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Freight expectations: Inside the sector’s busiest year

It’s an oft-used phrase in 2022 that the live music business is packing three years’ worth of activity into one year, as postponed festivals and tours from the pandemic period concertina alongside new tours and events around the planet. But, while there will undoubtedly be certain artists and outings that become casualties of the resulting vastly oversaturated marketplace, on paper, at least, the windfall for the likes of contractors and suppliers should help make up for some of the darker, revenue-free days that Covid inflicted.

In the freight and transport sector, the order books are full. Indeed, backlogs of requests remain seemingly permanently on reserve for those acts still scrambling to find solutions to get back out in front of their fans, while standard industry practices such as double drivers are all but non-existent for the foreseeable future such is the dearth of trained and skilled people.

“To be totally honest with you, everyone is working as hard as they ever have – but always with a smile on their faces, and no one is complaining,” reports Rock-it Global managing director Chris Palmer. “Because we had nearly two years without any kind of significant touring, everyone is just so hungry to get back to what we know and love best… 2022 is shaping up to be the busiest year I’ve known in over 20 years in the industry.”

“Everyone is working as hard as they ever have”

KB Event CEO Stuart McPherson comments, “We have everything from the biggest stadium tour on the road out right now (Ed Sheeran’s Mathematics) through arena tours such as Little Mix, Craig David, Stereophonics, etc, down to theatres with the likes of George Benson, Gregory Porter and many, many others. We are running from Malta to Finland with acts like Bring Me the Horizon, and we’re doing just about every festival on the circuit with various acts and production trucks over the summer.

“The volumes we are experiencing with re-scheduled tours and shows, coupled with new tours, festivals and events, are like nothing we have experienced in 30 years,” he continues. “This has been exacerbated by the challenges placed on the trucking industry by the TCA [Brexit deal]. The temporary dual registration easement agreed in March, with a planned permanent arrangement in the autumn, means that KB are able to service the European tours we are booked on.

“But the big challenge facing our sector is that there are now only five companies in the whole of the EU – KB being one of them – that are established and able to take advantage of the dual registration agreement to service tours throughout the UK and EU. This sees a huge demand for these services with a much-reduced resource pool to support the industry requirements.”

“The volumes [of events] we are experiencing are like nothing we have experienced in 30 years”

All too aware of the importance the sector has on delivering live music to the masses, Lisa Ryan, group CCO for EFM Global, comments, “Logistics is a hot topic at a much higher level than previously, due to the many ongoing challenges facing the industry, culminating in the perfect storm for everyone involved in touring.”

Detailing the various aspects contributing to that perfect storm, Ryan listed the main issues: ongoing global supply chain disruption (including port congestion and unreliable schedules), reduced space capacity on board flights and vessels, high fuel prices and unprecedented rate levels for international air and sea freight in particular.

Extremely high demand for ATA Carnets, short supply of trucks and drivers (particularly traditional music tour truckers) and shortage of “spare” aircraft available to the private charter market and resourcing, including staff.

“My advice is to plan to be late and over budget – in other words, don’t underestimate the budget or the length of time it may take to get from A to B to C on tour,” says Ryan. “Plan ahead, allow contingency, and keep last-minute changes to a minimum, where possible.”

“2022 is proving our busiest year to date after 40 years in operation”

It is sound advice that finds a sympathetic ear with Transam Trucking chief Mark Guterres. “2022 is proving our busiest year to date after 40 years in operation,” attests Guterres, who explains that his business experienced tremendous upheaval even before Covid reared its head, thanks to Brexit.

“Over three years ago we moved a large part of our European operations from the UK to [the Republic of Ireland] and the Netherlands, long before Brexit, so therefore our European operations have been running smoothly for some time now.” He adds, “Our biggest problems continue to be caused by the lack of preparation and planning by the UK authorities.”

Indeed, Guterres himself is now based in Auckland, New Zealand. “Here, I’m nearly a day ahead of the USA and therefore I can bridge the gap between our European offices and operating centres and our US-based customers,” he explains of his antipodean relocation.

New Kids on the Block
Of course, the coronavirus crisis radically changed the world as we know it, and in live entertainment, many companies folded, skilled people left the business entirely, while others used the moment as an opportunity to launch new enterprises to shake up and disrupt the marketplace.

In the freight game, one of the significant players to emerge from the pandemic is Freight Minds – a collection of vastly experienced individuals who initially set up a logistics company called SFW Logistics before morphing into the latest incarnation.

