There probably is no one who really understands the importance of every person involved in a tour than our guest for today’s episode. Having worn every hat that you can possibly wear on the road, from tour management to catering, Candice Rukes of Rukes Entertainment is a force to be reckoned with in this industry—a male-dominated one at that! Here, Candice takes us across her journey in the music industry, giving us a sneak peek into the different roles people play behind the scenes. She talks about the contrasts between touring with a bigger artist and a smaller artist and shares her experiences working with some of the biggest musicians on the planet. Surviving in this cutthroat industry as a woman, Candice then gives some advice on holding your ground on tour and maintain relationships. She also discusses her clothing company, Virago Tactical, which focuses on making a brand tailored to the practical needs of women.
Listen to the podcast here:
Touring The World Wearing Multiple Hats with Candice Rukes
With Special Guest, Candice Rukes
Our guest has learned how to survive successfully and what is most definitely a male-dominated industry, touring in the music industry. Having worn every hat, you can wear on the road from tour management to catering, she’s worked with some of the biggest music artists on the planet and is most definitely a force to be reckoned with. Please welcome, Candice Rukes. Candice, how are you?
I’m great. Thank you for having me. This is the platform that I read often. The clientele that you’ve already had on here, I feel honored to be a part of this.
We’re on it to have you on. Where are you? Are you here in LA? Are you on the roads? I always like to know.
I’m in Los Angeles, which is a rare thing. I’m usually out on tour with artists, a different city or different country every single day. My goal was in 2020 to slow down a little bit and not be touring quite as much. I’m much LA-based, kicked off 2020 by working for the Grammy’s themselves instead of a particular artist at the Grammys, which is a new avenue. I’m hoping to infiltrate myself more in the local Los Angeles music entity because it does not lack here.
You have worn many different hats. You’ve been a tour Caterer, chef, production coordinator, wardrobe, tour manager, road manager. You’ve covered the whole thing. What would you say is your favorite role? What is your least favorite? Do you love it all?
They’re all encompassed in the same lump as traveling for a living, which has been something I’ve aspired to since I was a little girl. I circled Australia on my globe and I was going to go there someday. This industry has blessed me to go to Australia seven times. On the whole, all of them are equally as important. However, every single role I’m able to shine or pretend I’m shining or some are more challenging than others such as I do have to shout out to the tour caterers of the world. That is the hardest job in the entire industry. When I do take the role of running the catering entity on tour, it is the hardest job.
Explain why it’s tough.
There are no days off. When you’re on the other side of the industry, zero days off because you always are living the next day. If you’re feeding 1,000 people, for example, on your average production, you’re shopping for those groceries the prior day. You’re planning the menu at the chefs. You’re going probably to the site if you are in that city already. Sometimes you scratch into the city at 4:00 AM and you have to run in and figure it out. It’s everything. When you walk into a tour catering and see it’s all set up. You don’t notice all the things, but our day started at 4:00 AM and they ended at 1:00 AM. It’s a 24-hour job. You have to take care of yourself. On the other side of the entity, when you’re doing tour management or road management also don’t have days off, but it’s not much of a physical aspect of your job. You are behind a computer most of the time on your days off while everyone else does outside seeing all around the world. You’re in your hotel, making sure that tomorrow is going to be okay for that artist and that crew and you’re never thinking about yourself in those positions, unfortunately.
I can’t imagine that you think about yourself much at all in any of those roles when you’re on the road. You’re all about the artist.
All about the artist and in most realms, the artist is barely self-sufficient depending on who their day-to-day manager is at that realm I’ve also played that role. When you’re on the production side of things, your main focus is the crew, which is something that you don’t think of even on a tour because this is their home. We all live on the bus, we live in hotels, they have to be fed, and they have medical situations. The crew itself is also a huge entity that you have to maintain. The artist is everyone’s priority but they’re well taken care of.
For those people reading who might want to get into touring with an artist, because I’m sure there are loads of people who would love to, explain maybe what the difference is between a tour manager and a production manager, if you would?
