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Gigs and Shows

Tour Catering – What You Need To Know

[dropcap]O[/dropcap]ne of my tips for career advancement in the music business is to know your place in ‘catering’, the area set aside backstage to feed everyone working on a show.

On a large-scale show (700-capacity and upward), it is common practice to bring in a catering crew to cook hot, nutritious meals for the artists, the touring crew, and (occasionally) the local crew. The catering crew either travels with the act for the duration of the tour or is a local crew sourced by the promoter. Catering crews work hard in either case. They start early and have to take into the venue everything they need to create hot, nutritional meals – ovens, gas bottles, fridges, flatware, ice machines and all the raw food. Caterers cook three main meals a day, and provide running buffets for up to 250 people a day, depending on the size of the production. And the food is always amazing, considering the environment the chefs prepare it in. Many of the world’s venues are not very good for producing music shows, let alone cooking!

I mention all this because, as with all modern show production, there is etiquette. Actually, it is just plain manners. So please consider these points when you file into catering to get your meal:

  • The caterers are not your Mum, and the catering area is not a commercial restaurant. These people got up at 7:00 a.m. and will not finish until 1:00 a.m. It is tough if you dislike what they have prepared. If you have a major dietary concern, then you have to inform someone well in advance—such as your tour manager.
  • Catering is the heart and soul of any show. People go there to meet up, to eat, and then to talk and relax. Be careful what you say here, especially if you are thinking of bitching about someone. Save that for your own transportation, your hotel room, or for when you have finished the tour.
  • Clear your plates, cutlery, and waste when you have finished. Again, the caterers are not your Mum, and it is not a commercial restaurant. Someone else will have to clear up your mess if you leave it after you have done eating – and that’s not fair on them.

You may think I am overdoing it with the advice here. Unfortunately, I have worked with people who had no respect or manners for anyone on the show, especially the caterers. As I keep saying, you only get one shot at making an impression. If someone will put that much hard work into something so integral to life, health, and happiness as your food, then you had better show them some respect.

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Gigs and Shows Tour Management Tour Production Management

Make Your Paperwork Temporary – Version Numbers and Expiry Dates

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]ouring creates lots of paperwork – contracts, riders, TV performance agreements, hotel rooming lists, etc – most of which has changing content. An example is the technical rider which contains an input list. The input list will change from time to time (the number of channels listed or the sources on stage for instance) as the artist changes instruments in her live set up, or her FOH engineer looks to re-order the list to make it less complex. The engineer creates a new input list and it is added to the technical rider, ready to be sent out to the promoters of a forthcoming run of concerts. Tour documents  already in circulation become redundant and are out-of-date. The fact they are in circulation causes confusion as venue technical staff won’t know which version of the input list they are supposed to be working from. It is a standard joke amongst touring crew to expect that the receiving venue or festival will have the wrong paperwork – but why?

The artist’s team should send paperwork they generate – riders etc – to the artist booking agent. The agent then sends the documents to promoters and festival organiser as part of the show booking process. The agent can only send out what she has on file; if no-one from the artist team sends her revised documents, then she will send out the old ones. Hence the confusion when the artist turns up at the gig and the local crew are looking at documents that are two years old.
Make sure someone sends updated documents to your booking agent first. Mark your contract riders and tech specs with an expiration date to avoid confusion. I would mark an input list for a run of summer festival shows as expiring at the end of August for instance — the end of the festival season in Europe and a natural break in the touring year.

Input list showing expiry date and revision numbers

You could also mark input lists, lighting plots, and other paperwork with version numbers as in V1.01, V1.02, and so on. This is a practice from the software industry and ensures the recipients of your documents are reading from the most recent version. For example, when talking through a document with a house lighting person you could say ‘I am referring to version 3.02 of our lighting spec here – is that the one you have in front of you?’

 

Finally, make old paperwork temporary by inserting “replaces all previous versions” on all your documents.

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Artist Management Gigs and Shows Tour Management Tour Production Management

Who Should Get The AAA Pass?

The AAA – access all areas – pass is the revered token that denotes hip rock n roll success. You either have one, or you don’t. Having an AAA pass means you are in the band, in the crew, or are so close to the band they deem it necessary for you to have the same access privileges to those special places – the dressing rooms, the green rooms, the ‘artist only catering’ areas and so on. But if everyone you know is special – who is special?

Touring artists and their crew will receive AAA passes from the tour manager. These passes are usually in the form of a laminated picture or graphic, worn on a lanyard around the AAA holders neck and are good for the whole tour. The tour manager gives security and stewarding personnel working the show a pass sheet (see figure 1); pictures of the various show credentials on this sheet enable the security team to know which passes allow the holder into which areas. The promoter/organiser will issue their own temporary passes for the night, (which may replace the artist’s own passes) and, unlike the laminates, are temporary for the one show only. You stick these passes on, and so I refer to them as ‘stickies’ or ‘silks’. Passes issued by the promoter will designate various categories and privileges:

  • Working: Stage hands, caterers, drivers – no ‘back stage’ or dressing room access
  • Press – journalists, bloggers, and photographers – limited back stage or dressing room access
  • VIP – issued to ‘important’ working people – local record store owners, radio station heads, regional record company employees, regional booking agents – allow access to meet and greet/VIP area after the show with little or no dressing room access.
  • Access All Areas – as it says on the tin – the bearer can go anywhere.
A back stage pass sheet
Figure 1: A backstage pass sheet showing the various accreditation for tonight’s show, and the level of access for each.