Based at London’s Heathrow Airport, Freight Minds got off the ground in August 2021 when industry veterans Alan Durrant, Geoff Knight, Matt Wright and Chris Jenkins began offering services including air passenger and cargo charter; warehousing and logistics; couriers; ATA Carnets; and Brexit-related customs clearance services both into and out of the UK via road.

“These companies are rapidly trying to recruit staff to plug the gap, but the pandemic hasn’t helped”

Addressing the current situation in freight, Wright tells IQ, “[Pre-Covid] we could reasonably rely on published ocean line schedules with the occasional hiccup. Now it seems to be the opposite: permanent hiccups with the occasional vessel running on time.

“There’s been a massive staff reduction in the supply chain since March 2020, and the way these companies communicate has now changed. The vast majority is now expected to be done via email, which isn’t always the easiest way to discuss matters. These companies are rapidly trying to recruit staff to plug the gap, but the pandemic hasn’t helped and Brexit has compounded that further.”

He adds, “Only operating as a new business, the work has hit us like a tidal wave, which has been amazing for Freight Minds, but it’s come with its challenges as we only have so many hours in the day to service our customers.”

Spiralling Costs
One inescapable horror that is affecting companies across the transport and freight sector is Russia’s war on Ukraine, which has prompted fuel prices to soar and contributed to rising inflation. But there are other costs to contend with as well.

Noting the ever-increasing price of diesel and other fuels, KB Event’s McPherson tells IQ, “Tours and shows are booking so late at the moment that we are quoting pretty much at fuel rates as they sit. However, our drivers’ wages have increased by 46% since August 2021, and for anything we are quoting on that’s more than a few weeks away, we are having to put in contractual clauses to say that we will review the fuel costs prior to start up.”

While those staff wage rises are inevitably passed on to clients, McPherson is at pains to highlight that ongoing fuel cost reviews should lead to lower quotes at some point. “We are being very clear with clients on what fuel rate we are quoting at, and we’re being absolutely transparent that if fuel costs reduce when we are live, we will reduce our charges,” promises McPherson. “It is unreasonable to expect clients to cover fuel increases but not to offer a reduction when costs reduce.”

“Logistics costs, whether via air, road, rail or sea, have been soaring for months and are showing little sign of slowing down”

Elsewhere, Ryan notes that freight forwarding costs have also taken an unprecedented leap, meaning that fees for moving equipment from city to city, country to country and continent to continent have soared, post-pandemic. “Logistics costs, whether via air, road, rail or sea, have been soaring for months and are showing little sign of slowing down in the immediate
future,” states Ryan.

“Factors driving these price increases are ongoing global supply chain disruption, port congestion, reduced capacity in tandem with increased demand, staff shortages, high fuel prices and now rising inflation levels in many locations. Plus, the ever-present impact of Covid-19.”

While Ryan is reluctant to specify general ballpark figures, “as it varies dramatically on different routes,” she tells IQ that costs have at least doubled and significantly more in many cases. “I can tell you as an example that from the Far East to the UK, the sea freight rates around the time of the Tokyo Olympics had increased to more than five-times pre-pandemic levels,” she adds.

Covid Recovery
In tandem with many businesses forced to curtail normal operations during the pandemic, Rock-it Global’s senior management team used the downtime as wisely as possible in an effort to ensure the company was ready to hit the road running when the green light was finally given.

“We had the foresight to hire a good number of people at the back end of 2021 as we could foresee what was going to happen with the explosion of work,” says Palmer. “For me, it is incredibly important to protect the team we have, so we always want to have enough people to cope with the demand. I have an incredible team, from operations to business development to warehouse and transport – and they all manage their own parts of the business – and my job is to make sure that they all have the tools they need to make it all work.”

As the transport business involves a continuous programme of hefty investment, its protagonists, although unprepared for Covid, were nevertheless quick to adapt to the conditions imposed by governments around the world. Guterres notes that his company rolled out an extensive expansion project prior to the pandemic that is only now beginning to pay off.

“Shame on Great Britain as most of our trucks are now EU registered”

“Apart from our UK operations centre, we have Transam Trucking International Ltd based in Cork, Ireland; and Transam Trucking B.V. based near Schiphol Airport in the Netherlands,” he says, adding, “Shame on Great Britain as most of our trucks are now EU registered.”

