Month

March 2017

How to Create a Backline Rider

What is backline?

Backline is the musical equipment that a band uses for a performance. This can include, but is not limited to amplifiers, instruments, effect pedals, drum kits, cymbals, percussion, keyboards, synthesizers, you name it.

Why would you hire backline?

At some point in time you are going to have a performance where it is going to make considerably more sense both logistically, as well as financially to hire backline locally. Maybe it is a one-off half way across the country, or perhaps you are finishing a tour and need to get to a press event quickly where there would be no way for your gear to make it in time. Perhaps you simply can’t afford to pay the cost of freighting your gear, or maybe you just want to try out a new amp. A number of situations abound, and this is where your local backline vendor is going to come into play.

How to put together a backline rider

Putting together a clear, concise backline rider is important, because this is what you’re going to service to the backline vendor, in an effort at getting exactly what you want. Emphasis on being specific. Don’t casually omit important information that the backline company needs in order to fulfill your order. Make, model, version, etc. The last thing you want is a surprise when showing up to an engagement on a tight schedule.

Continue Reading…

Professional Touring Personnel – The Road Crew

The Road Crew

The term “roadie” is slang that is often used to describe touring personnel, and for many people it conjures images of a rag-tag bunch of drug using, hard drinking road pirates, dressed from head to toe in nothing but black. While this most assuredly existed at one point in time, this notion is something that now belongs to a by-gone era. Every once in a while you’ll encounter someone who stood next to a speaker stack for a tad too long, but I digress…

Behind every successful concert tour there is a highly skilled road crew working behind the scenes to make sure the show goes off without a hitch. They are the support network that helps to deliver that amazing performance by your favorite artist. These are the people who get into the venue first thing in the morning, and are the last ones to leave, long after the last note has rung out. Who are these people? What exactly do they do?

Below I’ve outlined some of the more common roles you would find on a typical tour. This is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of what roles you might find on a tour. With the increase in size and scale of the operation, you will typically find more specialized roles. On smaller tours you may find some of the roles doubling up to save money. Regardless, these are the people who work together on a day to day basis to make sure the artist and fans alike have the best possible experience.

Tour Manager

The tour manager oversees all departments and is responsible for the health and day-to-day function of a tour. The position is logistics heavy, and involves long hours. The tour manager handles transportation, hotels, press, hospitality, backstage, security, settlement, guest list, and most importantly, the needs of the artist. This is not a comprehensive list, as there is a minutia of daily tasks that inevitably arise. On smaller tours, you will find a TM wearing multiple hats. On a larger tour, certain tasks will be delegated with oversight.

Production Manager

A good production manager is indispensable. They are the ones who oversees all of the technical aspects of a performance. Sound, lights, staging, rigging, backline, power requirements, you name it. They work with local crew, alongside touring crew to build the show each and every day in a variety of environments. Attention to detail is paramount in this role, as the smallest oversight can lead to the derailment of the performance.

Front of House

The front of house engineer is in control of the mix that is coming out of the speakers that face the audience. If you’ve ever attended a show, what you are hearing is being controlled by the FOH. They have a deep knowledge of acoustics, electronics, microphones, and what works well in different situations. Different rooms have different acoustic properties, and watching a touring FOH engineer navigate the nuances of a difficult room is quite remarkable. By knowing the songs of the artist they are working for they are able to enhance the songs by highlighting key parts. You will more often than not find them located towards the back of the room, in front of the glowing soundboard.

Monitors

Located on the side of the stage is the monitor engineer, or MON for short. They are the one who is in control of the mix that the band hears on stage. Sometimes they are mixing wedges, other times they are mixing in ear monitors, or sometimes they are mixing a combination of both. If the band can’t hear themselves on stage, understandably this is going to impact the performance in a negative way. When you can tell that a band is really enjoying themselves on stage, they likely have a great monitor mix.

Lighting Designer

The lighting designer is in charge of all things visual relating to the performance. They will consult with the artist and management prior to the start of the tour and design a light show that compliments and enhances the artist’s live show. On a daily basis they work with local crew to set up the tour’s lighting rig, supplementing what is already available in house. Once completed they will focus the lights and make sure there is appropriate coverage on the stage. They are typically stationed alongside the front of house engineer, at the back of the room. Click here to see an example of a professional lighting designer’s work.

Backline Tech

Backline refers to all of the gear on stage. This could include instruments, amplifiers, drums, pedal boards, synthesizers, etc. The backline tech’s role is to set up, maintain, and tear down the backline on a day to day basis. On a smaller tour, you might have one backline tech setting up all of the gear on stage. On larger tours, these roles become more specialized and you might have a guitar tech, drum tech, keyboard tech, etc. They will help to line check, and prepare all of the gear for the band’s soundcheck. During soundcheck trouble spots are realized and fixed. During the performance they will watch the stage, handle instrument changes, and fix any issues that arise on the fly.

Merchandiser

The merchandiser sets up the artist’s store on a day to day basis. This position involves foreseeing inventory needs, discussing product designs with the artist, ordering stock, setting up the store, interacting with fans, settling merchandise rates with the promoter, hiring and managing local sellers, and counting out at the end of the night with a fervor. They deal with cash and credit transactions and are very much the face of the tour, as they are the ones who are interacting with fans on a very personal level.

