I am aware that my ‘Tour Manager Challenge’ posts fizzled out with no real information as to how the band and I resolved the various logistical and financial constraints.
I am happy to report that the tour went very well, we had good fun and the band made a tiny amount of money – not much but certainly no where near the huge loss I was projecting.
I have a tour starting in mid- August and so have decided to document the work I do before and during a tour, here in this blog, in an attempt to describe what a modern concert tour manager really does.
May 01st 2008
I receive one of those ‘hi guys, I cannot do this one but can any one of you do it?’ type emails from a touring colleague of mine. The email specifies that a band is looking for crew for a tour of Europe and the UK to take place in August – the show dates have already been booked by the band’s booking agent. The email also advises that the band require FOH engineer and TM in one person as the budget for salaries is not large.
After reading the email I decide I have availability at that time and so after a flurry of emails back and forth with my colleague I find myself chatting on the phone to one of the band members along with a spreadsheet of the dates in my email inbox.
May 05th 2008
The band is a four piece from West Coast USA and is signed to a major label. They have a couple of previous releases and have been opening up for some very large, successful acts recently.
This tour is in support of their new album and takes in a mix of 350-900 capacity clubs and some festivals, 21 shows over 27 days. Standard stuff really.
My aim when starting with a new project is to get as much of a feel for the band and their ‘world’ as possible. For instance, I need to know where they are on the planet before the start of the tour and where they need to get to after the last date. Information about the band’s line-up and backline equipment they use will also help me with the first draft of production logistics.
My second priority when starting with a new act is to establish my salary for the tour or event, which person is actually paying me and what the invoicing process will be. For these reasons I very much prefer working with American acts as they nearly always employ business management as well as artistic management. (From experience it is always a very good thing if the artist manager is not also responsible for the band’s money.)
Business managers are usually very efficient when dealing with record company accounting departments; they can sometimes help freelancers avoid the protracted process of having to be set up as a vendor on the particular record companies accounting system.
My chat with the band member tells me that, yes they have artist management and a business management team. I also learn that William Morris in LA are the bands booking agent.
I email the artist managers in LA to introduce myself and through a series of messages we reach a compromise regarding my salary. I then talk to the business managers who send me a load of forms (I-9, W8) enabling me to be paid directly and also a road cash book they have devised.
I have my own road accounting system in place and am more than willing to use a system provided by the business management team. There can therefore be no disagreement regarding expenditure, providing I use their system correctly.
This entire process of negotiating salary and dealing with the business manager took me a couple of hours but it was time very well spent. I now have an agreed framework detailing the scope of my responsibilities, all my financial arrangements are in place and I know who I should be dealing with when it comes to invoicing. Tackling these matters at the start of the proceedings is a vital step – don’t skip it!
May 06th 2008
Right, I can start getting some work done!
The initial part of the concert tour pre-production process can be compared to an extremely infuriating jig saw puzzle. You have a lot of information and none of it fits together. With any tour there are myriad travel, equipment, financial and legal arrangements, some already in place and others needing to be arranged. There seems to be no logic to the information and, just like a jigsaw puzzle, you need to stare long and hard at the facts before the overall picture becomes clear.
An example would be travel arrangements for the start and the end of the tour. It is all very well knowing that the tour starts in one city and ends in the another; my problem involves assembling people and gear in on place, hopefully at the same time. This is difficult, especially when money is tight.
The first show of this tour is in Denmark on 6th August. The band have a show on the East Coast of the US on 4th August. This gives one day to travel from the US up to Scandinavia. The band has some of its backline in storage at Music Bank in London. The last date of the tour is in Deutsch-land, near Munster. The band are then flying back to the West Coast of the US. For travel, it makes sense to use a sleeper bus, given the distance involved between the cities on the tour.
Those are the facts but they are not making my logistical challenges any easier. For instance, where should I fly the band in and out of? Ideally it would be East Coast US to Denmark and then out of Deutschland back to West Coast US. However that routing will be extremely expensive. I also have to think about the bus and the backline. A bus from the UK could pick up the backline and then head up to Denmark, which will take about 3 days, and then head back to UK, dropping the gear back in London after the final date. So I could fly the band in and out of London and then they could travel up on the bus to Denmark.
This last option would be less expensive but we do not have three days to play with. The band have a one day travel window between the US and Scandinavia.
With this kind of problem I find consulting a map usually helps – after a while a solution will become apparent! After staring at the map and doing a lot of research I find that many flights go direct from Boston to Amsterdam. Given the bus is traveling from England up to Scandinavia, I could have the band fly into Amsterdam and have the bus pick them up from there on the morning of the Denmark show. I could then also drop the band back at Amsterdam after the final German show for the return flight to the West Coast, also a direct flight.
A previously fuzzy picture is now coming into focus.