KB’s McPherson reveals, “We have spent in excess of £3m [€3.5m] on additional trucks and trailers in the last three months to expand our fleet, but this resource has just been swallowed up, and we find ourselves, on a daily basis, having to turn tours and shows away, at the moment.

“KB are also actively employing management and administration staff and staff to bolster our front-line teams, and we are expanding our director team. We are on a very aggressive employment drive to broaden and train our driving team. But finding the quality of people we are looking for is proving a real challenge.”

Improving Working Conditions
The ability to recruit – and retain – staff has become a multifaceted task. The pandemic saw thousands of employees who were furloughed or made redundant find employment elsewhere, and rather than that work being viewed as a temporary solution, many people are opting to remain in new occupations that often involve more sociable hours and better working conditions.

That situation has upped the ante for HR and recruitment experts, while one key issue that Rock-it’s Palmer is keen to tackle is in improving welfare conditions for personnel. “Mental health is a very important subject for me as I have struggled a lot in the past, and I never felt I got the support I needed, so that is one thing I was very keen to change,” Palmer tells IQ.

“With this incredible tsunami of work comes challenges of keeping everyone in a good place mentally. A large part of that is making sure that we have enough people at the pumps so that we can all take a break when we need to,” he explains. “We continue to hire new starters and train them – and, importantly, we have retained all of the key staff that we supported through the pandemic so that we are now ready to deal with these challenges with a smile on our faces and a spring in our step.”

“The market itself just has to learn to circumnavigate the current challenges”

But it’s not all gloomy news on the recruitment front. EFM’s Ryan states, “From our perspective, we have been fortunate to have re-employed the key staff that we lost over the past few years, along with employing a number of excellent calibre new staff around the world. We took the time to invest in systems and training, which is now paying dividends, and we are currently opening three new overseas offices in Europe and the Middle East in response to demand from clients.”

Freight Minds is also expanding. “The next two years represent a huge opportunity for Freight Minds to show its wealth of in-house experience, which at the moment is up to around 150 years as we’ve just had Andy Lovell join us,” says Wright.
He adds, “The market itself just has to learn to circumnavigate the current challenges and continually learn to adapt to the new post-pandemic world and the challenges that Brexit has thrown our collective way. What was normal in 2019 is no longer normal.”

ESG Considerations
Pre-pandemic there was an accelerating drive by artists and others to improve sustainability across touring and live music, while diversity and equality were no longer being seen as buzz words but more essential elements of a 21st-century industry.

In the rush to get back on the road some of those concerns may not be as prevalent, but as the recovery transforms – hopefully – into a business-as-usual situation, they will undoubtedly start creeping back up the order in terms of priorities, meaning the transport sector needs to keep working on potential solutions to present to clients.

Looking ahead, Palmer predicts that once the crazy circumstances of the coming year subside, the core values that were coming to the fore pre-pandemic will once again become significant, industry-wide.

“I am certainly still being asked regularly by clients both old and new about our carbon offset programme that we have”

“A lot of our blue-chip-type clients are now asking us about our [environmental, social, and governance] policies as part of the vetting process before we even get to the quoting stage,” reveals Palmer. “I am certainly still being asked regularly by clients both old and new about our carbon offset programme that we have in place, so it’s clearly still a concern within the industry.
“I believe that after this initial rush of madness, we will get back to the points that matter for long-term sustainability in our business – looking after our planet and looking after our people.”

At Freight Minds, Wright notes that sustainability remains on the agenda, “But with the ever constant changing world of logistics due to carriers cancelling flights or ocean lines adjusting schedules, there is an element of constantly putting out fires just to try and get the equipment to the next show on time. With that being said, it’s still a very important subject and one that we can’t ignore,” says Wright.

For his part, McPherson is committed to reducing the carbon footprint of his company’s activities. “As KB was the first trucking company in the UK to get accreditation to BS8555 (Environmental Standard) back in 2007, it has been very high on our agenda for a long time,” he says.

“KB started pushing the use of Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil (HVO) as fuel, and looking at more sustainable routings”

“In 2019, KB took the fight to the market and started pushing the use of Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil (HVO) as fuel, and looking at more sustainable routings. One of our big corporate clients [was] the first to really buy into this with a 50+ artic show for Google in Barcelona. Sadly, very shortly after this event, the pandemic hit and the industry ground to a halt.

