Deep Thoughts On Production

Bill Rahmy kept his deep thought for the very end. The panel had focused on the how-much-is-too-much theme:

“My deep thought is I’d like things to come back a touch but keep my friends working,” he said.

That was key. Production costs are climbing and so are the requests for things new and shiny. But for every Roger Waters tour, there is an Alice & Chains tour. Some acts require massive production because a) their fans expect it or b) it adds value to the show. Others can tour with little production and concentrate on the music and the fans will be happy. It seems very few can do the latter, though, and still play arenas (the panel cited acts like Phish and James Taylor / Carole King).

There is a happy medium, though. There has to be. It was repeated several times: Production depends on the band, but it has to always be within reason.

“Roger Waters did it right,” John Wiseman said. “There are lots of new video on that tour that the audience will not trash on the Internet. For the Lady Gaga tour, they just threw money at it. Tour for three years and not get a profit? Waters will; they thought it out.”

Michael McDonald, manager of John Mayer and Ray LaMontagne among others, thought there could be a drop in production – or at least the ticket price – but not for long.

“I think the public’s bullshit meter has gone into the red,” he said. “Some artists shouldn’t be charging $250 or going out on tour this summer. But that stuff will go away. Live shows historically increase during tough times.”

Meanwhile, Rich Schaefer noted that management client Lenny Kravitz is thinking about scaling back his production next time around. Kravitz is an arena act in Europe so, when he’s done with his theatre tours in North America, he typically has to add production for the U.K. dates.

Chuck Randall stressed that if a production manager thinks the artist is overzealous with production, it has to be addressed early.

“Those conversations need to be had with the artist at the pre-tour planning stages,” he said. “Those hard numbers have to be looked at and presented to the artist in a pragmatic way. It’s not about how much ‘cack’ you’ve got in the trucks and how many trucks you’ve got. It’s what you do with it. If that production is designed with true imagination and focused on an economy of design, you can do a whole lot with not a lot with the right creative people. Don’t let the production overshadow the music. How many people are there to see the production?”

There was also the concern of balancing the desire for profit with having a conscience. Some acts are just not going to sell and a vendor, such as Wiseman, could take the money and run. But there goes a potential lifetime client.

“There was one artist about 15 years ago where I tried desperately to talk them out of the production they wanted to do,” he said. “Four weeks into it, the tickets weren’t selling and they wanted to cut production. They came and asked for a 30 percent reduction on everything. And I said I would very happily give you a 30 percent reduction today if you let me know you’re serious. Send home the extra truck that’s full of video games, send home the cousins and aunts and the uncles, and when you make that cut to keep your show right, I’ll join in on the party.”

Randall noted that, with touring becoming the lifeline of the artist income, it is incumbent upon the vendors and production managers to make sure the artists stay in the black. Maybe that was why Rahmy was disappointed when he found out at the beginning of the panel there were no agents or managers in the audience.

Finally, Rahmy asked the panelists if they enjoyed their work.

“I work with my friends!” Wiseman siad. “That says it all. It’s a circus with a higher class of clowns.”


Pollstar Live 2011 Panel Index