From Soup To Nuts: Tour Manager David ‘5-1’ Norman On How To Transport A Tour

David ‘5-1’ Norman (wearing all black) is pictured with Lenny Kravitz backstage at the WOMAD Festival, which was held in July 2005 at Rivermead in Reading, England. (Courtesy David ‘5-1’ Norman)

A tour manager can be seen as the hub connecting the spokes of a tour — made up of various transportation sectors, an artist and their team — in order to effectively get a trek from place to place and put on an amazing show. Being a great tour manager requires being a forward thinker, super organized and skilled at communication.

One prime example is industry veteran David ‘5-1’ Norman, who has spent more than 40 years in the touring industry, working as a tour director, tour manager, production manager, tour accountant and promoter rep for artists including Prince; Robert Plant & Alison Krauss; Alicia Keys; Earth, Wind & Fire; Tyler, the Creator and many others. He’s also an adjunct professor at New Jersey’s William Paterson University in the music business program and serves on the board of nonprofit Well Dunn Foundation, as well as other organizations.

After spending 2023 as Evanescence’s tour manager and tour accountant, as well as tour director/tour accountant for Rhiannon Giddens, Norman caught up with Pollstar as he was prepping for Kid Cudi’s “Insano: Engage The Rage World Tour” (which was unfortunately put on hold after Cudi broke his foot by jumping off stage at Coachella). Here, in his own words, Norman offers his insight about the go-go-go world of transportation.

As you’re building a budget for the tour it’s based on the guarantee that the artist is getting. Budgeting all starts with the creative design because that will give us how many personnel we’re going to need, how many buses we’ll need to transport those people and it will also entail how many trucks we’re going to need.

Coming out of the pandemic, everyone wanted to go on the road at the same time because everyone wanted to make up that money that they lost for the previous two years. With everyone going out at the same time, there were not many trucks or buses or flights available. As soon as I get a tour I ask how many trucks and buses do you think that we’re going to need or they’ll ask me how many once I see the design. And I immediately start reaching out to a lot of people that I’ve worked with in the past that I have relationships with to see if they have anything available.

The vans pulling a trailer are always going to be up-and-coming bands or the support acts on tour. Buses are generally going to be for major support acts or headliner acts. Private charters are basically going to be for A-list artists – and the other reason why they would fly charters is not only for convenience, but for safety and security concerns.

It all begins with the size and scope of the tour. Usually artists who are doing stadiums, the artist is usually going to fly private. There are some artists that I’ve worked with who’ve said, “Well, I want to save the money because I want to have all that money at the end of the tour” so they will fly commercial. But there’s also artists who will do a hodgepodge – they’ll take some commercial flights and some private charters, but it all depends on the artist and how they want to move. Generally, whenever I get called for a tour, one of the first things I always want to do is speak with the artist and ask them directly things that they like, they dislike, how they like to travel, what type of hotels they like to stay in. A lot of times the personal assistant will answer those questions for you, but I prefer to ask the artist directly because everyone likes to move differently.

DavidTwo Crop
David ‘5-1’ Norman (second from right) is pictured with client Earth, Wind & Fire’s Verdine White, Ralph Johnson and Philip Bailey circa 2018. Norman has worked as a tour manager and tour accountant for the legendary band. (Courtesy David ‘5-1’ Norman)

I use freight mostly if I’m flying internationally or need to get something from Los Angeles to Europe or Australia. We would either fly it on a cargo plane or it would go on a ship, which would take two or three weeks to get there and it’s a little bit less expensive than chartering a jet to fly all the gear over.

And that’s how I use freight over trucks  — mostly for international type things or getting a few bits and bobs from the various vendors to your first rehearsals. For me, my production cases are here at my house. So I have Rock-it Cargo coming to my house to pick up my cases and then wardrobe cases and other production cases are also here in Atlanta. So they would just swing by to pick that stuff up and then they would either put it on a truck to get it to where we’re rehearsing or they would do it freight overnight. I plan out how to do it the cheapest way possible because I like to save the artist money.

One thing that I stress to management and business management — and this is kind of been my edict for life — sometimes you’re gonna pay a little bit more up front, but it’s going to pay for itself on the back end. And what I mean by that is if I’m getting a trucking quote and management is like, “Holy shit! This is super expensive. Can we go with this [other] trucking company?” I’ll say, “I’ve never heard of that trucking company. I can tell you what’s gonna happen. They’re gonna have a truck break down. We’re gonna call and say ‘Can you get another truck out here?’ They’re gonna say ‘We don’t have any more trucks in our fleet. So figure it out on your own or go to Penske.’” And that’s even more stressful for me because we’re already out there dealing with a bazillion things that happen during a day. I’d rather go with a company that’s a little bit more expensive. They have a great reputation and then they have great backup plans, they have extra trucks, they have extra buses in their fleet. Their staff are used to touring and have been to most of these arenas in advance. When you’re working with an up-and-coming company or a company that really hasn’t toured before now, you’re teaching them how to tour. Sometimes the best quote is not the right quote.