Production Live: The Business Of Moving Small Cities Effortlessly

Following a heartfelt tribute to legendary production manager Benny Collins, Charlie Hernandez of Just A Bunch Of Roadies summed up this panel: “We’re going to talk about stuff. That’s what we do. We move stuff. We take stuff and put it into other stuff and then into other things and then we move it somewhere else and put the stuff out of the things.”

Jason Squires
– Moving Small Cities
Production Live! 2017

Of course, the production biz is a little more complicated than that. (Despite what production manager Mark Spring says about how simple it is to move Paul McCartney’s stage around.)

Before you can make any moves, you gotta sign a deal.

Tour manager Marty Hom shared a story about how Jake Berry helped him out after the U.K.-based production manager for Beyoncé’s recent tour was forced to pull out a few weeks before they were supposed to start loading the show. “I know people refer to Jake as God and he’s referred to himself as God but Jake was really my God because he was the only one who could help me with the Beyoncé tour and load it on the road,” Hom said.

“I called Jake and I said, ‘I need your help. Would you do this?’ So I went back to management and said, ‘I’ve got the best guy. He’s the best guy in the world.’ They said, ‘But he’s very expensive. Go try and cut a deal with him.’

“Cut a deal with Jake Berry?! So I went back to Jake: ‘We really want to hire you. Management wants me to cut a deal with you.’ He goes, ‘I’m not going out for a penny less than what I told you.’ ‘Done deal. Come on. Let’s go.’”

Thanks to Berry, the show went on – with 60 production trucks, 75 steel trucks, and 20 tour buses.

Berry added, “Marty said I like to think of myself as God, but that’s not true. I’m not God, but I don’t care what your name is – you’re not walking on water while I’m fishing here.”

Hom’s anecdote lines up with Stuart Ross’ view of the industry: You very much get what you pay for. Budgeting is not just about getting the best price but about building the most efficient show. Ross notes that you can do a bargain tour and “beat up vendors, beat up crew, but the reality is that in a pinch you’ll be in very serious trouble if something goes wrong. … Budgeting and not using the best people and the best vendors is a fool’s game.”

Ross talked about a festival in Houston he worked on with Hernandez where the location had to be moved a week before the event because floods had left the original site 38 feet underwater.

“Charlie and his team stayed up 18 hours redoing the map,” Ross said. “The complicated part about doing a festival is not setting it up but figuring out where everything’s going to go so it makes sense. We moved an entire festival after 18 hours of planning. It was extraordinary. Now, could I get a less expensive production manager than Charlie? Absolutely. Would I have gotten the same result using anybody else? No. That show would have been canceled.”

Hom added, “I tell managers all the time: They don’t pay us to go from point A to point B. … When the shit hits the fan, we’re all there to bail them out. That’s why they pay us to do what we do.”

Although the panel description said we were going to discuss why the business was more fun in the ’70s and ’80s, there seemed to be a consensus that the culture in the touring industry is better now – from actually communicating with one another to the opportunities for women working on sound, lighting and stage crews.

“The ’70s sucked,” Hernandez said. “Seriously. Nobody talked to each other. Everybody was trying to stick a knife in your back. But now we’ve all mellowed. We’ve grown up a bit. … The idea that we can all be in a room and agree on something, whether it’s philanthropy … or that we can all make the deal happen. It’s really where the industry is now.

“The other part of it is production design. We’ve had to adapt all of our production designs, except for a few acts, so that they’re able to be injected into a Brown United or a G2 or a

Brown United’s John Brown pointed out that everybody wants to book their shows at the end of July or beginning of August, but there’s 12 months in a year and you have to amortize your cost accordingly.

“You actually have to be friendly with your competitors so that those who can cover you you actually recommend that instead of burning $50,000 worth of diesel you use this company on this one show,” Brown said. “We’ve split tours with

“I tell people my new sales tactic these days is honesty and transparency. This is where I am, these are the shows I have. If you can piggyback one of them, you know, you’re looking to do a show at MetLife, I’m doing a show on this date … Transparency saves the acts and saves us all money.”

Looking to the future of the industry, there is still lots of room for improvement when it comes to making touring more environmentally friendly and finding more ways to give back to our communities.

“Just get involved,” Hernandez said. “There’s no such thing as a small act of kindness. … Don’t forget the golden rule – do something against bastards everyday. But don’t forget the love bit. That’s the important part.

“It starts with one of you saying, ‘I should make a call. I should do this.’ And if you want to know what the future of our business is? In my opinion, that’s what’s going to make our business better … that idea of leaving it better than what it is. We can make a difference in the world. And that’s what’s going to perpetuate our business and make it better every year. But what do I know? I’m just a fucking roadie.”