Heads of record companies, artist managers, guitarists’ boyfriends, and booking agents, will often insist on being given AAA tour laminates even though they might only turn up for the LA show (for instance) Being given an AAA laminate shows they are ‘one of the club’ – important beyond being the mere head of the record company.

Politically, it is a good idea then to give out AAA passes for your agent, manager, label people, and boyfriends – these people are important to the continued success of your band – they are all working hard on your behalf and should therefore be given the same status as the rest of the touring organisation. However, it is not a good idea to give all these people the same access privileges as the full-time touring party; you really do not want guests (however important they may be) escorting a load of their drunken friends to the backstage areas. The backstage area of a modern concert is a working environment. Production offices filled with laptops and printers, clothes, and personal effects, and there is sound and light equipment everwhere. Amplifier racks, lighting dimmer racks, mains distributions boards, hundreds of cables, and other trip hazards – there may even be pyrotechnics. It’s not a safe place to be if you have had a few beers.

So you need to give “higher” access to these VIPs, and you need to control just how much access they have without pissing them off. You will risk offending these special guests if you give them a lowly sticky pass. You also have to decide who is eligible to escort other people into certain areas. Ideally, no-one except the tour manager, or the artist themselves, should be able to usher non-AAA pass holding human beings into certain designated areas. The reality is different, and all those important-but-not-important people with an AAA pass will insist of waltzing pass security accompanied by their niece, personal trainer, or someone else they are trying to impress. And you can’t say to the security people, “This person with an AAA can escort, but this person with an AAA cannot.” So how do you get around this problem? A common solution is to have ‘dots’ on the laminates—small sticky stars or circles (or whatever) that signify special privileges. The guests can still go anywhere they want, but they cannot bring non-AAA guests with them. This way everyone ‘important’ gets an AAA pass. Everyone important also has an AAA pass, and dots, and they can get where they want, and be able to escort, bloggers, radio station presenters, and friends. No one is offended, and everyone is granted a sensible amount of access.

Wherever possible, I restrict escort privileges for the band members on a tour. In my experience the musicians get far too much pressure from friends and family; everyone is asking for everyone else to get into the dressing room. I am not trying to create a bizarre personal kingdom by limiting access. The backstage area of a modern concert is a working environment, and safety is of the utmost importance. Therefore, I always feel it necessary to restrict the number of people traipsing through these areas to the working personnel only. There is always the hotel bar for socialising!

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Gigs and Shows

The House Sound Guy Is Not A Jerk (And This Is Why)

[dropcap][/dropcap]The person employed to set up, run, and maintain the venue’s sound system for visiting acts is the venue’s audio technician a.k.a. the “house sound guy”. If you create music that needs to be amplified—(pretty much any contemporary music) then the house engineer will help you when you arrive to perform your show. Likewise, you will work with the house guys when perform on stage at an outdoor festival. (Their house is a tent or flatbed truck, and you get the idea.) The house audio tech is there to place microphones, DI boxes, and monitor wedges that will amplify your instruments and enable you to hear yourself onstage. He then will mix your sound for you (unless you have  your own engineer with you). The house guy also has to do the same for all the other bands on the bill that night. Think about that for a second.

Everyone has an opinion about the venue audio technician, like, “Jeez, that house sound guy was such a jerk,” usually in response to having a ‘bad show’. That response is not fair, and it happens because the house audio tech is an easy target. A loud buzz ruined your sensitive ballad? Blame the sound guy. The audience left halfway through? The house sound guy must have made you sound bad. And so on. See, it’s easy to shift the blame to the house sound guy, isn’t it?

There are inexperienced house engineers out there, and the nature of the environment does not help even the most able of audio technicians. For instance, many club shows feature 3 or more acts per night, who often have ‘eclectic’ instrumentation, who are all forced to set up on tiny stages, and in a hurry. The house guy must get all these various sound sources mic’ed up one at a time, and the resulting inputs mixed together. All in a short space of time. Indecision, inefficiency, arrogance, or ignorance on behalf of the artists will not help this process at all.

The most common cause of discontent on stage is sub-standard audio sources. In the many years I have been working, I still see bands and DJs turn up for a sound check with cheap, broken equipment, and expect the sound onstage and in the house to be perfect. There is a popular saying: “You cannot polish a turd”, and it applies to sound checks and gigs; if your instruments sound thin, crackly, buzzy, and out of tune onstage, then that is how they will sound to the audience, only louder! If, on the other hand, the source sounds – your amp, turntables, microphone etc – are the best they can be,  making them louder will not be a problem. The sound in your monitors, and in the house PA, will be decent, and you will have a great show. So, maybe the house guy is not a jerk – he is just holding a (loud) mirror to your imperfections?

And, as I am on the subject – sound checks are not a rehearsal. You should never assume you will have time to rehearse that new song during sound check. When it’s your time to sound check you should get your instruments or electronics set up and plugged in and listen to what the house audio tech asks you to do. Do not play or sing until they ask you and keep looking at the house guy all the time so you will catch his “stop playing” signals. I have known sound checks to cause a great deal of frustration to musicians, technicians, house staff, promoters, artist managers, and booking agents alike. I don’t understand why. A sound check should not be a battle of wills – you should be supplying output from all your stage instruments so the person behind the front-of-house desk can mix it all together and make you sound fantastic.