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Positive changes in touring start with baby steps

Continuing our series of columns by leading production and tour managers, IQ speaks to Rebecca Travis who has been on the road for over two decades with artists including Florence + The Machine, Ellie Goulding and Arcade Fire. Catch up on the previous Production Notes comment from Chris Kansy here.

 


IQ: What was the last tour you did before the pandemic took effect in 2020?
RT: I was in Australia with Freya Ridings, and the fear of the pandemic was definitely bubbling. After our second show, in Melbourne on 12 March, we knew we had to get everybody home. We got back and they shut the Australian border shortly after – the timing was so tight.

How has lockdown treated you?
My partner and I moved to the Scottish borders and it’s a beautiful part of the world. I’ve been on tour for 20 years and this is the longest I’ve been at home. There are parts of this that are really positive. There were so many years where I decided to have a quiet year but was then offered an amazing opportunity I couldn’t turn down, so the enforced downtime has definitely had positives. But enough already… can we please get back to work now?

During lockdown you joined the newly formed Touring Production Group (TPG). Can you tell us more about that?
TPG started as weekly Zooms with production and tour managers (organised and chaired by Wob Roberts) getting together to produce a document on how we might tour post-Covid. It developed into something bigger and subgroups were formed in sustainability, diversity, equity and inclusion; and mental welfare and personal wellbeing.

I really hope when we finally get back on the road that we can actually put [TPG’s] ideas into practice and make a difference

We have now opened up membership and have had a great response from people keen to make positive changes in touring. It’s important that people in this sector support each other and share knowledge and values and ideas about how we can make the industry a better place to be. I really hope when we finally get back on the road that we can actually put these ideas into practice and make a difference.

In which areas of touring do you hope TPG will make an impact?
Hopefully, in all of the areas we are working on. For example, sustainability. If we’re all asking venues for certain things to make the industry greener, hopefully it’ll become the norm to provide them. I think a lot of these changes have to come from the artist and then it’ll just become a part of what we have to do – it’ll be normal to say “we’re not going to do that trip” or “we’ll offset that trip.”

We’ve also spoken to agents about routing tours in a greener way, asking that they don’t make us double back on ourselves, but we have to be realistic – post-Covid tour routing will be a challenge for agents. We’ve spoken about sustainability all this time; we have to start now and at least implement small changes and keep the discussions going even when we’re back to work.

We can’t just jump straight back on a bus and do 18-hour days. We’re not match fit

Have you had any revelations about the way the touring industry operates?
There have been a lot of revelations about the madness of zipping all over the world; moving in ten trucks’ worth of equipment, setting it up for a show and then putting it back in the trucks and moving it to the next place. Perhaps we will see bands adopt a more simple stage set-up, rather than lugging around all these bells and whistles. Also, Covid-wise, are we going to want to have 14 or 16 people on a tour bus? Maybe things will be scaled down a bit when we return.

Has the enforced downtime put into perspective just how demanding your job is?
Yes. It would be ideal to perhaps do a little less touring and maybe not take 18 months of solid work at a time. We do long hours on the road – you might get up at six in the morning and might not get back into the bunk until 3 am, and you’re going to do that three times in a row before you have a day off and can collapse in a heap.

In the TPG’s mental health and welfare chats, we’re discussing how to make that better, especially because we’ve just had completely different lives throughout the pandemic. We can’t just jump straight back on a bus and do 18-hour days. We’re not match fit. I think, in terms of all these things like mental health and sustainability, it’s about gently easing ourselves back into this. Baby steps.

 


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IQ 99 out now: NFT ticketing tech & more

IQ 99, the latest issue of the international live music industry’s favourite monthly magazine, is available to read online now.

In May’s edition, IQ examines the hype around nonfungible tokens and the exciting possibilities they can bring to ticketing, while news editor Jon Chapple discovers some of the ways that live entertainment can embrace sustainability in its return to action.

In comments and columns, the Australian Festivals Association’s Julia Robinson discusses how a lack of government-backed insurance could impact business confidence and Laura Davidson explains the driving force behind her new female-led live services consultancy, Amigas.

