Production Live!’s Jake Berry And Stuart Ross On Creating ‘Compelling, Meaningful Content’

– Jake Berry

The concert industry’s progression from bare-bones to booming business has largely been built on the work of a generation of production specialists, and this year Production Live!, the production component of Pollstar Live!, was fortunate enough to draw upon two legends in their field to curate this year’s programming: Jake Berry and Stuart Ross.

Berry, whose Jake Berry Productions has run everything from U2 to The Rolling Stones to Beyoncé to Barney the Dinosaur over a 40-year career, was chiefly responsible for programming this year’s Production Live!

Stuart Ross of Red Light Management has been a fixture at the Pollstar Live! conferences over the years. He has tour managed Tom Waits and managed/organized the original Lollapalooza.

Pollstar: So, let’s start with the basic question. What the hell have you guys done here?

Jake Berry: Well, first of all, when Ray asked me to come on board, I said I had to take it. I wanted a team. And I knew that I wanted Charlie [Hernandez] and Stuart because of their experience. And Lori [Tierney] because she’s a very intelligent person on the other side [of our business]. And what we really wanted to try to do was to make panels that production people are interested in, and not try to make it so boss-orientated.

Stuart Ross: Well the other thing we’re trying to do is come up with compelling, meaningful content. So we’re just not talking about things. We’re talking about real world issues that everybody in the production business struggles with on a day to day basis and if we can bring some clarity to the audience and the participants, we’ve done our job.

A lot of times it feels like production doesn’t get the attention that it deserves in celebrations of the live industry.

Ross: We’re also trying to engage the, for lack of a better term, the above the line participants that are going to be at Pollstar Live!. Agents, managers, venue operators, we want them to be involved in our dialogue.

– Stuart Ross

Berry: Yeah some of the items we talk about really concern agents who just want to book as many shows as they possibly can for a band and generate as much income. And what they’ve been doing for 25, 30, 40 years, now they possibly need to change their chain of thought on how they’re going to need advice otherwise you’re going to put the show in Nashville and go to Jacksonville, like they used to do or something, and not make it. There’s rules and regulations, and everything like that. You know? And especially going over into the UK. Our policies [have really changed] in less than two months.

It’s up to the agents, it’s up to the promoters, it’s up to the management, and it’s up to the production people, to be informed of what you can and can’t do.

What is a positive thing you hope the participants take away from Production Live!

Berry: Well, you know there’s a lot bloody people and agents and their spokesman. I do think we need the bands as production people. And the band needs the production people. Which comes first? The chicken or the egg? We all need each other. And when we need each other, we’ve got to work together, try to not be against each other.

– Mike Martin

What can you say about “Sustainability: How Green Touring Impacts The Greenbacks”?

Berry: I know Mike Martin and it’s very hard to find somebody who’s passionate about waste. He’s passionate about where plastic bottles go. He’s passionate about the things he cares about, [even if they] really have not gone very far in our industry. It’s very hard to tell somebody, “Don’t drink out of a plastic bottle,” because you pick of a bottle of water and you put it in your pocket and you go, and you forget it, you put it down, and you don’t know where it is. So you get another one. I mean you gotta change those people and all the other stuff that goes with it.

Ross: You know when you talk about sustainability and green touring, we’re really talking about best of show. If you can think that far ahead to really understand how food and beverage and the other disposable parts to your show can be made sustainable then, you’re in a much higher breed than all of your competitors. We’re teaching people with this panel to be the best at what they do.

So the next one is “Rock ‘N’ Roll Fantasy: How Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality Can Transform Live Entertainment.”

– Ted Cohen

Berry: It’s very difficult to somebody like me to comment on it because I’m old school. I want to go and see the band. I want to see skylights and video. And I’m not really that interested in holding my phone up to see something different. So, my opinion of augmented reality is there if you tell me, but is it a generation too early? I don’t know.

Ross: Well, I mean really this is a technology that’s just now emerging. It is going to be a major force. Few of us can really wrap our heads around it and you have a moderator like Ted Cohen who really understands this part of the industry. And Craig Evans who’s a leader in the international touring industry is involved. I think it’s gonna be really exciting.

The next one is moderated by a young man named Jake Berry, “What We Need to Know for Touring in the World for 2019.”

Berry: Mark [Guterres] is there especially to talk about how [upcoming changes] would affect or could affect the trucking industry, he gets from Europe to England. Joerg Phillips is [always] driving around Europe. They really can help all of these people in America who, after one year, I still don’t feel understand totally the driving regulations.

