washington, DC
I started taking drumming more seriously as a career around 2013, when I was in the Howard University marching band, which led to street performances. I went viral from my Instagram videos. That opened up the doors for me to book appearances and travel all over the world. I try my best to stay as active as possible. That’s the great thing about being a percussionist—I’m always using my hands and keeping myself active no matter where I am.
I am in no way a chill drummer; I consider myself to be very intense. I truly try to make it my cardio, and you can see that in my videos. I’m walking and drumming at the same time and sometimes I’ll be dancing and drumming. The way I deal with my health is a little different when I am traveling. I consider myself a “meegan”—not a vegan—I try to make sure that I eat foods that will make mehappy and what I think is best for my body. I always look for organic and healthier options. I don't do fast food. I don’t need that trash slowing me down. I always want to be in top physical condition as I continue to perfect my craft.
Kiyoshi Shelton, rapper, 35, San Diego, CA
Back in 2012, yoga completely changed the way I looked at my well-being. Around that time, I started traveling quite a bit as I started to gain a following in the festival circuit; I booked poetry slams and school events all across the country, playing instruments and rapping. I was starting to lose a bit of my sexy by picking up the wrong foods and just getting comfortable with a certain lifestyle that went along with traveling, performing, and working a lab job in San Diego at the same time.
Yoga allows my mind to be more clear, it allows me to be more present and be able to connect with the audience during performances. I recently started teaching yoga and working on designing my own course, but I don’t do it as much as I would like because of my schedule. I have to do my meditations in the morning. If I can’t find a yoga studio in what town I’m in, I will just find a patch a grass, roll a mat out and do yoga by myself. When I’m traveling, I’m also always doing push-ups.
As far as cardio, I love to dance. I need to dance. You can definitely find me dancing everywhere, even backstage. That is my personal way of supporting an artist who may be performing before or after me.