Communication Breakdown (it’s always the same)
2000 Light Years From Home: International travel planning
The Wheels on the Bus Go Round: Transport spotlight
Our House in the Middle of our Street: Venue management 2.0
With original session chairman, Chrissy Uerlings, unable to make it because of work commitments in Doha, Britannia Row’s Bryan Grants and cahm.uk principal Carl A. H. Martin ably stood in to conduct a very positive discussion about communication in the live music industry and potential ways to improve dialogue between various stakeholders.
Grant opened proceedings by commenting, “I’m old enough to remember the days when we toured without mobile phones and emails and faxes, etc, and we made it work. Has it got better now that we have all this technology at our disposal?” This prompted a debate on the pros and cons of electronic communications, with Keith Wood of Production Solutions observing, “The world of email now is a way of passing the buck to someone else. The fact that an agent or manager sends an email to someone makes it someone else’s problem.”
The session moved into a general discussion about the volume of emails that are now exchanged and the effectiveness of these communications, with Martina Pogačić from Croatia suggesting, “We need to pick up the phone at least, or better still, be able to look someone in the face to have a conversation.”
Jim Digby of the Event Safety Alliance believes that some encouraging steps are being made. “We’re having some luck breaking the mould in that agents are now in the conversation early enough,” he said. “We’re beginning to understand each others’ needs better so that production can now have a say in routing, for instance.” And addressing an issue flagged up by Wood, Digby added, “The reason that Keith is initially getting a rider [for the last tour] is because that’s all we have to work with sometimes, because the artist isn’t involved in the very early stages.”
Picking up on this point, Malcolm Domingo from esp Afrika commented, “It’s very difficult to book a year in advance because people panic that it’s Africa and decide that our equipment isn’t suitable so they have to bring their own. We’re the arse end of the world, so we’re the last people in the communication chain.”
Revealing his recent experience of touring stadiums in China, Digby said such an undertaking took “a lot of ground-work and visits,” adding “It’s not that they don’t want to get it wrong, but they just haven’t got the expertise to be where they need to be.”
Grant observed that site recce visits used to be a big part of the touring business. “Back in the Floyd days in the 70s, we had an advance guy going into towns about three days before the production rolled into town, so if there were any issues, you could deal with them.” However, The Safety Officer’s Jon Corbishley observed, “With budgets getting squeezed, that situation is much less common now, unfortunately.”
Nevertheless, Martin said that improved dialogue with promoters might change that situation. “They might find that they have an extra 1,000 seats all of a sudden, so it can make economic sense to do a recce.”
Highlighting a perceived over-reliance on information, Tim Roberts from The Event Safety Shop commented, “I tend to trade in data: there’s an arms race in information around shows now. We put together tons of information that is mission critical to some tax officer in Vienna who needs to know the date of birth of each rigger. But how much of that information is actually needed, or is even read by anyone.” He cited an instance where he was unhappy with a structure at an event but when he asked for structural drawings, he was handed concept sketches that the designer had used to get the sponsor on board. “I had to ballast the structure properly and make it safe before the kids came in the next day.”
The session also covered the topic of international tours being respectful to local customs and traditions. “If you’re playing in Indonesia and they want you to keep your shirt on, that should be communicated to the artists – why would they do it? It makes no sense.”
Panellists: Adrian Whitmarsh, Premier Aviation; Sophie Amable, Artist & Entertainer Visas Global; Clare O’Connell, Cirque du Soleil; Nick Adams, Road Rebel
Pogačić set the scene for the session by creating a hypothetical situation where something happens on tour – a storm, perhaps – which strands you and your touring party 2000 light years from home. Referring to her expert panellists, she said, “These are the people who help you.”
Amid a background of closing borders throughout Europe and a growing mistrust of foreigners, the panel chairman asked her guests whether bringing artists and crews to Europe is becoming more difficult. “Yes,” stated Amable. “Where we help everyone is to communicate clearly about where people are going, what nationalities are on your travel list, so we can work out whether they need a visa to access certain countries, etc. We are here to assist, to let you know what is needed where and when.”
O’Connell said that a typical Cirque touring party includes 18-25 nationalities. “As a result, Cirque has an in-house immigration team. Our biggest challenge is that every country wants you to apply for a visa in your home country, but we’re very rarely home.” However, Amable reassured the room that this is where companies like hers can help out. “We build trusted relationships with consulates around the world to help with such situations,” she told O’Connell. “ We also have visa consultants around the world to help as well, so we work in partnership with people who are on the ground.”
