Musicians are barely getting a slice of music industry revenue, largely eating off of live performances instead. For ‘Tour Tales,’ we dig into the rider requests, delayed shows, diligent preparation, and future of touring by talking with the multitude of people that move behind the scenes. Record executives, photographers, tour managers, artists, and more all break down what goes into touring and why it’s still so vital to the livelihood of your favorite artists. What happens on tour stays on ‘Tour Tales.’
Misha Mayes has helped groom H.E.R. from a precocious 11-year-old to an Oscar award-winning powerhouse who has soundtracked a lot of her fans’ most memorable moments.
“‘Best Part’ is also pretty huge live. When we played some of the smaller venues, when you were a little closer to the audience, there were a number of shows where we had people in the audience come up to us and say, ‘I’m with my girlfriend. I want to propose to her.’ We had a few proposals on stage.” Mayes told REVOLT.
In this installment of “Tour Tales,” H.E.R.’s day-to-day/tour manager speaks about the talent holding her own on stage with veterans as a kid, the artist’s infamous shades, and their bond. Read here!
How long have you been involved with H.E.R.’s career?
I’ve known H.E.R. since she was 11 years old. I started with her when she first came into MBK Entertainment. She was the youngest artist at MBK and we were preparing for a holiday party we do every year. We have our artists perform at our holiday parties every year. She was there in the rehearsal space with Elle Varner and other artists we had on our roster at the time. She was holding her own. She was there with her guitar on stage going back and forth jamming. Stature-wise, she was the smallest person. But, you could tell her presence filled that space.
When did you start working with her on the road?
I started as her project manager while she was developing and recording. She would stay at my house. I would be at the studio with her all night. I’d watch over her to make sure she was safe because she was away from home. I worked on her project and when it came time for her to go on the road, my boss Jeff Robinson, who is absolutely incredible, was someone I worked with prior as a road manager for Alicia Keys. He asked, “How do you feel about going back out on the road?” I was like, “Absolutely not.” Then, he was like, “I need somebody out there with H.E.R.” Then that changed it and I did it (laughs).
Her first tour was in 2017 on Bryson Tiller’s “Set It Off Tour.” How did you help her?
Personal time management so she can save her energy for the stage. It’s like when an athlete is about to play a big game. Their energy is up and by the time they get to the field, they’ve exhausted themselves. So, we had to make sure she slept and tended to herself personally, so when she got on stage she gave what she wanted to give.
What show impressed you?
The first show she ever did on that tour in Atlanta (August 3, 2017 at Fox Theatre). It stood out because we were on the road and she lost her voice right before we left. You can tell she was worried about it and was working towards it. She had some big notes and moments in the show. Seeing how she not only wrapped her mind around not stepping out on stage, which is enough by itself, but also managing where she was vocally and being able to rise to the occasion on that stage. That was incredible. She handled it like a pro.
What are some tour complications you’ve had to fix?
Honestly, I tell people it’s Murphy’s Law when you go out on the road; anything that can go wrong will go wrong. It’s the nature of the environment because there are so many moving parts. There have been issues with the hotel, issues with the bus, issues with somebody being completely sick and you have to figure out how to manage that when they’re an integral part of the show. One of the band members got really sick and couldn’t travel, so we had to really figure out how to make it happen so there wasn’t an issue. There have been travel problems where the plane isn’t going for some reason, and now we have to reset and switch things up so we can figure out how to get to the show. Then, there’s an issue of going across the border in Canada and you have to figure a workaround.
What went into H.E.R’s Global Citizen Festival performance with Alicia Keys, who you’ve worked with before, in 2019?
For our entire team, watching them on stage together was a very beautiful and emotional moment. It was a full circle moment. Alicia was someone she looked to musically and was a severe influence on her. H.E.R. and Alicia had spoken, and talked about different songs they could do and how it would be. Then, Alicia said, “How about we do this song?” Then, H.E.R. said, “Hmm, that may be good.” She was familiar, but not super familiar. So, we left our rehearsal space and went over to Alicia’s because it was easier. They got in the room together and they had this connection. They really spoke the same language (laughs). They had a lot of respect for each other, talked through how they wanted to do it, and what resulted was what you saw on the stage.
What was it like putting together her first tour, “The Lights On Tour”?
It was exciting. You’re a newer artist, so the method to the madness is you play to the audience, grind it out, and don’t skip any steps. We started doing the smaller venues. It was nice and hard at the same time because you really have to look at the budget and the artist’s comfort with that. So, you don’t get to go to the big hotels you may want to go in (laughs). You’re working within constraints because it’s a new artist, but it was fun to put that together because it was fun watching her go into a space of her own.
What are her tour hits?