“During the pandemic, we continued to work on and develop our sustainability strategy and engage with the industry leaders to inform and advise. This included giving formal presentations to the TPG on sustainability in trucking. This has certainly been carried into live with some of our clients, with acts like Bring Me The Horizon and Enter Shikari buying into full HVO (non-palm-oil source) fuelled touring. The quest continues…”

Targeting Vertical Markets
Despite the current boom times, the experience of the pandemic has taught those working in live music’s transport and freight sector that the ability to be nimble and identify other business opportunities is a crucial skill to ensure corporate survival.

Indeed, Palmer reveals his company is looking at other areas to fulfil the company’s ambitions for future growth. “At Rock-it we are very realistic,” he says. “We have traditionally had maybe [about] 75% of the live music touring market, and we know that there are some truly excellent other freight companies out there. So we are looking for growth in other sectors where we can use our learned skills in other verticals such as TV and film, sports broadcast, e-sports, theatre and art, amongst other things.

“During the pandemic we pivoted in various directions – as did many of our compadres in transport and freight – and we have seen that there is a huge market for skilled freight forwarders in the ‘time-sensitive’ market in the aforementioned verticals. We are growing all the time, but we are also focused on the next ten, 15, 20 years, and we are not looking to capitalise on what is happening right now to make a quick buck – we are planning for the future so that we have a strong and skilled team and a varied client base.”

A Rosy Future
Having endured two catastrophic years, transport and freight operators are understandably happy to finally be back problem-solving the live music industry’s logistics nightmare.

“We have been inundated with truck and Carnet requests with the European Festival season in full swing, and we are handling one of the logistically biggest music tours this year, for Rammstein,” reports Ryan.

She muses, “The business had doubled year on year in 2019, and after the obvious downturn across the entire industry, we are now ahead of where we left off pre-Covid, thanks in part to the other areas in which we operate that came back to life considerably earlier than music and theatre touring – TV and film, exhibitions, hotels, aerospace and automotive, for instance.

McPherson warns that while 2022 might feel like a gold rush, expansion in the sector will involve some patient planning

“Now we are laser-focused on maintaining our high service levels for the customers, continuing our innovative ways of operating and investing in our people and their well-being.”

Wright comments, “The next two or three years will certainly be a challenge for all of us at Freight Minds but given our collective experience from years of doing what we do, we will be able to guide our existing and prospective clients through the new world that we all cohabitate.”

Rock-it’s Palmer is in a similarly optimistic state of mind. “In terms of our operations, we’re in a good place to be able to cope with the rush, and we are working in tandem with all sectors of our industry from booking agents to promoters to make sure that shows can go ahead despite the financial and operational challenges that we’re facing.”

However, McPherson warns that while 2022 might feel like a gold rush, expansion in the sector will involve some patient planning, and he believes that there could be another wave of mergers and acquisitions as the sector evolves in the post-pandemic period. “There is certainly the opportunity for strong organic growth at the moment, but we believe that the current demand is not representative of the medium- to long-term picture,” he tells IQ.

He concludes, “KB plans to continue to grow organically at a sustainable pace over the coming 24 months, but in reality, this is somewhat hampered by the availability of new equipment: truck and trailer lead times won’t see new kit that is ordered now on the road much before summer to autumn of 2023. To that end, we are seriously considering what options are available for acquisitional growth or strategic partnership.”

 


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Here and queer: IQ Magazine’s Pride edition has arrived

IQ 112, the latest issue of the international live music industry’s favourite magazine, is available to read online and in print now.

The July 2022 issue sees the return of IQ Magazines annual Pride issue, which was made possible thanks to support from Ticketmaster.

Once again, the Pride issue’s marquee feature is the LGBTIQ+ List which profiles 20 queer professionals making an impact in the international live music business and beyond. This year’s top 20, which were announced yesterday, share their challenges, triumphs, advice and email addresses with us in the bumper feature.

Issue 112 also sees the return of the Loud & Proud playlist and feature, in which our agency partners profile some of the most exciting queer acts on their rosters. Contributing agencies include 13 Artists, ATC Live, CAA, FMLY, Hometown Talent, Progressive Artists, Wasserman Music, and X-ray Touring.

More recommendations for queer artists are shared in Your Shout, where executives including Rauha Kyyrö (Fullsteam), Raven Twigg (Metropolis Music), Paul Bonham (MMF) reveal the best queer act they’ve seen live.

Elsewhere, Pride editor Lisa Henderson speaks to executives working in the LGBTIQ+ events space to find out more about the economic and social value of the pink pound.