Agreeing with Amable that getting information as far in advance as possible is ideal, Adams revealed, “We try to lock things in so that vendors will not penalise client for any last minute changes.” He continued, “We get local hotels excited about visiting productions and prompt them to offer incentives. Competition is key so we work hard to get rival businesses invigorated by a production and get them to bid in an open market.”
Whitmarsh said that ensuring different nationalities had the correct paperwork was usually dealt with by the time clients get to the air charter business. “But we need to know the details so we can communicate that,” he disclosed. “Most countries want to know in advance the passenger list and have the passport details. And if we can get that, we can often pre clear people at borders.” He also reiterated the importance of early planning. “Lots of tour managers come to us 9-12 months in advance and we can show them which airports they can fly out of after a show and by doing that we can often help them route a tour and find the most cost-effective way so that there are minimal hotel changes.”
O’Connell highlighted an issue with visa centres, which are now replacing the work of some consulates, where Cirque has found that passports have been held for days on end. But delegate Brande Lindsey, of Global Access World-wide Entertainment Visas, advised, “Dual passports are very important for such situations. But you have to keep track of the passport numbers.” That point was echoed by Whitmarsh, “We have to get passengers turning up with the correct passport that they’ve been pre-cleared on. If they don’t, that can throw border control, particularly in the UK, into a wobbly.”
Keith Wood of Production Solutions asked the experts about situations where clients are asking him to “book hotels and flights for them without going through a travel agent – how do we deal with that?” Adams retorted, “Once you’ve done that, you’re on your own. You can maybe do that individually, but if you have a big group, then you could land yourself in a whole world of trouble.”
The panel also dealt with questions regarding the potential end to the Shengen Agreement in Europe and border controls being re-established, but the Event Safety Alliance’s Jim Digby had the audience in stitches when he asked, “Isn’t the bigger problem going to be the flood of American refugees when Trump gets elected?”
Finally, addressing queries about the expense of their services and whether smaller acts and tours could benefit from using professional travel services, Adams said the ability to take advantage of the relationships that agents have can be crucial. “[Smaller tours] can piggy back off of someone else’s volume. If you’re working with vendors across multiple accounts then you might be able to persuade them to give you a sleeper bus for 4-5 nights, in the knowledge that you will give them a full month elsewhere.”
Whitmarsh also highlighted that the world of private jets can work as well for emerging talent as it does for the superstars. “What you are buying is a time machine,’ he said. “By looking at your routing, we can maybe show you where you can get in another couple of shows in a week, which pays for the aircraft and makes life bearable.” He concluded, “We’re very happy to work with young bands and artists. For instance, the cost of the aircraft might be the cost of getting to a festival that wasn’t possible without the flight. But in the meantime the artist has benefitted from all that extra exposure.”
Panellists: Lisa Ryan (EFM, UK), Okan Tombulca (eps holding GmbH, DE), Kees Brouwer (Pieter Smit, NL) and Joerg Philipp (Beat the Street, Austria)
The third panel of the day was chaired by Production Solutions’ Keith Wood and brought together Lisa Ryan of freight forwarder EFM, Pieter Smit’s Kees Brouwer, Okan Tombulca of eps GmbH and Joerg Philipp of crew/band bussing provider Beat the Street to chew the fat about the fast-changing tour transport market.
Ryan opened by saying that there is currently a “huge amount of pressure” on logistics and transport companies, as “everyone has to fit more and more shows into tighter and tighter time frames”. She also revealed that there is a “difference in terms of what we’re being asked to move”, with more equipment hired locally: “There’s less gear than there would have been, but we’re moving it to more places in less time.”
While live events are for many companies their entire livelihood, eps, which has diversified into providing contract services for military, peacekeeping and other government agencies, now views live music/entertainment as “just fun”, said Tombulca, “because we don’t earn any money [from music] any more”.
Britannia Row Productions’ Bryan Grant, the day’s guest of honour, put the blame for there being “no money in the music industry” on those who work in it: “Who’s fault is that?” he said. “It’s ours. We have to say ‘no’ sometimes.”
“But then someone else will say ‘yes’,” countered Ryan, “and you’ll lose market share.”
Talk then turned to EU driving regulations, which require that truck and bus drivers have an unbroken rest period of 45 hours every week. Philipp attacked many of the rules as “ridiculous” – especially one which counts the time spent in an aeroplane by a driver flying to his bus as ‘working’ – “and if the drivers complain – even when it was made to protect them – you know something’s wrong,” he said.
With the potential for a British exit from the European Union, or ‘Brexit’, looming ever larger ahead of the referendum on 23 June, it was inevitable that talk would turn to the consequences of a vote to leave. This also led to a discussion about the proposed abolition, in the wake of Europe’s migrant crisis and the attacks in Paris, of the Schengen free travel area and what it would mean for tour transport companies.