– Mark Guterres

And then Adam Hatton challenges a freight agent. My question to them is like charter planes. The availability stops at certain times of the year, how does that affect his business? How will he get into England in other ways. And also on the box front, there is going to be a huge increase on the daily rate for a driver?

These things need to be talked about because the guy sitting in the office thinks that and you, as the production manager, think ‘Why is it so hard to make $150 more than it was last year?’

Do you have any examples of shows that might not have taken some of this into calculation in recent years?

Ross: Oh it’s unlimited. A very basic [issue] is people not understanding the rules of getting in and out of Canada. Straight down to driving regulations in Europe, which are now over in the United States. Everybody ignored it and said, “that happens in Europe, it’ll never happen here.” Guess what it is happening here and people who don’t understand this process are going to find themselves in very complex situations. Quite frankly, I would love to see agents attend this panel.

Yeah is that what you guys face off against agents regularly? It sounds like there’s a bit of tension there?

Berry: Well it’s their job. For such a long time the record industry and selling the records has been a non-income for a lot of bands. So they want to go on tour, but nobody wants to be on the road for a year unless you’re 21 and it’s just exciting. They want to go out and maximize the amount of money they can make in X amount of time. So, especially when you’re in America, say your tour is in October through November and, if you’re an arena tour, you’re dealing with basketball, hockey, indoor lacrosse, cultural events, things like that. You could, for instance, quite easily drive by Philadelphia three times before you play it.

So the agents have to try to cram in as much as possible with the new regulations, unless you’re doing triple drivers and things like that. And when you start puttin’ triple drivers in, then you go to your business managers on the road and they go, “Why is this costing so much?” It’s a non-understanding all the way around.

OK, next is “Achieving Efficiency at Rehearsals: How To Rock Opening Night.”

– Andrea Shirk

Berry: This is a panel which is all about what it actually says. Why are you going to rehearsal? Why do you spend two weeks sorting it out? And things like that. So the bottom line is if you have a lot of stuff built, if you have a big tour like U2, you have stuff built in Belgium, you have stuff coming from England. You have stuff coming from Ireland. And it’s all great on paper, but you need somewhere where you can lay out the big jigsaw puzzle on the floor in a certain amount of time and get it right so when you hit opening night, you are ready to tour. That’s the basis of rehearsals.

So for the next one, a gentlemen named Stuart Ross is moderating “So What Do You Want to Know” with Jake Berry, Mike Downing, Sara Full, Charlie Hernandez, Mark Spring and Marty Hom.

Ross: I’m looking forward to this one, because there’s a lot of things that I’d like to know from these guys. I mean we have a panel of the leaders of our industry. And this gives myself and the audience an opportunity to ask them specifically how they do their jobs, what their philosophy of the business is, and how they have remained at the top of their field for so many years.

– Charlie Hernandez

What’s going on with “Bells and Whistles and Shiny New Toys: The Hot New Stuff in Sounds, Lights & Video.”

Berry: Well you’d expect and like production managers like us are gonna have lots of experience in bringing out something new. [New stuff] is great … new versions of “moving light turns red.”

[The thing is] you can only move 360 degrees, and those lights moved 360 when they were invented. The lights haven’t moved anymore. Do they do it faster? Do they have a better memory? Are they more sophisticated? Can they do more? Yes. But do they move more? No, ‘cause you can’t.

Alright, what about the closing panel, “That Won’t Fly Now!: Touring Production 30 Years On.”

Berry: My take on it is we did things in the business 20 or 30 years ago that we would get fucking shot for right now, with the introduction of health and safety. How we got around things … I don’t know if “skimping” is the right word, but we were short sighted because we weren’t being observed.

If you saw someone climbing around on back of a structure without a harness because that’s what he’s been doing for 30 years, you’ve gotta tell him to come down and put on a harness and say, “Hey our insurance says you gotta have it. You’ve gotta do this.” The same as hard hats. A lot of buildings, a lot of local staging crews and insurance, You have to walk with a hard hat, and sometimes a steel toed shoe. It’s the way of the world.

Ross: This is a panel that could be on both sides of the performance conference because, quite frankly, I wouldn’t mind seeing the same panel with promoters and agents on it. We will miss seeing an Arny Granat, because the entire business has changed so drastically from 30 years ago, where even if we were working in best practices, best practices have changed considerably.

Berry: 30 years ago the band went out and they only played until [collapsed] and the crowd was going mad. You go, “Hey go and play. I’ll give you another grand to go and play.” You couldn’t do that now.

Ross: That’s right. There was so much to that. I would say that this panel from 4:45 to 5:30 is probably gonna have to end with somebody pulling the power.