For this edition’s columns and comments, DICE’S Nix Corporan outlines ways the live music industry could make concerts safer and more inclusive for queer fans. In addition, Hatice Arici details the ramifications for the LGBTIQ+ community in Turkey, following the shutdown of Istanbul Pride.

Beyond the Pride-specific content, IQ Magazine editor Gordon Masson learns how the freight and transport business is dealing with its busiest and most challenging year ever.

Derek Robertson looks back on half a century of history that helped to shape Denmark’s iconic Roskilde Festival and Adam Woods reports on the extraordinary growth of live music in Latin America.

As always, the majority of the magazine’s content will appear online in some form in the next six weeks.

However, if you can’t wait for your fix of essential live music industry features, opinion and analysis, click here to subscribe to IQ for just £7.99 a month – or check out what you’re missing out on with the limited preview below:

 


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Solving the supply chain crisis

Experts from the production and touring industries have been getting together to find solutions to the current supply chain problems that threaten to dampen the excitement after two years of no concerts. James Drury finds out more.

“We’re going to see a return to the roaring ’20s” was the refrain from the live industry last year as the global lockdowns eased and audiences seemed to be straining at the leash to get back to the concerts they’d missed so dearly. Promoters, agents and artists, keen to make up for two years or more of lost touring business, were just as eager to get back on the road. Although it was online only, the fizzing optimism of ILMC 33 could be felt through the screen.

But just as confidence grew among audiences, the knock-on effects of Covid, Brexit – and many would argue longstanding problems of low pay and long hours – are hitting the industry. There’s simply not enough crew, security, drivers, trucks, equipment, staging and everything else needed to fulfil all these shows. So what’s going on, and what can be done to solve what’s being dubbed “the supply chain crisis”?

“The live events supply chain problem is a term that is being used frequently at the moment. It’s being suggested that it has been caused by the pandemic. But that’s not necessarily true”

Production experts worldwide have teamed up across three conferences to share information about supply chain problems. They got together at ILMC in London, Pollstar Live! In Los Angeles, and EPIC at Eurosonic Noorderslag in the Netherlands to find solutions to this ongoing issue and share them with the industry through this report.

In many ways, the problems we’re facing are nothing new, as industry veteran Carl AH Martin points out: “The live events supply chain problem is a term that is being (ab)used frequently at the moment. It’s being suggested that it has been caused by the pandemic. But that’s not necessarily true. At the Event Safety & Security Summit (E3S) in 2017, a panel discussed the lack of security personnel throughout Europe due to a lack of money to pay sensible rates. In 2018/19, at both the IPM and Event Production Forum East (EPFE) conferences, there was discussion about the lack of personnel and materials.”

What challenges are we facing, and what’s causing them?
That noted, discussions on this current situation heated up in January. At EPIC, Okan Tombulca, CEO of global touring logistics specialists eps, raised alarm bells about what he saw were promoters’ intentions to squeeze two years of shows into eight months. He told the panel that we’re in a rare situation where a lack of equipment was now the deciding factor whether a gig could happen or not: “no stage, no gig,” he pointed out.

Equipment is in short supply for a variety of reasons. Tower lights are hard to get hold of because they have gone out to the construction and road-building industries; marquee and tent companies have found different markets, such as, the new £19bn (€22bn) east-west London railway, Crossrail, and use in Covid testing centres. Temporary buildings are being used as vaccination centres and temporary medical units. LED lighting is reportedly 25% more expensive than pre-pandemic, and prices for most equipment have skyrocketed. However, at Pollstar Live!, Jeroen Hallaert of PRG rightly pointed out that equipment from 2020 is still perfectly good to use. He challenged designers to use existing inventory rather than create productions using the latest tech.

In addition to not having enough production equipment to go around, there’s a severe staffing shortage. At Eurosonic’s EPIC, Oliver Gardiner from Vespasian Security in the UK, said staff have been lost during the pandemic to Covid vaccination centres. And many have left the industry – choosing instead to take full-time work in sectors that enable them to be at home more with their families or to have a better work-life balance than is offered by the music industry.

Illustrating this crisis, Martina Pogacic, who runs production company Show Production Ltd in Croatia and the Balkans, told EPIC that over 300,000 people had left the region, mainly to Germany and Ireland, while others have left the industry or died. As a result, locally promoted events are suffering. The knock-on effect is that newcomers to the industry can’t get the experience and skills they need to get fully trained.

