by Simon Byrne.
TOURING IS DIFFERENT TO ONE-OFF GIGS IN THAT WHEN YOU ARE ON A TOUR, YOU ROLL OUT THE SAME PRODUCTION REPEATEDLY. THEREFORE IT PAYS TO DO IT AN EFFICIENT WAY. EFFICIENCY GIVES YOU THE GIFT OF TIME WHICH GIVES YOU THE OPPORTUNITY TO REFINE YOUR EVENT FURTHER, FIT MORE INTO YOUR DAY, OR EVEN JUST CHILL!
Time is your most valuable resource. For me, that means lots of preparation before heading out, so that on the tour we are only delivering on our plans. We are not working out how to do things on the road.
It starts with systemising and processes. By systemising as much as you possibly can, friction is eliminated from your processes, and things get done more quickly. And by having standard processes, you don’t have to think as much.
Checklists and documentation can help. Ask yourself this, with the preparation that has been done, can someone else step in and do my job right now? If the answer is no, what are the areas that stop that from happening? Put some solutions in place and you’ve achieved planning enlightenment.
Packing – I’ve done countless tours where I’ve taken too much of both personal luggage as well as production gear because “I might use that” or “this could be useful”. It turns out I’m nearly always wrong! So now I only take what I know I am going to use, combined with an appropriate amount of spares and nothing more.
Size and weight are huge and often hidden costs. If you think about it, size and weight adds cost everywhere. More fuel to truck it around, more crew to push and lift it, more storage, more excess luggage charges and so on.
For example, I know of a few companies that package up just three dual radio mike systems into a steel thirteen unit rack on wheels with some lovely steel draws for the accessories. Very neat and tidy but those racks weigh about seventy kilograms and take up valuable space in the venue and the truck. Just for three rack units of radio mics which could be packaged up in one third the size and weight. Over an entire tour, the savings would add up.
Smart packaging and systemisation saves an enormous amount of time out on the road. Looms, pre-cabling, drop boxes, integrated power distribution are all examples of things that save time, and money too.
Case management – empty case storage should be done so that on the load out, the right cases are in the right location, in the right order and ready for use. I even stack cases in the reverse order to the load out so I don’t have to double handle.
My pet hate is to find that I need to get into the case at the bottom of the pile! Cases should be labelled with what it is, and where it is to go so that the local crew know where to push it without the need to ask someone. “Stage left on stage”, “Front of house”, “Balcony” and so on.
Similarly, if the label says what it contains, you can say to the local crew “find the DMX splitter” and they can without opening each case up. One important note though – do not label up your cases with the “Famous star’s name” because that makes it especially attractive for thieves, particularly at airports.
And talking of airports…oh we love the airlines don’t we!
Firstly, as most of you know, both the major airlines have special music industry arrangements for extra luggage, three pieces totalling sixty-nine kilograms on Qantas, and four pieces totalling sixty-four kilograms on Virgin.
To access these arrangements you need to be a bonafide member of one of the music industry bodies (link at the end). Irrespective of how many items you take, no single piece can be greater than thirty-two kilograms. Discount airlines. This is simple, avoid them if possible! They are not set up to accommodate touring event crews.
I was forced to fly Jetstar the other day (don’t ask) and that was the first time I came across the “Jetstar Carry On Baggage Compliance Officers” or as I call them, the JCOBO. The JCOBO were weighing all of the passenger’s cabin baggage to confirm they were less than 7 kilograms and charging $10 per kilo extra. Considering that two laptops and a few cables easily weigh more than seven kilograms that can be a problem.
My advice: fly another airline. Failing that, wear as much as possible of your carry on (phones, cables in pockets, iPad inside hoodie and so on). I recently came across some guys and gals in the US who buy special jackets just for that purpose from a brand called Scottevest (link below).
Perhaps get to the gate as late as possible, without risking boarding, so the JCOBO don’t have an opportunity to weigh your bags.
A lot of damage to equipment is done during air travel, in my experience, by far the most. But what can you do? Other than packing your equipment properly, not much. You just have to accept that it is going to happen, get appropriate insurance and plan for it.
I do seal production cases with cable ties. It means a thief needs at least a knife to look inside cases, and you know if it has been opened.
Interesting side story. Years ago I did a tour with Tommy Emmanuel. Seated on the plane, Tommy observed the baggage handlers throw his guitar onto the conveyor belt, where it fell off. Tommy was furious, he stormed off the plane and confronted the baggage handlers with most of the passengers watching. It made quite the scene!
Make sure you have fun! You are working hard, long days and nights, less than ideal food and sleep patterns. At least make sure you and your workmates are having a fun time. Successful touring comes by being focused on the big picture at all times, whilst delivering on today’s gig efficiently.