I feel they change between tours and cities. What was absolutely amazing about watching her shows was you could hear the audience singing every word. The audience was above the sound that was coming from the stage. On her “Lights On Tour,” she sang “Lights On” at the end and that was the high of the night. Everyone had their phones out, the lights are on and the whole audience is filled with a sea of lights. It was beautiful. “Best Part” is also pretty huge live. When we played some of the smaller venues, when you were a little closer to the audience, there were a number of shows where we had people in the audience come up to us and say, “I’m with my girlfriend. I want to propose to her.” We had a few proposals on stage.
What’s her personality like?
She is one of the funniest, chill, and wittiest human beings. There is always a tour prank coming. She is a lot of fun and has a lot of personality. Her humor is hysterical. I don’t think people get to see that side of her. She’s not a high-strung person ever — even when things are tense. She’ll just sit back for a little bit. I can’t wait until people get to see her humor because she’s hysterical.
What was one of those tour pranks?
The one with the silly string on Jeff [Robinson] was hysterical. Jeff is always a really, really serious guy because he’s always paying attention, planning, and organizing in his head. He was very much in his space and we got him with the silly string in the face, and he chased everyone around the bus. It was great.
What are some fun activities H.E.R. and her team have done in between shows?
After a very long week of back-to-backs, she decided she wanted to go to Disney and veer off our route (laughs). We leave at night from a venue and she’s like, “Come on, everybody. Let’s go to Disney.” That’s what everybody did. I had to find a hotel, stop there, and everyone put their stuff away. Those who could manage the energy to go to Disney went to Disney. Honestly, we’ll go out to dinners, theme parks, Go-Karts, anything. We find activities in different cities that we can go to.
She has been known for always wearing those colored shades. What’s the reason for them and how do they affect her live show?
When she came out, she really wanted everyone to focus on the music. So, her album cover was a silhouette. It was really about keeping the eye off her personally and focusing on the music. You can’t hide but people say the eyes are the windows to the soul, so we put some shades on her. The shades became “the disguise” since she had to be out. For shows, we had to put glow tape on the floor because it’s dark on stage and you have shades on. There were a lot of times we had to lead her on stage and say, “Hey, you can’t go past here.” So, we put glow tape in certain places. We also had to work with lighting to make sure they didn’t make it too dark on the stage.
How has H.E.R. live show evolved over the years?
She’s an artist and a musician first, so it’s all about the music. We’re definitely starting to add more instrumentation because musicality is really really important to H.E.R. We’re starting to build the show more with storytelling, so we’re really bringing people into her world.
She performed “America The Beautiful” at Super Bowl LV this year. What were her thoughts around that?
From watching her, she felt a lot of excitement, but a sense of real responsibility as a Black woman to be on that stage and that platform. That’s what she carried with her the entire time. She was able to convey what she was feeling inside with what she was playing. Afterward, it was complete elation. She was like, “Can you believe that?! Can you believe what just happened?!” She was blowing her own mind (laughs).
Now she’s putting on her Lights On Festival. How involved is she?
A hundred percent owned and 100 percent curated. She decides what she wants the vibe to be and what the goals are. She wants to pay homage to the artists that have been here, and provide a stage for the R&B artists coming up. She is involved top to bottom.
What should fans expect from this festival?
The festival, just like prior, will be very festive and lit. They should expect to be exposed to new R&B music they haven’t heard before. They should expect a lot of community between the artists. That’s what it’s about. It’s about bringing together the R&B community, so people understand R&B is not dead. We’re here and we never left. We’re strong together.
She just put out Back of My Mind recently. Can fans expect some of first-time-ever performances of those songs?
Yeah. You should expect all of the new songs (laughs). That’s the hard part. You have all of these songs you love yet different people love different songs. I remember us being in Aruba and someone that was working the show was like, “Are you performing ‘U’? Please tell me she’s going to be performing ‘U.’” I’m like, “We only have about 40 minutes. We can’t perform all the songs.”
What was your mentality going back on the road during the pandemic?
The pandemic is there, and we have to make sure we protect ourselves, and each other, and take the best route possible so we make sure everybody is protected. But, it’s exciting to perform again and bring live music back. There is community at the show between the folks on stage as well as within the audience. It’s all about bringing that back in the safest way possible.
What would you say is your impact and role in H.E.R.’s career?
I’ve been a sounding board for her. I’ve been someone who managed accountability for her. As a woman, I’ve helped keep her on track with where she wants to go personally. There are so many people and things around her, I try to help her not get distracted and listen to her inner voice instead of what’s happening on the outside. For me, I pride that the most because I look at her as one of my daughters. I’ve had her for so long. She’s slept in my daughter’s room. That’s the contribution to her career I’m most proud of.