Very often in our lives we are faced with the same difficult decision: to be selfish or selfless? At some point, we have probably all chosen both. Now, imagine having a profession where you must always put your own problems on the back burner while you help someone else – a job where you pretty much always need to be selfless. That doesn’t sound easy, does it? Welcome to the life of Niku Azam, the 27-year-old tour manager for world-renowned DJ/producer duo, Candyland.
Fortunately, I had a chance to sit down with Niku backstage at Spring Awakening, whilst he was blowing up a 12-foot beach ball.
How did you begin your career in the music industry and how has it evolved into being the tour manager for Candyland?
Candyland was actually my first client. They were going to Europe for the first time and I used to live in the Netherlands so their manager [Nima] wanted me to go with them. At the time, I was a bartender. We went to the Netherlands to play 2 dates on Wish Festival.
At the time, they didn’t have a tour manager. We had a great time in Holland for that run, and they were interested in having me stay on. Nima wasn’t for it because he felt I was inexperienced…so I moved to New York, and advanced and scheduled all of their shows between bartending at Morton’s Ground Zero and living in Queens. I would wake up at 1 PM, get on the subway and ride to work. I would bartend from 3PM – 1AM, ride the train home, and advance from 2 AM – 8 AM, sleep for a couple hours and repeat – for a good 8 months straight.
Fast-forward to the beginning of 2014 and the tour with Kill Paris was coming about. Both Corey (Kill Paris) and Candyland needed a TM, and the tour badly needed a name. I threw out “Killer Fro” as a joke and it stuck. Josie drew up the artwork for the flyer and I was moving to California to go on the road full time. That was my first tour. Now I advance and TM on the road with Candyland, as well as advance and schedule for a few other acts – Myon & Shane 54, Stafford Brothers, a house DJ from Miami named Henrix, and a new up-and-coming superband called SomeKindaWonderful.
What is one of the greatest lessons you’ve learned about life while on tour?
As long as the artist is happy, my life is easy, ESPECIALLY when touring with females. When girls are traveling, you need to make sure they are comfortable. For example, I had a first class ticket once and gave it to Josie. She was stoked because she had the literal last seat on the plane and little things like that would make her day. Make sure your clients are comfortable + happy – things run smoothly, everyone gets along and we’re one big happy family doing the damn thing.(Niku sound checking before a Candyland set)
You are constantly on the road. How are you able to maintain relationships with your close friends and family?
My parents live in Dubai so we’ve always been away from each other. Before I graduated from high school, we moved 31 times. I lived in Australia, the Netherlands, NYC, etc. Social media in this day and age has really helped me to stay connected w/ my family.
As far as friends go, I have few best friends, some close and some far, but as far as life in Santa Barbara, we’re pretty much working if we’re not sleeping. I live w/ Josie so that makes things easier. I need to call my parents more often than I do, but it is hard when I am traveling a lot. I always seem to have another email to write or a schedule to make or a plane to catch before I have time to hit up my family, and that needs to change. You always have to make time b/c family comes first.
If you don’t mind, describe for me a specific time in your life of great struggle (not management-related) that you had to endure. What was that struggle, and how did you overcome it?
Before I got this job. I was 24/25 (now 27). Didn’t know what I was doing with my life and knew I couldn’t be a bartender forever. No job security. I didn’t have a career…I just had a job. I didn’t know what I was going to do w/ my life or how to support a family. I needed somewhere to go, something to do.
This opportunity opened up and I jumped on it. Packed up everything and moved out to California. Worked as hard as I could to prove my worth. Sat down and figured out what the heck I would do w/ my life and how to build power in this industry.
Now, paint a picture of a time where you encountered a touring-related struggle. What was this struggle and how did you overcome it?
Every. Damn. Day. Haha. A good example…on the Killer Fro tour, our ride in DC never showed up for transport to the airport. I hit up the promoter from the DC show and he got an UBER SUV to us as soon as possible. We got to the airport with negative minutes to spare, and somehow I got Corey [Kill Paris] and Josie onto the flight, but the traveling videographer [Nick Centore] and I didn’t. The airport in Michigan was a 2-hour drive from the hotel and venue, and we were about to miss sound check and load in. They wanted us to connect and get into Michigan super late but after sweet-talking the service agent, she got us seats on a direct flight. The pickup vehicle they had was too small anyway and wouldn’t have fit us, so it all worked itself out in the end.
As a tour manager, it is your job to take care of your clients, but what happens when you experience problems? I would assume it’s very difficult taking care of you and another person or several people 24/7. How do you manage to do this?
Since I represent more than one artist, I have to be in contact with more than one at a time. My phone can never be dead. If Henrix misses his flight, it’s on me. I have to be there on-call to make sure I can contact the promoter. I kind of have to put my problems on the back burner. If I get stressed or have personal issues w/ another artist it’s all about discrepancy. I can’t complain to my other clients or anything. It’s like a poker face…you have to make sure that your clients feel like everything is okay at all times. You have to maintain that level of “we’re all good” and let them continue focusing on doing what they do best – performing.
We at Your EDM truly value passionate people. So…what exactly are your passions?
Vinyl records, craft beer…I really consider myself a beertender…. Vans shoes, motorcycles – just have one at the moment but once I settle down I will probably be working on that more. Music is my number one passion as I had played in bands growing up. I played in a band in high school through college that played Warped Tour and SXSW (Drugstore Cowboys). I was in drum line in high school and played the trumpet.
Music…playing shows is my therapy.
When I bartended, I kind of went on a hiatus from music and that’s when I felt lost. It went from being the artist to going behind the scenes and people don’t understand how much work it takes to be a tour manager. For festivals, we advance them months ahead of time. People think, “you just travel and party”, but that’s not it at all. I don’t drink at all and the little amount of sleep I do get is precious – getting a few hours here and there or if I’m on a plane with no Wi-Fi. I’ve totally mastered the art of sleeping on a plane.
What is your vision for yourself in life?
I’m a family man; I want to settle down at some point. I want to build my clientele and build out and network my company – Folsom Holdings. I just want to go as far as I can. The main thing is you have to love what you’re doing. I want to take artists as far as I can. Their success is most important to me because I’m a part of their team. I love traveling so it’s a lot easier for me. I love airports and airplanes. I can’t envision my life 5 years from now because it’s always changing, but all I know is I want to work with artists because of the personal connections I’ve made with them.
I know I’ll do what makes me happy because otherwise there is no point in living.
Since this movement is about inspiring, what has inspired you throughout life and how do you hope to leave an impact on the music industry and even just the world in general?
My first and biggest inspiration is my mother. She is a true saint. She started a non- profit to help women in third world countries who are victims of domestic abuse and acid attacks. It’s really hard work and she does it completely out of the kindness of her own heart. The charity is called the “Niku Charity”, because my name in Farsi means “goodness”.
Secondly, my brother – Nima (general manager for Candyland + several other acts). The hardest working person I know. I can only aspire to do as much as he’s done in my one lifetime [haha.] I learn from him every time we talk and I always look up to him for inspiration.
Lastly, David Carlson (tour manager for Krewella). He’s like the coolest kid on the block. He’s a great tour manager, and I love the way he works. We have this joke in the Candyland camp where we would get into situations and say “WWDCD?” (What Would David Carlson Do). David inspires me to be better at my job everyday.
Even if your job requires you to constantly put others before yourself, it is not always an easy task. However, it is doable and the more you practice selflessness, the easier it becomes. Whether it be giving up his first-class seat or putting his own problems on the back burner in order to help someone else experience success or happiness, we can all learn something from Niku’s story and I can only hope that he has inspired all of us to further pursue our dreams and to make more selfless decisions.