It depends on the size of the artist. The larger the artists, the more there are titles. The production manager is typically in charge of all the technical aspects of the tour. They do all the advancing for the audio, the lights, the rigging, and the staging. They’re the entity that speaks with the promoter and the venue. They ensure that the venue is prepared for all of the technical aspects of it. The tour manager role typically takes on more of the accounting. They’re usually the person that is the liaison between say the label in some aspects and the manager of the artists. They oversee more of the financial aspects. When you go to Taylor Swift stadium levels, you probably have two tour accountants, two tour managers. You have road managers. Road managers handle the travel aspect of things and then the production manager is all technical. The smaller the artists, the more hats people wear. That’s where I’ve got a lot of my experience is working with the B-level artists. When I started with John Legend, he was a B-level artist. We were still doing tiny theaters. I saw him grow fast. We got more employees and we got a little bit bigger quicker. That was fun to see his journey and wear all those different hats.
You worked with him for quite a long time, didn’t you?
I was with John for about five years. He kept his crew as small as possible.
That’s small because it’s good financially to do that.
It is and fewer problems. The bigger the artists, the more corporate it becomes. Not that it brings more difficulties, it just brings a lot more people and a lot more conversations and meetings and politics. When you have someone that is still a large artist but keeps their entity smaller, there are fewer people in the pond to make decisions and it makes it much easier.The music industry is cutthroat in itself. Click To Tweet
You’ve worked with the incredible John legend. What other amazing artists have you worked with? I was blown away when you were telling me last time. I want to share that with the readers.
I worked for the Will Smith family in different aspects. I started with Will, being his assistant when he did the Latin Grammys. From working with Will Smith, I then met his children, Jaden and Willow Smith. They’re amazing humans. Still young, but smart and professional. I did a tour with Willow and Jaden. They go out as brother and sister duo, which was an interesting dynamic. Jayden is more on the hip hop rap spectrum and Willow is more on the neo-soul Erykah Badu vibe. To see both of their fans come together in the same show, it was magical and they all got along. Jayden and Willow came out on the stage together and meshed their music into one and it was a magical tour to be a part of.
What size venues were you performing out with them?
With them, they were probably 3,000 to 5,000 were the average, but we also did small clubs. They sold out quickly. It was a sold-out tour, which was amazing.
Did you tour manage them?
When Willow goes out solo, I’m her tour manager. When Willow and Jaden go out together, I’m their road manager. I handle all of the travel logistics and stuff because they already have a production manager for Jaden that oversees everything.
For a woman, it’s quite a heavy lifting job, I would say. Road manager, literally on the road all of the time and you’re with all of these guys. How do you find that? Honestly, how is it surviving as a woman in such a male-dominated part of the music industry?
It took several years to get this thick skin. I grew up in Kansas, where you’re nice to everyone and everyone is your best friend. The music industry is cutthroat in itself regardless of male-dominated or not. I had to become a tough cookie and stand up for myself. I don’t know how PG I can be about this, but I had one road dog, female, that was my mentor and she said, “Number one rule, don’t sleep with any of the road crew.” That set the precedence of, “Don’t mix personal and professional together. It will never work.” Everyone’s like, “You’re on tour for two years. How do you not date on tour?” We don’t do it. I found myself becoming that strong female entity that I didn’t let them push me around. There is sexual harassment in the music industry. It is something that not spoken about quite yet as it is in the #MeToo Movement. You do deal with that a lot, but you stand your ground and you don’t tolerate it. Some of them respect you and some of them don’t. The ones that do not, I’ve removed myself from that entity and it’s opened up another door to work in a crew where I am respected.
I take my hats off to you. I do. I presume you’ve spent many a night on a tour bus and I can imagine oftentimes you may be the only female on a tour bus.
I’ve been on a 130-person crew.
How did you deal with that? It’s quite an intimate space and you’re with all of these big blokes who are going into the shower or the bathroom or whatever.
To get to the nitty-gritty of it, after you finish a long day on tour, you have to go into locker room style settings for showers. You put a sign on the door or push a couch in front of the door and pray no one enters. For the most part, they respect you. You don’t show weakness because they will get bored on tour. I’m speaking for men. They will pick on you a bit, but you don’t show your weakness. I never threw the female card. That is why they respected me. I respected their space and they respected mine. I wouldn’t walk through the tour bus and spray my perfume as I ran into the venue or I wouldn’t have my makeup bag spread everywhere. I was respectful. It was tempting, the beautiful flowers that our musicians would get. I’d want to bring them to the bus and have them with me. Flowers on a tour bus isn’t something that men like for some reason.
