• Charlotte Claber

Louder: Behind the music with Tom Lee

Turn It Up Louder goes behind the scenes of the much loved music to give you the insight into who's doing what and how you could even get into it. The series starts with Merchandise Manager, Tom Lee, who talks us through his journey into merch and his essential songs for getting things done.

Hey Tom, want to introduce yourself and tell us what you do?

My name is Tom Lee, I am self-employed and work in the live music industry, primarily as a touring merchandise manager. I’ve also done bits of tour managing, driving, aided as a production + VIP assistant, in addition to having dabbled in guitar tech work too. So, how did you find your current career path in merchandising?

I kind of fell into it. I’m a musician/songwriter too, and I play in bands, so this work lifestyle gave me the opportunity to be flexible with my own personal projects and touring. I started working merch when I was a student, as part of the concessions at Leeds Arena when it opened up, on a casual basis. That was my initial gateway into the merch world, although it was quite different in that I had very little responsibilities and the wage was low. First gig was Bruce Springsteen though! I started getting into the freelance/touring world when I met my friend Roisin who does this full-time. I was doing a workaway in Paris at the time, and I went to see a Grimes concert when I met her. She was the road merch manager, and we started talking and swapped contacts. She put me up for a few local gigs in Manchester helping her, before getting me my first proper tour! So I owe her a bunch. Since then, the contact/network sort of snowballed naturally, with meeting more and more people out on the road. What’s one tip you wish you’d known when trying to get to where you are now?

I’m not sure. It’d be all the things I think I already knew and was back then; such as be curious, work hard, etc. What bands have you worked with over your career?

I’ve been out on the road with acts such as Pinegrove, Underoath, Tom Jones, Kindness, Hatsune Miku, Elvis Costello, Dead Kennedys, Sam Evian & Hannah Cohen, The Waterboys. I’ve done jobs for Biffy Clyro, All Time Low, Broken Social Scene. The client list goes on and on, which is quite cool when I think about it. What's been your favourite tour moment to date and why?

The Hatsune Miku tour was wild, because it was such a crazy hologram production, and so out of the norm from the usual bands I work with. I always enjoy doing anything with Pinegrove because they’re friends, and I’m a fan of them. Travelling and seeing new places is always cool, such as the first time I went to Greece (Athens) with the Waterboys. I spent the whole first evening there with a rented Lime scooter and just zipped around the whole city! Do you have any tips for people looking at getting into merch?

Connect with people who work in the live music industry, or events, or gigs. Be interested and enthusiastic and ask questions, because that’s the only way you can learn and find your way into doing anything like this. Do you have any long term career goals?

Unsure. I love the touring and travelling, and I get to see so many new places and countries, so I’d probably be doing this for a while longer. I’m still creating and performing myself too, and I’m realistic, but it’d be nice if at some point I can switch into my own projects for a living. Aside from that, perhaps settling into management roles when I want to sit still for awhile. Who knows! Where can people keep up to date with all things Tom Lee?

My social media, although I’m trying to stay off of things as much as I can for my own mental health. My handle on most things is @tomtealeaf, and I try and be communicative, transparent, and warm. And lastly, 5 songs that you need on tour.

I don’t listen to much music on tour honestly at the moment! It’s all been podcasts lately. I’ve really enjoyed the Conan Needs A Friend podcast lately, it’s light, fun, and easy to binge. That Reply All podcast is amazing too, that episode (The Case of the Missing Hit) was wild! My Favourite Elliott Smith song is lovely too.