Old But Interesting: The Art Of Touring

Touring Professionals Forum
Better Preparation for Venues and Promoters

Moderator: Steve Macfadyen, SM Productions
Jake Berry, Tour Manager
Dave Brown, Wright Entertainment Group
Marty Hom, Tour Manager
Shelley Lazar, SLO Limited
Mike “Coach” Sexton, Tour Manager
Patrick Stansfield, Patrick Stansfield & Associates

This panel of veteran touring professionals has seen the concert industry through several decades. From production size to cater-ing to luxury boxes to holds, things have changed dramatically over the last 30 years. Dealing with those changes and getting everybody involved on the same page is the challenge.

Legendary tour manager Patrick Stansfield said the change started in 1970.

“Shows began getting bigger and we went outside the small and medium-sized theatres, which were very hospitable venues, and we started going into sports halls ”“ essentially coliseums ”“ and some outdoor venues,” he explained.

“The sports buildings knew about the circus and about the ice shows. They didn’t know much about one-off or two-day attractions and they were very resistant to any sort of concept of a service mentality.”

Though things have come a long way since 1970, there are still many issues to work out between touring personnel and buildings.

Jake Berry, who recently finished an outing with The Rolling Stones, remembered what it was like in the good ol’ days.

“We used to do the advance on a pay phone from a credit card we’d stolen from another band because we didn’t have enough money to pay for it,” he reminisced, much to the amusement of CIC delegates.

That evolved into buildings giving the production staff an office with a phone line, then eventually a fax machine, and then a high-speed line. Then the tour managers wanted the same things and so did the artists.

“So, we’ve gone from a stolen credit card and a pay phone in our business to 20 phone lines. And we can’t do a show without 20 phone lines,” Berry said. “Buildings have been helpful; they understand what we need to do.”
Venues also have had to adapt to productions that have increased in size nine-fold.

“They’ve gone from three trucks to five trucks to 27 trucks and the weights are increasing,” said Marty Hom, who rushed into the panel fresh from the Bette Midler tour. “I’m hanging 120,000 pounds on Bette Midler.”

He complained that a lot of buildings take their time in getting structural information to tour organizers.

“Sometimes we’re going into some of these buildings not knowing if we can hang the show in there,” he said.

“I think it’s important to all of us that you make a concentrated effort to get us that information as soon as possible, that you make sure structural engineers look at those buildings.”

The mofo ticket queen herself, Shelley Lazar, said holds have become an issue of contention with buildings.

“My beef is that I work for the artist and I have to answer to the artist ”“ ”˜Why is my psychiatrist or my plastic surgeon sitting in a seat that is not the best seat?’” she explained. “It’s very difficult to go back to an artist and explain, ”˜Well, it was the promoter’s hold or the building’s hold. … It was the sponsor’s hold.’ I really think the buildings have to remember that it’s the artist’s show.”

Similarly, it seems that luxury boxes are eating up seats ”“ not just because they’re not being paid for, but because buildings are now trying to relocate luxury box owners if the production blocks their view.

“So not only don’t we get paid for the luxury boxes, they don’t want to pay us for the house seats that the box-holders are in,” tour manager Stuart Ross said from the audience. “The second problem is that they want to sell more seats inside the boxes on the day of the show … selling standing room in boxes.”

Indeed, Lazar said she has had band members on Midler’s tour who are furious that their tickets are not as good as the people who are being relocated from luxury boxes.

The problem is, “we never should have let it happen in the first place,” Mike “Coach” Sexton said. “Now the horse is out of the barn.”

However, a rebellion is under way.

Ross said Metallica has a clause in its contract that states the band will not allow relocates.

“That’s [the building’s] problem. I’m not going to pay for them,” he said.

Hom concurred.

“We’ve run into this problem with Bette Midler a few times. We’ve made the buildings pay for those relocates ”“ up to 600 or 700 tickets sometimes.”

Making sure the artist is happy was a reccurring theme. One of the panelists, Dave Brown, was in a unique situation, being the only touring pro on the stage who works with young acts ”“ currently Justin Timberlake.

He said there’s a discrepancy between the way veteran acts and young artists are treated.

“Sometimes the buildings feel that they don’t need to give that special attention [to young acts] even though we are selling out multiple nights,” he said. “We don’t get treatment like The Rolling Stones.”

Making sure everyone is on the same page regarding security is just one more element that can make or break a show as far as the artist is concerned. Lazar, who also owns a secu-rity company, recommended a pre-show meeting between band and building security.

“There’s nothing more frustrating than having an argument with a security guard at the Staples Center, telling that security guard, ”˜Paul McCartney wants the people up dancing. Do not make them sit down,’” she said.

Also on the list of complaints was the lack of consistency between buildings with things like tour accounting and catering.

“How can it be that when you go to a building, it takes 10 hours to get a copy of one bill and you go to another building and it takes 10 minutes?” Sexton asked. Or “building A has catering that’s twice as good as building B but it’s half the cost. … It comes down to organization and people being prepared and working toward the same common good.”

Hom said he didn’t carry catering on Midler’s latest outing ”“ feeling that is the wave the future ”“ but he regrets the decision.

“It’s been so inconsistent on this tour for us and we’ve had to go in there and fight and settle every night about taking money off,” he said. “I think [buildings] need to work with us and I think they need to really look hard and improve the quality of the food.”

It sounded like the touring pros were picking on venues but Berry said, “We’re really not.”

“At the end of the day, we’re two teams working together to produce one event,” he said. “The only winner
is the show if it works and people enjoy it.”

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