Wood believed British companies could find a post-Brexit Europe a far less friendly place to travel through, while Ryan said she “[doesn’t] think anybody’s thinking about” an end to the Schengen area, which would mean going “back to the old days of stopping at every border” and have “a huge impact on tour plans”. Brouwer agreed, saying Pieter Smidt doesn’t have any contingency plans in place for a return to border controls, and that “at the moment everything’s going well”.
While the Schengen area crumbles (Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Norway, and Sweden have all re-implemented border controls with other Schengen states), one area in which Europe is still unified is in its emissions standards. Wood described having to adhere to progressively tighter exhaust emissions limits as a “big investment” for transportation companies, which was illustrated by Philipp revealing that the total cost for a new bus – one which adheres to Euro 5 or 6, for example, as opposed to the more polluting (and more expensive) Euro 3 or 4 – is close to half a million euros: “So that’s why we need to charge what we charge!”
In response to a question about how many European cities are now implementing low-emission zones (effectively banning Euro 3 or Euro 4 buses from city centres unless they pay a pollution charge), he elaborated: “That’s a pure moneymaking thing and it’s a rip off. You’ve got these little shit cities somewhere in Germany introducing [a charge] now to make some money. And in London, if you go in with a Euro 3 and pay £400 they let you in, so where is the environmental aspect? It’s just about money.”
Panellists: Dominique Frazer (The Boiler Room, UK), Suzanne Bull (Attitude is Everything, UK), Jim Digby (Event Safety Alliance/Collaborative Endeavor Group, US) and Mark Harding (Showsec, UK)
In the wake of tragedies such as the club fire in Bucharest and the massacre at Le Bataclan, what measures should music venues be putting in place to keep their guests safe?
That was the question from moderator Carl AH Martin that opened the fourth and final panel of the ninth ILMC Production Meeting. Joining Martin were Dominique Frazer, the owner of The Boileroom in Guildford, UK; Suzanne Bull, CEO of Attitude is Everything, a charity which campaigns for better accessibility for disabled people in British music venues; Jim Digby of the US’s Event Safety Alliance; and Showsec’s Mark Harding.
As managing director of a crowd management/event security firm, Harding took the lead early on, advising that while it’s important to have a security strategy in place, venue owners should try to avoid making customers feel uncomfortable. “Yes, there’s a risk,” he said, “but don’t overreact: don’t be oppressive towards your audience but show them you’re aware of risk inside the venue.”
He continued later: “It’s about commercial considerations: making customers feel secure so they’ll keep coming. Intrusive searches into people’s belongings are going to become very costly for venues with a small turnover.”
Audience member Paul Sergeant, of Australia’s Etihad Stadium, also opined that the security situation facing venues now isn’t unique: “We’ve been here before with the dark days of the IRA,” he said. “You can’t get too carried away: shopping centres are open every day, but you can’t have armed guards at every shopping centre.”
Talk then turned to venue accessibility, which had been thrust back into the spotlight recently following the publication of AiE’s third State of Access Report. The report revealed, among other things, that there is a £5.4million annual spend from deaf and disabled music fans on tickets, food, merch, etc., in the UK alone – meaning that in a time when many smaller venues are struggling with footfall, the so-called ‘purple pound’ is a commercial consideration they can’t afford to ignore.
Frazer, whose venue has worked closely with AiE, emphasised the importance of making disabled guests feel welcome without patronising them: “We have notices on our front door which say, ‘In case of evacuation, if you require extra assistance please let our staff know before entering the venue’,” she explained. “Not everyone needs saving!”
Eps’s Okan Tombulca, revealed that he was recently asked by a festival promoter to build a special disabled campsite. This promoter had, said Tombulca, asked the government to part fund the project, as it cost a lot more than a standard campsite. “A promoter is willing to pay a certain amount [for disabled-accessible facilities],” said Tombulca, “but not more [than they would normally spend].”
One audience member then relayed a story about his brother-in-law, who had been confined to a wheelchair after a motorbike accident. The brother-in-law had tickets to see Paul Weller, but when he told the UK’s Forestry Commission, which was hosting the concert, that he needed wheelchair access, “the response was, ‘We’re sold-out of disabled tickets, sir’”.
“In this day and age, why should you have to state you’re disabled?” asked Bull. “Under the law, [disabled and able-bodied people] are meant to be offered an equal level of service.”
She added: “With an [urban] venue you’re restricted in size,” said Bull, “but with festivals [and outdoor events] you have a blank canvas.”
Digby agreed: “There’s no excuse for a festival these days to be inaccessible.”