“Not only must the show go on, it will”

Maarten Arkenbout from trucking company Pieter Smit said the increase in fuel costs and the loss of drivers to other industries means, like many firms, they are no longer able to guarantee their prices until the client confirms the work.

However, Michael Strickland, co-chair and founder of Bandit Lites, told Pollstar Live! “not only must the show go on, it will.”

But at what price? There are very real concerns that overstretched and understaffed production teams could lead to a serious accident. Even if the staffing issues are solved, production costs are skyrocketing at a time when many countries around the world are feeling the pinch of inflationary pressures. Will audiences swallow significant ticket price hikes, or will they choose to go to fewer concerts? Promoters could well be about to take some serious financial hits.

Artists also haven’t realised costs are rising and that this will reduce their income. They’re going to have to accept that for a while, they might not make as much money from touring. And while that’s less of an issue for the top flight of acts, what’s going to happen to smaller bands that make up the vast majority of the live touring industry? This is a problem that hasn’t been fully borne out yet. What effects will either massively reduced income or a lack of touring opportunities have on acts that don’t fill arenas?

“We’ve got tougher times ahead, but we can do it”

Solutions?
Having said all this, one thing the production industry excels at is finding solutions. “The show must go on” is a cliché for a reason, and there’s a feeling of determination to resolve this pinch point.

Paul Sergeant from international venues giant ASM Global said Covid had galvanised the industry like nothing before. “We’ve got tougher times ahead,” he told IPM, “but we can do it.”

The 7 Ps – the old British Army adage “Proper Planning & Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance” – has never been truer in these constrained times.

“It’s all about talking with clients. We say ‘plan to be late and over budget'”

In an effort to lock in prices and maintain some sort of stability in their budgets, some companies are seeking to contract suppliers on a longer-term basis. While this has the advantage of providing revenue security to suppliers, there’s also a downside. Bonnie May, CEO of catering and hospitality giant Global Infusion Group, said volatility in costs means it’s a struggle to ensure that margins remain sufficient over the lifetime of the contract. “How do we ensure year three is as cost-effective for us as year one?” she asked IPM.

Group COO at EFM Global, Lisa Ryan, said communication is vital. “It’s all about talking with clients. We say ‘plan to be late and over budget.’”

Consolidation of equipment
Faced with massive price increases and scarcity of equipment, more and more promoters are choosing to buy their own kit, such as staging.

Eps CEO Okan Tombulca said his company is frequently approached by promoters seeking to create joint ventures to buy equipment together – particularly in the US. He says Live Nation, for example, recently bought production for 28 stadiums and is touring eight bands through the venues, using the same set-up at all shows – much like at a festival. The bands are being told they have to use the set-ups in situ rather than bring their own production.

In Australia, the five major promoters got together, shared their lists of scheduled major shows over the next three years, and then invited vendors to make the equipment, leaving it in each of the major cities for all shows. The concept of “make it once and leave it there” is an effort to prevent huge convoys of trucks constantly crisscrossing the continent, plus the huge transport costs of getting gear there.

In the UK, Kilimanjaro-owned festival organiser UK Live already owns the kit it requires, deciding a few years back to acquire everything needed. They have toilets, staging, sound and more and are considering hiring them out to others, renting the greenfield set-ups to other promoters, or adding show days.

All this is old news for John Lickrish of Flash Events in Abu Dhabi. His company owns all its own production and has done since it formed. “When we started in 2007, we wanted to start the events industry in the region. So we trained people and invested in equipment.” He says this inspires strong loyalty in the staff, who tend to stay with the firm.

“We’ve been underpaying everyone for so long, and that’s going to come home to roost”

Pay & conditions
Long hours, being away from home for weeks or more at a time, below-average pay: life in music can be glamorous, but it’s not always attractive for everyone. A key reason for the staffing crisis is the pandemic not only saw people leave for full-time positions in other industries rather than zero-hours freelance roles. Equally, being forced to spend more time at home made them realise they preferred not being away from family and friends. So how can we attract people back?

An obvious solution is to pay people more. As Kilimanjaro CEO Stuart Galbraith pointed out at ILMC: “We’ve been underpaying everyone for so long, and that’s going to come home to roost.

You can’t blame a truck driver for working for Amazon if they can get more money and be at home at the weekends.” He predicted shows would likely be lost, sharing that a tour manager he knows has 16 shows but not enough staff to fill them all.