Following the inaugural edition of IPM Production Notes in IQ 98, tour manager Rebecca Travis reflects on 20 years on the road and one year off, while Mike Malak updates readers on the new technology impacting the music industry in Pulse.

Plus, enjoy the regular content you’ve come to expect from your monthly IQ Magazine, including news and new agency signings – the majority of which will appear online in some form in the next four weeks.

Whet your appetite with the preview below, but if you can’t wait for your fix of essential live music industry features, opinion and analysis, click here to subscribe now and receive IQ 99 in its entirety. Subscribers can log in and read the full magazine now.

 


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New-found wealth in a time without touring

Most of us have been home for over a year now. The break from touring due to the pandemic has become a transitional period, out of an initial shock with the frailty of human existence on this planet, and into a new normal.

Are we the same people we were in 2019? My 5 am lobby call has been swapped out for eight hours of sleep. The after-show pizza and wine have been swapped out for reading a book or falling asleep to Netflix by 10.30 pm. I even have a workout routine and feel stronger now than I have felt in the last 20 years.

And then something else happened – I became a much better father to my ten-year-old daughter. Who knew? Despite the lack of work, I am incredibly lucky to be able to say this period has been enriching.

It’s an aggressive tug of war, pulling me back and forth between a healthy home life and the addiction to touring

With all this new-found wealth, why is it that some days I feel like I’m stranded in the desert, wandering around lost, looking for the loading dock?

The experience is an aggressive tug of war, pulling me back and forth between a healthy home life and the addiction to touring. This is a strong addiction and I feel the withdrawals every day.

Touring has instilled order in my life. I am regimented to a routine of: get off the bus, load-in, show, load-out, bus, hotel, load-in, etc. Disciplines are learned and muscle memory makes it all effortless. My body clock aligns with the job at hand. Responsibility, progress and accomplishment become my drug.

What do I do without this rush? How do I cope in this other world without that needed fuel?

There is no bigger rush than a great load-out

On the road, sleep is the thing I want the most and yet the hardest thing to get. I stand on concrete all day long. I drink probably more than I should. Why do I miss that so much? Is it because we are people who thrive on accomplishing routine miracles?

In our element, we get little hits of dopamine for everything we achieve throughout a 16-hour show day. It becomes part of our body chemistry.

There is a sense of belonging and tribalism we have with one another as well. We share teamwork and friendly competition. I love the banter between the stage-left PA fly guy and the stage-right fly guy as they compete to drop their last box.

There is no bigger rush than a great load-out. You know, the ones that flow so well it seems like the trucks are loading themselves? So good that even a cable bridge couldn’t screw it up.

On a personal level, I have accomplished so much more than I would have if touring had continued

The feeling of camaraderie is strongest when on the bus after a great load-out as you embark toward a day-off hotel. The wine tastes great and the food is hardy. The song being played is the best song you have ever heard. You can see the sense of accomplishment in each other’s faces. Life rarely gets better than at that exact moment. Man, do I miss it.

I do enjoy being home, though. Perhaps much of this withdrawal stems from financial uncertainty, which makes my feet feel heavy some days. But on a personal level, I have accomplished so much more than I would have if touring had continued.

This last year brought genuine life-changing experiences. I’ve had moments to sit back and ponder my and my family’s future. Build things. Create things. Experience things. I think it’s safe to say that I have grown personally.

Remaining optimistic throughout this period has served me well

Sometimes being scared can straighten you out a little bit as well. If I choose to think about money, I could easily fall down the rabbit hole of despair. Remaining optimistic throughout this period has served me well, and the spotlight at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter by the day.

The thought of going back to work again won’t be abstract for much longer. I look forward to walking into the venue to the aroma of bacon in the air, watching the trucks unload and feeling the euphoria of the house lights going out to start the show.

The pandemic has devastated our industry. Crew, vendors, venue staff and all the various businesses that support us have all had major setbacks. But as we begin to find our way out of the desert, it is possible that some wonderful things have also transpired.

I hope in my heart that after we get back to work and the anxiety has subsided, we can look back at 2020 and 2021 and have something to remember them fondly by.

 


Chris Kansy is a production manager who has worked with Roger Waters, Muse and Massive Attack.