Tour and production managers at the International Entertainment Buyers Association (IEBA) detailed the highs and lows of their professions. During the "Beyond The Rider: 7 Questions Every Buyer Wants to Ask" panel, moderator Kevin Myer from MiEntertainment asked panelists if their job felt like it required a background in psychology.
“With the artists, they are regular ole’ folks. They’ve got parents that get sick. They've got kids that have stuff that comes up and they through divorces,” said Marne McLyman, tour manager for Reba McEntire and Brooks and Dunn, at the special session at the J.W. Marriott in Nashville. “You're the one that has to go, ‘OK, we got it. Don't worry about it. That's why I'm here. I'm going to fix it.’ I'll say yes and figure it out later.”
“The thing most people don’t realize about being a tour manager is that you’re the boss but you’re not the boss. You’re their friend and not their friend,” said Drew Magid, tour manager for Imagine Dragons and Florida Georgia Line.
The panel agreed that a good tour manager is able to get along with his or her artist and crew, but they are still an employee who has to get the job done.
“We all want to be friends. I have known a lot of these band guys for 20 years, but if you screw up and we give you chance after chance after chance to fix, at some point I have to say you’re dragging us down here. Then it goes from personal to business,” McLyman said.
"To save this guy’s life, we had to say, 'It’s time for you to come off the road. We love you to death, but I can’t continue to call an ambulance after every show,'" McLyman added. “I have had many conversations this year where it was, ‘We love you, but…’”
The job of a tour manager or production manager also requires concern for the artist’s physical safety. Along with previously required safety instructions, managers have a heightened awareness of active shooter protocols.
McLyman’s company Maverick worked with Jason Aldean when he was on stage at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas when a gunman killed 150 people from a nearby hotel.
“We had counselors and we talked to everybody that was on the road. We asked what we could have done differently and what would help them in the future,” McLyman said, adding that they now utilize code words that indicate the artist and crew need to get to safety immediately.
“Regardless of how big the venue is, I ask for a map with arrows. I print maps and put them at front of the house. When it is happening, you just want to know where to go,” said panelist and Bon Iver tour manager Emily Bragg. “I also ask for literal arrows to be put on the ground or the wall. Some people do that. A lot of people don’t. In Europe, they are already there. They have been there for a while.”
“It has now become a standard part of my advance to talk to talent buyers or buildings. I want to know what the plan is,” said Little Big Town’s production manager Mark Miles at the conference. “One of the things that I go over with venue folks in advance is that if something happens, my sole priority is taking care of my artist and my people.”
Miles explains that he has a template that he fills out with safety protocols for each show including maps, rallying points, the closest trauma center and more.
On a lighter note, panelists were asked to discuss some of the perks of their highly coveted jobs. Moderator Meyer inquired about the world-class experiences the panelists have had at venues and festivals.
“I can say Another Planet usually kills it on backstage things,” said Bragg of the nation’s largest independent promoter, which hosts events like Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival. “It’s always the little details. They always are very specific with our rider needs. They have it in the dressing rooms, on time. Catering is always really great.”
Bragg also called out the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles for its "backstage hang," noting the venue makes an extra effort to provide comforts that make artists and crew feel at home.
“I think [head of Live Nation’s Country Nation] Brian O’Connell's festivals for the country market are the heartbeat of the backstage experience,” McLyman said. “Especially for a festival like Faster Horses in Brooklyn, Michigan, where we’re pretty far from any hotel or airport and they know that we're going to be hanging in a field for that day. They keep you fed and happy with massages and chiropractors and yoga.”
While most tour managers don’t have the time to participate in all the amenities the panel agreed, it is a kindness for the artists and crew that does not go unnoticed.
“If somebody is coming back to you and asking really specific questions because they’ve looked at the rider, then I already like these people,” added Bragg.