What do you do if someone’s snoring all night? How’d you cope with that? I’ve had the opportunity to go on tour buses and I’m too feeble. It probably sounds awful, but I wouldn’t survive in the way that you have. I do much admire what you’ve done. What do you do if someone’s in close proximity? You’ve got twenty people on top of one another in those tiny bunks. How do you cope?
We have a curtain. I have good earplugs. I also like to fall asleep to music. I’ve never done the Xanax, but I know everyone does. You have to be 100% present on tour. Alcohol, drugs, the whole sex, drugs, and rock and roll thing they talk about on tour is not something that you could maintain if you wanted to continue to be successful in it. I’ve kept a good head about me. I tried to represent females on tour in a way that the overall stigma is not. Women are the ones that caused the drama and are the problem on tour. If there is some conflict and there is a female involved, the female always loses her job regardless. I tried to represent women in the best way I can. Any young women that come on tour, I immediately take them under my wing instead of seeing them as a threat or challenge. There are some women on tour that want nothing to do with you or talk to you because you might be getting more attention than them. Those are the catty ones that don’t survive long or they do get harassed by their male counterparts. I always try and be the presence that other people would want to be around.
How do you manage to hold down a relationship if you’re on the road much?
I didn’t. I’ve been touring for several years.
Can I say people that no one can see Candice but I can? I said this to you when I met you. She does not look like she’s been on the road for several years. She’s pretty and youthful-looking. If this was me, I would look old and haggard, but you look fantastic. People reading, she looks amazing.
Thank you. I appreciate that. You have to find time to take care of yourself regardless of the hours. I maintain a good workout schedule on the road when I can. It’s not partaking in all the extracurricular. It’s taking care of yourself. I like to have a glass of wine in a plastic solo cup on the bus. Don’t have a glass. You’ll break your teeth. The occasional drink. It is about taking care of yourself.
How do you have a relationship? What you do with your loved one back home if you got one?
You have to communicate. It is all about that. I’m in a two-year relationship with someone that’s also in the industry, an audio engineer. As a female, you date someone in the music industry. Do you try and date someone that’s grounded and has a normal job? I’ve tried both. You find that the one that’s more grounded relationship tends to be a bit insecure about you traveling with all these men. It always does cause a little conflict. Having someone that is also in the industry is helpful. Also, I’m lucky that my boyfriend doesn’t want to tour forever, where a lot of them are lifers. You end up eventually down the path. If you have a child, you are a single mom essentially because your significant other is touring all the time. That’s also a bonus, but it’s much about communication and being a secure person. It must be challenging for those that don’t trust or a bit insecure. Dating has not been a part of my career, to be honest. I have been single for a long time. I preferred it that way. I didn’t feel guilty for working long or committing my life to my craft.
Was is it because you loved the idea of traveling much that you wanted to get into touring? Was it that you love music or was it a combination of the two because it’s a big commitment?
It sure is. Honestly, I wanted to travel, but I didn’t realize that I could travel to the music industry when I started. This was an epiphany that I had posted an internship at a local amphitheater. My father is big into music and we’ve always been a music household. I saw the list on a local amphitheater for concerts in summer and I wanted to go to all the concerts but I couldn’t afford it. I decided to apply for their summer internship. To be honest, I got it on a tiny little white lie. I said that I called the production manager and I said I had a little school project I needed to interview. All the internships have been filled for that summer. I went in, I did the interview, and he thought I was interviewing him when in fact, I wanted him to interview me. At the end of it, he’s like, “Do you have any more questions?” I said, “When do I start?” kind of joking. He said, “I’m sorry, all the internships have been filled.” I was like, “Okay, if something opens up, let me know.”
Four days later, I’m in my journalism class and I got an email and he said he had added a position. I got this internship for the summer and then got asked that on tour or for a catering company. It opened my eyes to the spectrum of, “I can work in music and travel at the same time?” My mind was blown. It was my two worlds that I didn’t know existed came together at once. Someone gave me a chance and took me out on tour and I have not stopped since. It was something where I hadn’t convinced myself that this was a real job in the beginning because I had way too much fun. People would ask me, “When are you going to get a real job? When are you going to stop doing this?” I had this goal of getting to the top. The blessing of it is I have truly reached the level that I wanted to in the beginning.
