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Tour Advice

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.

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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.

How to Assemble a Guest List

The guest list is a seemingly simple endeavor, but for whatever reason becomes the pitfall of many a tour manager. What’s so hard about writing a bunch of names down? Well, that’s the thing. It doesn’t have to be hard. What’s difficult is going from scrawling 5 names on a bar napkin to finagling a 100+ person list with varied tiers of credentialing. It’s the same basic concept, but for the uninitiated it seems like an insurmountable task.

The first step is to find a better way of collecting your guests. Collecting names via inbox and text message does work, but it is quite time consuming, and greatly increases the risk of a name being left off. I’ve found that using a shared cloud document does a much better job of replacing the previously mentioned method. You still bear the ultimate responsibility of making sure everyone is taken care of, but it removes the step of trying to find the names amongst a cluttered inbox. All of the names are somehow magically there! Albeit, there is some formatting to be done, but goshdernit, they are there!

Some categories to include on this document: last name, first name, who is requesting, what organization they are with, how many tickets, and what (if any) credentials this person may need. Getting people in the habit of using this document will help to streamline your day. If a specific show has parameters or limitations on the guest list, make this information known well in advance. If a deadline is approaching, remind people. It’s your job.

Below is an example of what I’m talking about.

guestlist-templateWait as long as possible to submit your guest list. Without fail, you will receive a guest list addition seconds after you submit your list to the box office. It happens every time. Go ahead and get over it. Now, with that being said, set some clear expectations from the get go.

I like to ask that people submit their guests no later than three hours prior to doors. This allows you ample time to stuff envelopes and deal with all the other stuff that comes up in your day. If someone submits something late, especially a new support band on a tour, let them know they are late. If you don’t, you are going to be dealing with that nonsense all tour long.

Knowing where a guest request is coming from is important. If something changes, or needs attention, you have to know who to contact to pass information along. More importantly it’s for accountability and security, especially if someone has been granted backstage credentials.

Make sure to alphabetize your list. The faster they can find the name, the faster people get into the room. Nothing worse that a slow door. Also make sure to include your contact information at the bottom of the list should any issues arise and things need to get sorted quickly. Worst feeling in the world is when a guest is kept waiting outside, for whatever reason.

New York, Los Angeles, Nashville, London. They are industry hubs, and because of this, the guest lists here tend to be slightly more complicated than elsewhere. Consider coordinating a ticket buy months in advance to avoid anyone being left out in the cold. Capacity issues are a real thing. Nip it in the bud. If you get in the habit of treating every guest list like you would a NYC or LA guest list, soon you won’t be able to tell the difference.

We’ve all received that text at some point. “Hey, buddy.” For whatever on earth could this human I have not heard from in months possible want 10 minutes before doors on a show that’s been sold out for months? I’m always down to help people when I can, but my thought process these days tends to yield closer to the territory of they should know better. Sorry!

One thing I do try to make happen is courtesy for other bands and crew who might be in the neighborhood on a day off. Have a few folks who want to come out to the show and say hello? Of course! I think that’s an important practice, and one that should be honored. Treat others how you would like to be treated. Simple stuff.

If you are dealing with a seated show, you can’t just haphazardly submit names. You need to look at a seating chart, and figure out who needs to sit where. Who wants to show up as a group and then be fractured into a terrible seating arrangement? Bad TM, bad! Beyond groupings of persons, it’s important to think about who is in the room. Would it make sense for person A to know person B? Facilitate that, controller of guest list!

When you do finally submit the guest list, print off two copies. Submit one to the box office. Keep the other one posted in your production office. When an issue arises, you can simply look up and see exactly what you submitted. When you realize you’ve made a doofus mistake, you can own up to it as well. Do not pass blame off to anyone, ever. That person working the box office has a tough job. Make it as easy for them as possible. Earlier I said to include your contact information when submitting the guest list. Don’t forget to get the box office contact as well.

Make sure you let your guests know where to pick up their passes. This is something you don’t want to have to deal with day of show. Club shows are fairly intuitive as far as where to pick up passes, but festivals are the difficult ones because of the sprawling nature of their layout. Include a map and as much helpful information as possible.

Credentials

Now, as far as credentialing, there are an infinite number of tiers or types of tickets/passes one could include. For the sake of example and simplicity, I’m going to keep things pretty basic here. If you find yourself in a situation where you don’t know what a pass means, ask.

Variations in shape, size, color, and finish are meant to help security differentiate between levels of credentialing. Passes are often checked in low light environments. Keep this in mind when reviewing potential designs for a pass order. Arrange to have a security meeting before doors to go over any outstanding issues, and make sure the house security is on the same page as the tour. Give them a color copied sheet of what each pass means. Also, when putting tickets and passes in envelopes for the door, make sure to seal them. Don’t let your passes go missing.

Cube Passes has some really great examples of what all is possible in this realm. I’ve used them in the past, and I highly recommend them.

All Access (w/ escort) – this is the pass that will allow you to go anywhere, along with being able to escort guests backstage. Maybe the headliners pass has a hologram on it, or is a different color, to denote escort privileges. I never grant escort privileges to support in an effort to keep a clean backstage, and to avoid any security issues. Things always happen when people are escorted back, and suddenly disappear.

All Access (w/ no escort) – See above.

VIP – Sometimes a venue offers a hidden room, a back bar, or a table that is neatly placed with fantastic sight lines and a bit of privacy. Maybe you want to make someone feel extra special? There are lots of options in how a VIP pass can work.

After Show  – This is the pass that will allow guests to come back for an after show meet and greet. This would not allow access to the VIP area. When you submit your guest list, include instructions for where after show guests should meet to be brought backstage.

