Rock Band Manager talks about being a girl on the road
Last updated 3-19-09 at 9:17 a.m.
Aileen Burns is the only female in a group of traveling males in this group picture of the Plain White T’s band and crew in Germany during August 2008.
By Ryan Pangilinan
Northwest Asian Weekly
There’s a bit of an American wanderlust when it comes to traveling within the country that everybody seems to have at one point or another. Whether it’s living out an inner Jack Kerouac or trying to be the boy reporter in “Almost Famous,” traveling the open road seems to resonate with many people.
Being in a touring rock band is a great example of how one could live out this fantasy. To many people, the notion of playing music for a living is incredibly cool.
Being in a band is one thing, but what about the people behind the scenes? Tour managers, guitar technicians, and the roadies are often ignored, but they’re responsible for ensuring that the band will be able to perform, operating the merchandising, and, in some cases, showing up at the appropriate times to take care of unexpected conflicts.
Aileen Burns is one of the people who work behind the scenes for the Grammy-nominated pop-punk band Plain White T’s. Burns, 25, is the merchandise manager for the band and one of the few API faces at their shows.
“Sometimes I see blonde girls at our show and wish that I looked like them, [and] other times, I love the fact that I’m mixed and look different from everyone else in the room,” said Burns, who is half Japanese and half white.
“It’s definitely still a little strange for me to see Asian American boys on stage [and] in bands or working as techs, although that stereotype is quickly changing,” she continued.
Working in a largely male-dominated industry and in a largely white subgenre, Burns defies stereotypes with her contribution to the band’s business.
What initially began as a job as their “merch” person, Burns’ involvement evolved as she logged in more time on the road.
“Over the years, I’ve fully taken on the role of merchandise manager,” she said. “I handle picking designs [of shirts], ordering, keeping track of stock, settlements with the venue, and coordinating our online merch store.”
Burns’ occupation began when she met the Plain White T’s as an intern at Columbia Records while she was going to school at NYU. In 2005, the band asked her to be their merch person, which she subsequently embraced.
Yet for all her hard work, Burns is occasionally tagged as being the token Asian girlfriend, which is far from the truth.
“I get that question a lot, but mostly from the parents,” she explained. “A lot of parents assume I’m dating someone in the band because they don’t realize that someone in their 20s can make a living and support themselves financially if they’re touring with a lucrative musician.
“It can get frustrating, but it’s nothing a quick explanation doesn’t solve,” she said.
As Burns enters her fourth year as a merchandise manager, she hopes to translate her experience into a career within the music business.
“I could see myself going into artist management,” she said. “Ultimately, I’ve always wanted to start my own independent record company, but I think that’s definitely a few more years down the line from here.”
While Burns clearly still has the desire to travel and experience life on the road, her job allows her to take everything she’s learned and apply it to a place where it’s normal to hop from her current home in San Diego to Chicago with a touring band. And who knows? With the way things have worked out for her, Burns may be the same person releasing records of bands that mean the world to people. (end)
Ryan Pangilinan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.