You also work with the Jonas Brothers, don’t you?In the music industry, the bigger the artists, the more corporate it becomes. Click To Tweet
I did, but I considered a contractor. I wasn’t employed by Jonas Brothers themselves. I went out and ran the hospitality element of it, which was an outside company, but came in and handled, oversaw all of the hospitality and catering for that tour. I was on the Jonas Brothers tour for a minute. They’re amazing. The three of them, seeing them come back together after so long, they’re classy. I like them. I have no negative things to say about any artists I’ve ever worked for. They all have their quirks. Whether I prefer working for a female artist versus a male artist, I have my opinions on that. It depends on their needs and what my position is. That’s why I’ve tried to make myself multifaceted.
If you could work with any artists in the world that you haven’t worked with yet, who would it be?
Ms. Beyoncé. She is such a force because she is involved in every aspect of her entity to where she doesn’t sit back and watch everyone else do it. She is involved and she sets as a strong female. She sets the precedents on our entire tour. There’s zero tolerance for a lot of this stuff I see on other tours, from what I hear. Artists have reputations in our industry. She is an exceptional person to work for.
I hope that happens for you. I’m going to call her up, not that I know her, and say, “You need to work with Candice Rukes because she is the best.”
I feel like I need to have a little conversation with her and that would complete it for me because her tours are long and huge.
I can imagine it would be incredible to be part of something like that.
She’s up for the 40-some trucks. It’s a big undertaking.
Something else I’d like to chat with you about is the other entrepreneurial side of who you are and that’s your Virago Tactical Company.
Virago means a heroic woman. When I was on Justin Timberlake, I was approached by a female officer. We had officers every day. They did the bombs checks and there was a lot of security backstage and she walked in one day into our wardrobe haven. It was this cute little room that we set up every day with all the wardrobe stuff. She was like, “I wish you guys could make us a new uniform.” I was like, “Talk to me.” We got to talking about the woes of female officers and the problems that they face with their uniforms. They are male clothing that is altered to fit their bodies. Nothing into account of the things they have to carry. Their restroom breaks, their health, their safety, their comfort, nothing is taken into account when it comes to the actual female uniform.
That’s been something that battled since the dawn of time. This is not a new concept, but I have taken it on. I’m working with her to discuss her perfect scenario. I have soon to be patent pending a mechanism that allows them to use the restroom without taking off any of their gear. We will see where it goes. In the realm with the whole Virago Tactical entity, I want to create a female-only uniform line. Even if it’s not in the major police departments, it will at least allow women in the workforce to be more comfortable. I know female tactical pants exist, but they’re still being created by men. No one is listening to the females about it. The female officer I spoke with, their uniform hadn’t been revamped since the year 2000. That doesn’t seem a long time ago.
How far into the process are you? Are you in the manufacturing stages yet?
My prototype finished. I’m doing some critiques on that. My next step is to go in front of the commission of the particular police force that I’m approaching first and get it approved. They have to approve it as a proper garment. I’m pitching it as a safety garment because it does reduce the number of UTIs and bladder infections that female officers have from holding going to the restroom because of the time. They would miss a call. They get harassed by their male counterparts for being late by taking too long in the restroom. It’s this whole entity that I’m going to pitch this to them as safety equipment instead of a vanity product. We’re not trying to take away the uniform aspect of it. We’re trying to make it more comfortable for women. Hopefully, in the next couple of months in the pitching stage, if I get a yes or a no, that’ll determine the next move. A no is not deterring me from doing this. There thousands of police force in the world and there are EMTs. There are park rangers. There are nurses, there’s military, there are all these different branches with females that no one’s speaking for.
I hope that that happens to you because it is a necessity. Women in those professions must need the clothing that you’ve created to make their lives easier.
The music industry has led me to this avenue. Also, I’ve started my company. It’s called Rukes Entertainment to where I’m taking more of a consulting role and tours and helping tours staff or kick off their tour. That will allow me more time to focus on Virago and see if that’s my next adventure. I still want to be a major part of the music industry. My dream someday would be to run an amazing venue.
That’s your goal. I was going to say what’s your 5 to 10-year goal game plan.
