You may have heard of famous DJs touring across the world, but do you really know what it’s like to be that person behind the scenes?
Manny Zelaya, 42, is the tour manager for the #1 DJ in the world, Hardwell.
Zelaya has always had a dream of traveling the world. At age 13, he pulled out a map and pointed out to his mother all the different countries that he would like to visit when he grew up. His mother believed that he had to be a doctor or lawyer in order to do that, but Zelaya had a different vision.
Zelaya grew up with his Colombian parents in New Jersey and later moved to Miami where he began his career as a tour manager.
But what exactly does a tour manager do?
“A tour manager does everything that is needed on the road for an artist,” Zelaya said.
Tour managers travel with artists worldwide and are responsible for booking flights and hotels for them, handle all the technical needs, special effects or anything else an artist wants while on the road.
“We’re here to make an artist’s life easier on the road,” he said.
His dream of traveling the world started when top electronic music DJ Erick Morillo asked Zelaya to be his tour manager in 2008.
“I really had no idea what a tour manager was, but he was like, ‘I really need somebody I can trust and I’ll show you the ropes,’” Zelaya said.
After five years of working with Erick Morillo, Zelaya resigned and decided to open up his own tour management company – On Tour Management -- in 2013.
“I realized that there weren’t a lot of good tour managers on the road, so I said you know what, I’m going to start a company. I’m going to start training a lot of guys, like myself, so we can start tour managing DJs,” he said.
On Tour Management, founded in Miami, is now responsible for working with top DJs in the popular dance music genre. Some of the DJs include: Hardwell, Dannic, Dyro, Nicky Romero and Nicole Moudaber, just to name a few.
“I feel I live a privileged life. I never thought in a million years that I’d be traveling the world first class, rubbing elbows with some of the biggest celebrities out there right now,” Zelaya said.
But traveling around the world for so many consecutive days comes with some disadvantages. Zelaya said it is difficult to have a steady relationship. Thankfully, he has a girlfriend who understands his lifestyle and sympathizes with him.
Zelaya said he does the best that he can so she doesn’t forget about him, including sending flowers whenever he is on a long tour on the road.
Losing track of time with his family is another disadvantage. Zelaya says he only gets to visit his mother about twice a year.
Even with those obstacles, he said he is living the dream.
“It’s a very privileged dream and I’m very humble about it,” he said.
His accomplishments have taken him a long way. He was recently invited to be featured on a panel of speakers at the EDM Biz Conference in Las Vegas. Zelaya is the only tour manager invited to speak at the expo.
“The people behind the scenes are not recognized, they don’t get enough credit. So I’m happy to shine a light on those people,” he said.
Zelaya said he is looking forward to the conference in Vegas as it leads up to the Electric Daisy Carnival, one of the nation’s biggest music festivals where superstar DJ, Hardwell is scheduled to headline.
When asked how it felt to be working with the top DJ in the world, Zelaya said it never really hit him.
“It’s a big wow working with Hardwell and it’s a pleasure. He’s a nice young man, very humble, and it’s really nice to work with this guy right now,” he said. “It’s really an honor.”
Zelaya’s vision for On Tour Management is to expand the company with more full time tour managers and to work with not only DJs, but with rock bands, live musicians, artists and singers.
He would love to work with artists like U2, Coldplay or even Justin Timberlake.
When Zelaya has free time, he likes to spend it in his hometown of Miami. His favorite spots? Enjoying dinner at Bazaar in South Beach or a night out at world-renowned Club LIV.
“I fell in love with Miami and have been living here for 17 years and will probably be living here till the day I die,” he said.