And now, time for some actually useful advice from seasoned road dog and tour manager to the stars (the Hold Steady, Drive-By-Truckers, and othersbut who’s asking?) Dave Burton. Today’s inquiry: Are per diems a roadie’s retirement fund?

Finances of the freelancer are an ongoing thing. How do we protect ourselves? How do we save and plan for the future? How do we, the freelancers of the open road—musicians, tour managers, roadies—not get buried in a pauper’s grave after kicking the bucket in some roadside shithouse with free wifi, ravenous bed bugs, and oversized vehicle parking? The answers are abundant. The solutions? Less so.

I am speaking to those out there with no real safety net, no secret slush fund from their money laundering forebears. I am speaking of the hired guns and session musicians and touring folks who grease the wheels of the road we love so much, those that may have lost it all after days or decades of mismanagement, misfortune, misadventure, or missed opportunities (with Coco the bug adding to the fun). How do you turn those pesky per diems, paid out from Filson brand bags, into 401ks? How do you go from IPAs to IRAs?

How do you turn those pesky per diems, paid out from Filson brand bags, into 401ks? How do you go from IPAs to IRAs?

Now, back in the freewheeling days of major label excess and 110 percent mortgages, it was not unheard of that those on arena tours, chowing down three square meals a day (and rider swill) on the loading dock six nights a week, were coming home after a tour cycle and swooping in on a fixer upper (in non-gentrified neighborhoods or some rural enclave) with their per diems alone. Fair dinkum. Of course, many of us were living on seven layer burritos, camel lights, and the kindness of strangers. The straight edge folks were sucking down free curry at the Hare Krishna’s, chasing it down with Coca-Cola in the van on the next 500 mile drive. But people proved it could be done.

That was then and this is now. A pack of chocolate frosted Hostess mini donuts (which once paired well with five hour energy drinks and Marlboro Reds for the overnight shift from Jacksonville to New Orleans) are $5 at the Kum and Go convenience mart in Omaha. Fedora-festooned, facially furry, time-traveling trustafarian, floor-tom-flailing band leaders are about as loyal as a tomcat on a tear. So how do I parlay the remaining $20 of my per diems into a 529 College Savings Program for the kid or a minimal money market account?

The mind says “get frugal,” and the body says “eat the rainbow.” Reality says, “get creative.”


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CREEM #01 featuring a cover with original artwork by Raymond Pettibon

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