When you walk into a venue on the touring side of things and you know that the staff is run by someone who’s toured before, it immediately is a better day. I want to be on that local side of the venue to where when a tour walks in, they know that someone gets it. It is obvious when they don’t get it. It is obvious when they get it. I want to be a person who runs that venue and that would allow me the time also to run this other business and see where it takes me many opportunities.
I’m excited about what happens next for you. One last question I sometimes ask people. You’ve led such an extraordinary life to date and you’re going to continue over the next decades to do so. How would you, at the end of all of this, like to be remembered?
I want to be remembered as a strong female that tried to make a change for other females. It’s not about the money. It’s not about anything other than helping people. I enjoy teaching other females how to survive in this industry. My goal is to change it from surviving to leading, flourishing.
That’s my word for 2020, flourishing.
That’s the word I’ll use, flourishing. It’s been a long run to say that females are surviving because it’s been fight or flight for a long time. I wanted to change. It’s not even just females. There are some males on tour as well that suffer from workplace abuse. I don’t want to speak just for females, but that’s what I’ve lived. I want to make a change. I have to give a shout out to John Legend. When I did suffer some sexual harassment, John Legend personally reached out to me and wanted to know how much that I meant to him and how powerful it was to have a strong female on his tour. He was proud of me. That set the precedence for me after that conversation I had with him. It gave me hope for the industry and for women out there.
I’m pleased to hear that. I don’t know John Legend, but he has always struck me as being an incredibly honorable and decent man. To hear from you that he is does fill my heart with happiness and peace.
He’s everything that he seems to be. It’s comforting to see the media paint him like that as well because the media can be cruel. I’ve worked for artists that were in front of the media and the things that I read about them. Knowing them personally and knowing they’re now going through this is it’s terrifying. To have a degree in Broadcast Journalism and know that I could have been writing about these entities without even knowing them is terrifying for me. He’s an amazing man and I hope everyone supports him because he supports all of us, especially when I’m out there.
I’m pleased you’ve got the support that you deserved. That’s great to hear. We’re coming to an end, but thank you for being such an incredible guest. You’re welcome to come back on whenever you fancy.
If anyone has any questions for you, feel free to reach out to Candice through LaLaLanded.com. Do you have a website where people can contact you or if they’ve got any questions?
I’m going to keep checking that out.
Thank you, Tara, so much.
Thank you too and thank you to all fabulous La La Landed readers. You will be hearing from my lovely partner Dani Behr and me soon. Ciao for now.
About Candice Rukes
Candice Rukes has worked in the music industry for over 15 years. She has worked with top-level artists and toured the world in venues ranging from small clubs to large stadiums. Wearing many hats, she has assumed the roles of Touring Catering Crew Chief, Production Coordinator, Wardrobe Manager, Tour Manager, and Road Manager, managing crews as large as 150. Her work has taken her to over 100 countries, Super Bowls, Grammy Awards, the Oscars, and various late night talk shows with many acts including John Legend, Justin Timberlake, Jonas Brothers, Fergie, Miguel, Willow, Jaden Smith, Will Smith, and many more.
Determined to travel the world, she pursued a Bachelors Degree in Broadcast Journalism. She wanted to be the next Barbara Walters, but a successful summer internship at a local Amphitheater in Kansas City unexpectedly altered her plans.
After her first tour with Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Candice quickly realized the need to be multifaceted as a female in the industry. Harnessing the power of self-education, she gave herself a sewing crash course and landed a gig as the Wardrobe Manager for the world touring Irish act Celtic Thunder. Her relentless pursuit of knowledge kept her employed for some of the biggest acts in the entertainment industry over the next decade and lead her to pursue her dream of starting her own company.
In 2019, Candice moved to Los Angeles and founded Rukes Entertainment. This gave her the ability to take more of a consulting position for touring professionals and allowed her more time to focus on other interests and goals.
Merging her management and sewing skills and profoundly understanding the challenges women face in male-dominated industries, she founded Virago Tactical, LLC; a clothing line focusing on making a brand tailored to the practical needs of women.
Candice had a very unique upbringing. Born to teen parents from a small farm town in Kansas, she defied the statistics. Leveraging her natural leadership abilities, ambitious pursuit of success, and hard working mid-west values, she continues to advance her new vision for a more suitable environment for women in all male-dominated industries.
While she is settling into life off the road in LA, she’s focused on growing both businesses into independently successful entities.