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There are a number of touring roles not covered here. Bus drivers, personal assistants, massage therapists, carpenters, personal security, catering, etc.. Also integral to the daily operation of a tour (but not covered here) are managers, day-to-day managers, booking agents, business managers, publicists, radio reps, label folks, the list goes on and on.

The Difference Between a Buyout and Per Diem

Understanding the difference between a per diem and a buyout may seem elementary to those who have been touring for a while, but for those who are very new to touring, it can be quite confusing. Imagine the scene, someone approaching you with a wad of cash. “Ok, here is your buyout for today, along with your per diem for this week. Sign here. Thanks.” You are left with a pile of money, and you don’t really know why you are receiving it, or what it is for.

What is a buyout?

A buyout is the amount of money you receive in lieu of receiving a meal. This money is coming from the hospitality budget of the show. Generally speaking, this money is meant to cover the dinner meal, but it can be used for whatever you want. The amount of the buyout will vary show to show, especially depending on how the show is selling.

In this scenario, you will have to source your own food. When the club is in an area with lots of restaurants, this can be a great way to take a break from the venue and get out and see what the city has to offer. For those who cannot leave their work stations, the tour manager will coordinate a food order that will be delivered to the venue.

What is a per diem?

A per diem is an agreed upon amount of money you receive from the tour. This is a daily, agreed upon rate that is typically paid out weekly (IE: 7 days at a time), in cash, by the tour manager or tour accountant. For example, if you agreed to a $35 per day per diem, you would receive a weekly cash payment of $245. This is typically given out on the same day every week, and you will be required to sign a receipt of some sort. This amount is not taxable. Per diems are received regardless of what the hospitality situation is for any given day.

If you’ve toured for any amount of time, you will definitely have the moment of, “Did I receive my PD this week?” Thus why signing the receipt is very important for both you and the tour accountant. In some instances, it is possible to arrange for a direct deposit of your PD’s, but most people like to have some walking around money in their pockets.

In practice

So, for example, let’s say you have a show where breakfast, lunch, and dinner are provided in the form of catering. In this situation, you would NOT receive a buyout, but you would still receive your per diem. To make it super simple and avoid any confusion, if you receive a hot meal, you will not receive a buyout. If you have any outstanding questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Getting Connected in Cuba

People queue in line for Cuban internet.While standing in “line” to purchase an internet card, I was reminded that this particular arrangement of humans is but a distant figment of my imagination, in a different world. Here, the art of squashing together serves as both a defensive and offensive mechanism. By eliminating space between yourself and your neighbor, entry is prevented from others, and your own position is advanced at the same time. No take a number and have a seat here, folks.

Coupled with misunderstandings of language, I slowly began to wriggle my way towards the front. This goes against all feelings of learned patience I have conditioned myself to have. Blast! Defeat! The most petite and unsuspecting damsel has usurped my position by politely pushing me out of the way. My mind wanders back to Japan where a form of queueing exists in its most distilled, pure form. Cual es el ultimo?! Cual es el ultimo?!

Up until this point, I had been purchasing overpriced internet cards from nice, entrepreneurial gentlemen and their cohorts in the park for an unspecified, marked up price. In a way, it’s almost worth it to not have to deal with the line, and the early AM pushing and shoving. I had mixed success with this method. One time I was sold a card that where the code had not been scratched off (think of the gray bit on lotto tickets), but upon trying to use it, there was zero time left on the hour clock. A reminder to myself to do things the right way. Anyways…

Finally! Entry into the hallowed grounds of the state owned internet provider. Again, the pleasant feeling of what-do-I-do-now-anxiety creeps over me. Perhaps I will stand here, I think to myself. I will be out of the way! Incorrect again, but inching closer. Then, our eyes met. I could read it on her face. Not another bumbling transaction with a haphazard Spanish speaker. She signaled for me to approach the counter. I read somewhere that you should stock up on cards when given a chance. Having learned the hard way the past few days, I struck. “Cinco, por favor.” The most scathing “Please, honey” espanol eyeroll was offered to me. I lowered my bid to three. Success! The most beautiful 3 hours of internet was purchased for a hefty 4.50 CUC.

Having experienced the fledgling internet services of Cuba, I have garnered a deeper appreciation of the connectivity available at home. No lengthy queues, or uncertainty if I’m going to be able to send or receive news to a loved one far away. It’s easy to romanticize a world where people are not on their phones all day and wifi is not present in the home, but I would point out that not having access to information is anything but romantic. With wealth and government connections, certain Cubans are immune to the current system.

My understanding is that hotspots in some Cuban cities have been around for 2-3 year, and certain homes are currently being equipped with routers on a trial basis. When you are walking around, and suddenly see everyone’s face lit up by their mobile device, you have likely stumbled across a hot spot. I remember being in Playa Larga, and a hot spot was available, but there were no cards available for purchase. I asked when they might become available again, and was only told “mas tarde,” aka later. The cards never arrived, and I ended up in a 4 day black hole of connectivity. Sometimes it’s nice to be able to unplug, but in this particular moment, it was quite unwelcomed.

Communication is changing rapidly in Cuba. It will be interesting to visit in the future, and see how it has changed people’s lives.