As this whole passing of time thing continues its unfaltering march towards infinity, I figured why not take a minute to reflect on what all has happened this year. A little notch made on the metaphysical tree bark, if you will, that perhaps some future version of myself might one day find curious.January – Cadillac Ranch – Amarillo, TX – Fledgling memories with a new troop of troubadours.February – Rialto Beach – Forks, WA – If I was looking for powerful, I found it.
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.
Wait 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.
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!
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.
What is advancing?
Advancing is a process that begins weeks before a show or tour ever begins. It’s the period of time where needs are expressed and logistical pitfalls are overcome, in order to prepare for a successful day of show. No two advances are the same. Each one is different, and must be tailored to meet the needs of the situation you’re in.
Advancing can include, but is not limited to discussions on parking, labor, load in, load out, scheduling, audio, lighting, hospitality, merchandise, venue amenities, guestlist, meet and greets, press, security, hotels, settlement, the list goes on.
As outlined in the pre-advancing lesson, organization is key. You are opening the flood gates of your inbox, and having a solid base for how you are going to stay on top of information and requests will drastically improve the quality of your life once you’re in the thick things.
You know that thing about first impressions? How they tend to last? Think of that when you’re sending out your advance. It’s the first contact you’re making with the house, and it sets the tone for how your show is going to be run in a few weeks. Venue staff and production can smell a turd in their inbox. Equally, I’ve learned when I’m about to step into a pile myself. Don’t be that turd.
There are an infinite number of situations that could arise day of show. No advance will totally full-proof your day, but it can tighten things up significantly. Think of something very simple, like arriving to a major metropolitan city while towing a trailer. If you express your parking needs before arriving, you will more than likely arrive to the most beautiful looking coned off spots, where you will easily be able to pull in your rig. Onlookers will gasp and swoon as you pull in. Who do these parking spots belong to?! My friend, they belong to you, because you advanced it.
Below I’ve included a very general advancing template. It is going to be overkill for an open mic night, and likely not enough for a larger situation. The questions you actually end up asking will depend greatly on who you’re touring with, the crew you’ve hired, what you’re traveling in, what kind of gear you’re bringing (or not bringing in), if you have support on the tour, and what style show it is (club, festival, something else).
Be mindful of who, and what you’re dealing with while advancing. There is a balance of getting the information you need, and over advancing something. This is only a template. Use it as a reference. Find it below the break.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
I always return home with a certain glint in my eye. Finally! A moment to decompress and pursue the thing I’ve been wanting to pursue for however long. There it is, all the time in the world (kind of). Now what do I do with it?
Perhaps it’s a complex I have. A good complex in that I have to get my work done before I can play. If people are counting on me, I feel bad working on my own projects. That’s the way it should be, right? There is incentive at the end of the tunnel. Get this stack of things done, and then you can go and play.
Any time I try to sit down and dig into these personal projects I am weighted with the knowledge that there is something else I should be working on. I’ve battled with this for a while. Being on 24/7 is the nature of my role while I’m on tour. I’ve been conditioned. I am a workaholic. Coming off the road I find that I have to set boundaries for myself, or things start to feel icky. Actively deciding not to work, is just as important as deciding to work.
An outgrowth of prioritizing my work load lends fatigue to my brain when it does comes time to work on personal projects. My brain cells are slouching, haphazardly sitting on the curb looking up at me like, “Seriously, dude? You want us to do what right now? We’ve been working all day!”
I am so used to having my days filled with structure. At home I try to organize myself with activities and environments that are conducive to productivity. With this being said, I don’t want to be busy for the sake of being busy. I want to occupy my time with things that I enjoy and make me better in some capacity. Free time often feels insurmountable, but I’ve reached a point where I am better able to control that feeling.
I’ve been enjoying working on my blog as of late. I came into this undertaking with the misguided notion that this would somehow be my golden ticket to supplementing my income while I’m off the road. I’ve since tossed that notion and am focusing on the act of writing and taking photos for my personal enjoyment. If that does not exist first, I am doomed from the onset. Things are still relatively new and fresh around here, so I am glad I’ve caught myself before getting too far along on that misguided path.
I have two areas of focus that I’d like to better explore here in the coming weeks and months:
- Planning, documenting, and sharing my journey to Colombia.
- Putting together a free online curriculum for those interested about different aspects of the touring industry.
To think of looking back a year from now, at a site filled with information and resources is something that encourages me, and makes me want to keep at it. Thanks for reading along.
Let the good juju flow.
The scene: Exit airport. Sitting alone at the bus stop shortly after 9pm, near Five Points in Nashville, eating my to-go slice of pizza with a thousand yard stare; gently placed back into my human fish tank by some otherworldly hand. Did that just happen? Am I dreaming? No one will believe me.
I’m still processing.
Opening for The Rolling Stones, hands down, is one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had working as a tour manager. To be able to do it not once, but twice, is something I will never forget. Being able to share it with a group of individuals I’ve been through so much with, in such a brief span of time, is nothing short of incredible.
Watching the Stones crew work was an experience all in itself. The crème de la crème of road crews; no egos, and nothing to prove. Only presence, demeanor, and flow.
The above photo was taken moments before The Rolling Stones appeared in the tunnel for a photo-op. Rock n’ roll icons, mere feet away. A fun time to be a fly on the wall.
I can only imagine what will happen next.
I’ve been on a bit of a reversed schedule since arriving in Europe two weeks ago. Sleep isn’t the easiest thing to come by when on the tour bus, so I’m allowing my body to relish in it when I can find it. Other parts of me say go-go-go, but I know better these days.
Once I did get my body in motion, I brought myself via foot and cab to the Centre Pompidou. Saw a number of works by a variety of artists: Matisse, Picasso, Dalí, Rothko, Pollock, Kandinsky. I’m still finding my happy medium of experiencing and documenting visits to art museums. I tried to take a few photos of pieces I enjoyed today, but it didn’t feel right. I’d rather just be in the moment. Taking a photo of the piece is the obvious choice. I need to figure out what the not so obvious angle is.
Never in my life did I think I would have multiple opportunities to explore Paris, so I’m participating as best I know how while I have the physical placement and time.
Per recommendation of a friend, I took a stroll down the Seine and found my way to a taxidermy shop called Deyrolle. I’ve never been to a place like this anywhere. So many creatures from all walks of life in suspended animation. I wonder how many people on a daily basis they get like myself: the gawker, the non-buyer, the spectacle seeking. I highly recommend a visit.
PS: You aren’t suppose to take photos in the shop. Clearly my intentions were known with a dangling camera from my neck. I really wanted to take a photo of the taxidermy worker smoking out front. I have some lessons to learn in photo etiquette. Hmm, how to not disturb a moment. I don’t think anyone can teach me that. I have to figure it out on my own.