Michael Strickland, Bandit Lites Inc.
Sharon Kendrew, High Road USA
Kevin “Tater” McCarthy, Sound Image
Juan Neele, Ambrose Flashlight
Louise Smith, Pieter Smit Trucking, Rental & Nightliner
Jai Vatuk, Tyler Childers/ Jai Vee Productions
The title of the panel gives the impression of a three-legged stool — a stool that is the foundation of the whole business touring.
And it’s true, all three are critical elements, but as moderator Michael Strickland noted, successful production is about the crew and the crew is people.
“People make a business and if you don’t choose the right people, you are doomed to fail,” he said, underscoring a point he and the international quintet of panelists would emphasize again and again.
The supply chain woes that plagued the industry — and many other industries — have largely eased, though certain high-demand pieces of equipment can still be hard to come by, but staffing remains hard.
Consider truckers and bus drivers.
“The average driver is over 45. In Germany, 30,000 drivers a year retire but only 15,000 come in,” Louise Smit said.
Not only that, but expertise and a team focus is critical, as Kevin “Tater” McCarthy noted, especially as user-friendliness increases across technology.
“Anybody can buy a cabinet off the shelf so it’s all about the people,” he said. “You are very rarely asked to replace somebody because of their knowledge. How you get along is how you get along.”
Ensuring that enough people with the right training and temperament are ready to hop on the job means building a pipeline. While crewing — and the trades generally — still leans hard on on-the-job training, Juan Neele said alternate paths of entry still need to be built.
“We are looking at talent scouting and also working with colleges. We are bringing people in to get them to a certain level: they start on a warehouse, then go on tour or to a studio,” he said.
As ever, though, there’s a trade off — and you get what you pay for.
“People we compete who come in at a lower price may not have a load bar or strap downs and the driver may stay in the cab and wait for the slap on the back of the truck,” Sharon Kendrew said.
Strickland noted that from the time he started in the business, America has gone to a “European model” of touring. It was once commonplace in the U.S. for a tour to run 18 or 24 months; that’s now three or four months, a timeline Europe has followed for decades.
“With a bunch of dates scattered throughout the year and around the country,” Jai Vatuk says, “you have to have a relationship built with a vendor so they trust you are in it for the long haul.”
Though the supply chain is humming more smoothly, there are challenges, particularly in Europe. Since Brexit, EU countries are more stringently enforcing the 90-day limit for visitors to the Schengen Area. EU countries often have tighter environmental and sustainability regulations, particularly with trucking.
But, Strickland said, the fundamental challenge is the same and the fundamental solution is just as eternal.
“The needs and wants of the artists and the vendors and the manufacturers are not always aligned,” he said. “But people are the engine of this industry.”