Tour Tutorial

Posted on by Chief Marketer Staff

These days, everyone is looking for ways to cut costs and maximize ROI. Even though the event business is growing, it is also maturing, making it tougher for event marketers to sell their programs. They need every advantage they can get. So…have you ever been to a big concert event and realized that the 20-truck show you just saw is going to pack up that night and move 500 miles down the road to do a show the next evening? Doing things quickly saves time and money. To save some big bucks on your next event, take a few lessons from the big concert tours. Here are a few Roadie Rules to live by.


Concert producers have made the advance an art. Basically everything should be done prior to one truck rolling.

Mark Spring is currently touring Europe as production manager for Paul McCartney and after that will go out on the Metallica Summer Sanitarium (Metallica, Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park and Mudvayne) to play football stadiums throughout the U.S. Spring believes “Advance work is the key to success. I’d say 80% of my job is done before I get there.”

Jake Berry, production manager for a diverse list of artists ranging from The Rolling Stones to U2 to Tina Turner, agrees. “If it goes wrong, with the size of shows I have, there is no way back. We can’t just say we will hold for a couple of hours and get it fixed. On the Stones for instance, we had a month to put everything in…program, lights…and make sure it would fit everywhere.” By the way, the Stones’ stadium show requires 48 trucks and 10 buses for each system (there are two).


There is nothing like packing up after your first show and finding that something doesn’t fit in the trucks or takes too long to pack. Make sure vendors that build your displays, booths and sets understand the road and how things need to be packed and set up. You still see many companies re-purposing their trade-show booths, or using similar types of displays for their mobile marketing efforts.

We’ve seen booths that take four or five days to load-in, but in music, you have to load-in an arena-size show in no more than eight hours; load-outs need to be two to three hours. Obviously, when working on football stadium shows, the time frame is much longer. This summer, the Metallica Summer Sanitarium will have three stadium stages (three days to build) and two full productions (lights, sound, sets, etc.) leapfrogging each other. All together, they take over 60 trucks and 30 buses carrying upwards of 200 touring personnel doing 19 shows in a month.

Always look for ways to shave time off your load-in and load-outs, and make sure your stuff looks good and operates properly. Shaving time saves money on labor, venue rental, hotels, per diems, equipment rentals and more.

By the way, if it doesn’t travel well, build a case for it that does. Shipping crates that have to be forked on and off trucks are not the right way to go. Spring concurs: “Think about how to make it look good, work well and be both time- and cost- effective. Use practical pieces that can be re-shaped time after time, building re-usable inventory. Changing the colors and through lighting, the set can be a million things.”

Berry adds, “The big difference between corporate and rock-n-roll is we tend to build our stuff for touring a hundred shows. We spend a little bit more time on preparation. The industrial shows/corporate events always look spectacular. You can take those designs and ideas and use them. You just have to be able to take a 200-foot video screen up and down in five hours as opposed to three days.”


When your tour starts in New York then plays San Diego, then Dallas, you are obviously wasting a lot of money. If it feels like someone just threw darts at a map to create your routing, stop and do it again. Too much travel between dates wastes time and causes every expense to go up.


You need to carry people who know how to execute your program, but laborers should be picked up locally. Even union personnel is cheaper than the flights, hotels, buses, per-diems, meals, payroll and insurance it takes to carry full-time staff. “Since the late ’70’s and early ’80’s, the quality of local labor pools has come a long way in our business,” Berry notes. “On the Rolling Stones, I carry 12 carpenters as supervisors, and they handle 20 locals to make it work.”


So many events build until dark and then shut down the site until morning. If everyone and everything is on site, keep working even if you are working outside. A typical light tower from a local rental company (United Rental, Nations Rents) costs no more than $100 per day, which is much more cost-effective than staying on-site longer. “Rock-n-roll schedules don’t give us a choice,” Berry says. “If we’re playing Denver on a Monday night and Salt Lake City on a Wednesday night (with a stadium rig) we don’t have the luxury of coming back the next day.”

Of course if you aren’t touring and have the luxury of time, then it might make sense in a union hall to work until midnight. “When you’re in a heavy-duty union situation, working past [midnight] puts you into double time. There you would go away and come back the next day so the crew is working eight hours of straight time,” Berry says.

If you pay your crews good weekly salaries, they will have no problem working long hours. The less your equipment and personnel are sitting around, the more money you save.


As you finish with something, pack it in the truck. As you finish part of your show, figure out a way to start tearing it down. On last summer’s Jeep World Outside Festival, the village area (kayaking, scuba-diving, mountain biking, rock climbing, skiing/snowboarding and a second stage) closed down at 8 p.m., sending everyone to the amphitheater for the last two artists, Train and Sheryl Crow. The village (in 10 trucks) was packed and rolling by 11 p.m., just in time to strike the stage equipment (another eight trucks) and head to the next city by 2 a.m. for an 8 a.m. load-in and 3 p.m. door opening.


If you have ever found yourself packing and stacking a truck so there is not one inch of wasted space, it is probably taking you way too long. “You can’t tell anybody that four trucks are cheaper than three, it’s just doesn’t compute. But it’s invisible savings,” Berry says. It shouldn’t cost any more than $4,000 a week to rent a truck (all in: truck, driver, fuel, over-drives, etc.) while building rental, labor, etc is more pricey. Adding $4,000 a week is a lot better than $4,000 a show in overtime.


Even if you work with the same vendors on every event, it is a good practice to see what their competitors are up to. “Keep everybody honest and work towards not having to deal with complacency,” Spring says. Certainly relationships and trust a lot, but the more you know about each and every moving part of your events, the better off you will be.


The most important thing you can do to make your event fly right is to hire professionals that do it for a living. “It is all about education and demonstration, and the chance to do it,” Berry says.

Remember that corporate touring is a relatively new endeavor when compared to rock-n-roll outings. There are a number of tips marketers can glean from the music industry to make events run more smoothly and cost less money. Who doesn’t want that?

Jim Lewi is a principal at Aspen, CO-based Liveworks (formerly Tour Together). He can be reached at [email protected].


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