At Production Live!, Pros Get Into ‘What This Industry Is All About’

– Means of Production
Jake Berry, Kelly Weiss, Charlie Hernandez, David “5-1” Norman, Jake Berry and Marty Hom (from left) discuss the return of touring from a production perspective during a Production Live! panel.

In typical fashion, Production Live! concluded with a panel of veritable legends from the sector, assembled to provide vital industry intel and a few laughs.

“I’m really glad to be up here with my friends for this panel,” said moderator Stuart Ross (Stuart Ross Management), acknowledging the deep bonds between himself, the “Where Do We Go From Here III? Ask The Pros” panelists and much of the audience.

Loss loomed over the conversation, given the pandemic’s catastrophic impact on the touring industry.

“This past 16 months has been devastating to some of us here on stage,” said Charlie Hernandez (QED Productions, JustABunchOfRoadies). “We lost some incredibly close friends.”

That loss also encompassed the drain of talent from the business, as experienced touring professionals sought other work with concerts offline.

“It’ll be interesting to see what the landscape of the touring industry is when we decide to go back, because who is going to be left to work in the touring industry?” said tour manager Marty Hom. “I know a lot of people that worked on tours that are now working at Home Depot and Amazon and FedEx. i don’t know if those people are going to come back and join our ranks anymore.”

David “5-1” Norman (Tour Forensics) concurred, noting that “we’re going to be at a loss for people when we do eventually come back out.”

Touring professionals who return to the road will be met with a different landscape than the one they left before the pandemic. With legions of performers booking tours to make up for lost time, labor and equipment will be stretched thin, and production teams will have to adapt.

“We’re coming back at a gallop,” said Jake Berry (Jake Berry Productions). “It’s quite a serious situation, and I don’t know if the magnitude of what possibly could happen has really hit home until some major tour doesn’t get the lighting system, the video system and the crew that they want.”

Furthermore, uncertainty continues to govern touring-related decisions. While soaring vaccination rates and widespread reopenings have allowed the concert industry to restart, legal questions concerning risk and liability remain.

“It’s the wild wild west,” said Kelly Weiss, who handles legal and business affairs at ICM. “There’s no precedent. We’re setting precedent. … If there’s some variant or something happens… and a tour goes down or a big show goes down and you’ve spent a lot of money, communicable disease is not an insurable risk right now, so you cannot get a policy to cover for COVID-related cancellation. The risk both for promoters and the artists is pretty high.”

Today, Weiss explained, many of the contracts she’s negotiating allow for events to be canceled up to 60 days before they’re set to take place, in turn making logistical expenses of production crews, like hotels and flights, a high-stakes game.

“In the words of Shakespeare, you’re fucked, aren’t you?” Berry wryly observed.

Ultimately, panelists agreed, those in the production community will need to rely on one another as they navigate the return of touring.

“Remember the secret sauce,” Hernandez said. “You work hard, you keep your word, you protect your friends. That’s what this industry is all about.”