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Tour Management

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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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 Advance A Tour

how-to-advance-a-tour

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.

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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.