Photo  – The photo policy for every artist is going to be different. It is up to you to make sure the house knows your photo policy. In my experience, I’ve found that the first three songs with no flash is industry standard for shooting. I typically don’t allow stage or backstage access, unless we are specifically bringing in a known and trusted photographer. Be wary with video, because some venues charge an origination fee for professionally shot material. Put your photo policy on the guest list when you submit it.

Working – Perhaps you have local crew who need to be credentialed for the day. Voila!

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Take the ideas here and apply them to your situation. Submit your guest list with confidence. When you don’t hear anything from anyone on a busy list night, you’ve done your job well. Continue to do so. Have feedback? Would love to hear from you.

How to Create a Stage Plot and Input List

Let me offer a recent, real life example of why sending an up to date stage plot and input list when advancing is critically important.

We had a fly date into a festival in San Francisco, with a tight window of arrival. Our window became even tighter when our flight out of LAX was cancelled, and we were bumped to a later flight, now arriving across the bay in Oakland. It was one of those moments on the road where things are out of your control, and travel is either going to work out, or it isn’t, so it’s best to simply relax. With pre-arranged ground transportation botched, the festival hustled and sent us a runner van to get us on site. With traffic from Oakland into San Francisco, we ended up arriving on site 29 minutes prior to stage time. Woof.

There is a certain due process to arriving on site at a festival. Artist check in, meeting up with the festival liaison, getting your bearings, settling into the dressing room, checking in with production, checking in with backline, loading or crossloading gear to stage, building gear, grabbing a bite to eat, potential press, using the bathroom, etc. The picture that I am trying to paint is that there are a lot of things that happen before your set, and when you arrive so close to set time, things you have done in advance become even more important.

Walking onto stage, it was as if an ethereal force had descended and backline, monitors, and mics were all placed exactly where they needed to be. How did it get to be this way? How did they know to put it like this? Allow me to introduce you to the Stage Plot and Input List.

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How to Pre-Advance a Tour

Before beginning the advancing process, I strongly suggest taking the time to pre-advance your tour. Well, hell! I don’t even know what advancing is yet! I know, I know. In the coming weeks, this is all going to make so much more sense. More articles will become available, and you will be able to click right here (live soon), and find out exactly what advancing is.

What is the pre-advance? It is a necessary step of organization that will end up saving you time, grief, and make you a more effective communicator.

Think of it this way: pretend you have a 30 date tour, and within each and every one of those dates is a task that takes 5 minutes to complete if you don’t pre-advance. If you do pre-advance you can save yourself 2.5 hours of repeating this task. I don’t know about you, but that seems appealing to me. IE: Did I already send the shop list? Hmm, scour, scour, scour. Aha! I have! Wish I had made note of that!

The needs of your tour will dictate exactly how this looks, but for simplicities sake I’ve included a very general checklist of how to pre-advance your tour.

  • Create an advancing template. This is what you’re going to be sending out to promoters and production.

advancing-template-photo

  • Update all riders, stage plots, input lists, backline lists, and tax documents. So much can change in between tours. It is important to be working with current documents. Imagine one change on an input list. Doesn’t seem like much, right? Wrong. By sending out that incorrect input list, you’ve now created one additional task for yourself every single day of the tour. IE: You need an extra line run stage right for a second guitar cabinet. Instead of sending this along from the get-go, now you must walk to stage, find the audio personnel who needs to receive this message (who may not be around at the moment), deliver the message, and now your workflow has been interrupted. Let’s conservatively estimate this takes 10 minutes. That’s 5 hours of your precious life squandered over the course of this hypothetical 30-day tour.

How to Make a Stage Plot and Input List (coming soon)

  • File all of these documents in the same folder on your computer. This way when you are ready to advance, you aren’t opening up multiple folders, constantly looking for files. You can open one folder, select all the files, and attach them to the email. Make sure to include the artist’s name, what the file is, and what time period the file pertains to. You have to imagine the inbox of the person likely receiving these files. They are inundated on a daily basis with stage plots and input lists. Make it as easy as possible for them to find yours.

advancing-folder

  • Create a spreadsheet that is going to help you organize the status of your advances and travel arrangements. It should include when the advance was sent, when a follow up was made, if you’ve heard back, and what outstanding issues require attention. This is one of the most important parts of the pre-advance. This is the sheet you quickly glance at to figure out if a task has been completed or needs attention. I must again drive home that one size does not fit all in the advancing world. Festivals have different needs than a club show. Fly dates have different needs than a van or bus tour. Customize! Download an example here.

pre-advance-spreadsheet

  • I like to add drive times and time zone changes when I’m building my pre-advance spreadsheet. It is helpful when coordinating logistics and saves repeated visits to Google Maps. It also becomes helpful when reviewing bus quotes.
  • It is important to share the status of advancing with your crew and management. Sharing a document on Google Drive tends to do the trick. It’s not another email in the inbox, and people can log on at their leisure to check on the status of something. Doubly, it lets people know that things are being worked on, and reduces the chance of someone attending to an issue that’s already been dealt with.
  • Zero out all cash float sheets, expense reports, and income documents. Again, file these in one folder.
  • Create files and folders on your desktop that pertain to the current tour you are working on. As information and attachments come in, file them away. Deal memos, receipts, tech packs, etc. You never know when you might get stuck without wifi on site.
  • Depending on the email client you’re using, I’d suggest creating a label for the specific tour you’re working on. Less chance of missing something, and easier to find something after the fact.

The idea behind all of this is to create organization and structure for a ton of information that will begin to come your way once you actually start advancing. If you have a good framework from the get go, you will save yourself a great deal of time and frustration, along with having a more pleasant experience once you get into the thick of it.