Production Live! Recap: Fuel Prices, Labor & Gear: 2023 Outlook

230221 Pollstar Day1 CG 09971
From L-R: Kyle Jones, Trent Hemphill, Steve maples, Reid Oslin, Arjan van Houtum and John Walberg speaking at their Production Live! panel on Feb. 21, 2023.

As touring comes out of the two-year shutdowns and returns full swing, the problem that lays ahead isn’t that not enough people have jobs – it’s that there aren’t enough people for the job. Buses, private jets, trucks and more are all booked out not just through 2023, but into 2024. And for those hoping to set out on the road, they better start making their plans now.

Moderated by Pioneer Production Transport President Kyle Jones, co-founder and director of Hemphill Brother’s Coach Company, Trent Hemphill, Rock-It Global VP of Entertainment Trucking Steve Maples, Private Jet Services’ Reid Oslin, Pieter Smit Trucking & Nightline’s key accountant manager, Arjan van Houtum and SOS Global Express’ Senior Sales Executive of Strategic Global Partnerships and Alliances, John Walberg, the Production Live! panel highlighting increasing fuel prices, labor and gear included in-depth conversations surrounding a new touring world.

The new normal, which we do like, is people call in further ahead with our buses than they have in the past,” Hemphill said during the panel. “And maybe they don’t know their full schedule yet, and they’ll book buses out for longer periods. Then they’ll have the buses for their schedule and we’ll sublet those buses to generate some revenue back to them.”

Not only have buses needed to be booked far in advance, but Oslin shares that private planes are unavailable until 2024, as well. The problems for certain artists comes down to being less about cost, and more about availability.

“I think a lot of tours, when they came out of COVID, realized there’s not an unlimited camount of charter airplanes out there,” Oslin said. “I think the lesson of that was to form a relationship with a trusted parter and make that availability there.”

230221 Pollstar Day1 CG 09737
Production Live! Recap: Fuel Prices, Labor & Gear: 2023 Outlook

After so many years off the road, older truck drivers opted to simply retire rather than continue looking for work. The effects of that see a significant lack of drivers, with younger ones being trained. van Houturn mentioned how driver salaries grew 40% in recent years to appeal to some retirees who left, as well as encourage younger drivers to consider working in the industry. And younger drivers are having to learn the ins and outs of working in this business.

“With the labor shortage, it’s not even so much the headcount, but finding the skill and qualified labor,” Walberg said. “The drivers who get the industry, especially in music. Obviously you have to be punctual, you need to be on time. But a driver also needs to get the dynamic. There’s a lot of new talent in the industry right now, but there’s also a training cycle. You have to be patent to let those younger people ramp up to get the experience and knowledge to do that.”

Prices for equipment also doubled between 2019 and 2020, and still have yet to fall. For smaller ands, the margins to book large tours and travel across countries simply aren’t there.

“It’s cost-prohibitive, to be honest,” Walberg said. “You’re hearing some of the mid-level bands cannot of the UK canceling their North American tour. It definitely puts a lot of pressure. I think you’re seeing a lot of bands go the festival route right now, because they don’t have to be multiple city stops. You see a lot of them consolidating and being more strategic than hitting the festival circuit.”

While 2023 still continues to see remnants of the worldwide shutdowns, it does appear things are getting back on track.