During that ILMC panel, an audience member reported that in Denmark, stagehands had seen a 10% increase in their hourly rates. Staging manager Mark Hornbuckle from ES Global said some stagehands were being offered increased fees from £220-$300 (€257) a day to £300 (€346). And crew boss rates are £280-£350 (€323-€498) a day.

It’s not just pay. Keeping staff and freelancers happy while they’re at work is just as important

But it’s not just pay. Keeping staff and freelancers happy while they’re at work is just as important. Flexible hours and opportunities to train and progress are vital. José Faísca from Portugal’s Arena Altice says his company helps train security staff, even though they don’t own the company. “They’ve worked with me for more than 15 years. They see our company as their own.” He says training staff, giving them opportunities to grow, a fair salary, and rights, is fundamental to ensuring motivated staff. And motivated staff will not only stay with you but ensure the customer has a great time, too.

The opportunity to work from home is also key to ensuring staff have a good work-life balance. But it’s important for people to come to the office to get the collaborative working skills and pick up and learn from others. An upside of having a flexible work-from-home set-up is you can tap into people who live far from your offices, enabling you to have even greater diversity of workforce. Global Infusion’s May said her company offers people as much unpaid leave as they want during the quieter months of January and February.

Some venues are discussing with the rigging crew about having static equipment in venues, leaving it there but providing a “guarantee of work” for riggers, so they know they’ll get paid.

There’s certainly an appetite to help recruit more young blood and train up the staff of the future

Education
Many in the industry are calling for more production courses at universities. Plenty of people said that when they left school they had no idea about the career they’ve pursued and feel if more school-leavers knew this is a viable career, they would choose to
take it up. There’s certainly an appetite to help recruit more young blood and train up the staff of the future.

Bryan Grant from production company Britannia Row said his firm started its own training scheme as a way of making a difference and ensuring people are taught everything they need to know to start in the business. He added that they get great feedback about their trained crew, whether or not they stay with his company or go on to other things.

ASM Global’s Sergeant says Australia has a Venue Management School for venue staff that offers diplomas following successful completion of courses. “This is a career option just as much as being a doctor or truck driver or lawyer,” he says, adding the Venue Management Association-run school is very active in recruiting people from other industries, as well as people who have retired and want to try something different, such as being a steward.

“The current supply chain model is not the one we should be having for the next ten years”

Travel light
While production costs increase but consumers face inflationary pressure, there’s going to be little room for passing on the cost increases to ticket holders. One solution could be to take smaller productions out. That’s not just good from a bottom-line perspective but also will be vital in the future from a sustainability point of view.

“Ultimately, all of us have to say to the artist ‘the current supply chain model is not the one we should be having for the next ten years. We can’t be driving 30 trucks around Europe and saying this is how it’s going to be on the stage every time,” said Galbraith.
Flash Entertainment’s Lickrish said the Middle East doesn’t usually get the full production – and he doesn’t miss it at all. “It’s all about the crowd experience. Them having a good time is the most important thing,” he said.

“Cutting back on these productions will benefit the artist, too – because they spend less. The audience won’t notice. While bells and whistles are great, it’s about having a wonderful time.”

Not only this but audiences will increasingly be looking to artists to think about sustainability when touring. It won’t be socially acceptable for touring to have a huge impact on the environment.

“The solution to supply chain issues is cooperation and sharing of information because together we’re more efficient

Collaboration is key
One of the best things to come out of Covid was the level of cooperation happening in the industry. Competitors talked to each other, and the whole industry came together to support each other, find solutions, and work as one.

Says Galbraith: “If there’s one conclusion, the solution to supply chain issues is cooperation and sharing of information because together we’re more efficient. We’re going to see this level of cooperation for the next decade for sustainability reasons and more.”

It might sound ambitious, but we’re facing unprecedented times. The immediate health impacts of Covid may be lessening for now, but the knock-on effects are just as challenging and will require an equally collaborative approach to resolve them.

 


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The New Europeans: Live music’s Brexit exiles

When the British prime minister, Boris Johnson, announced on Christmas Eve 2020 that the UK had signed a free trade agreement, the TCA (Trade and Cooperation Agreement), with the European Union, there was a collective sigh of relief across much of Britain. Four and a half tortuous years after the Brexit vote, the UK was finally out, and people on both sides of the new border could finally get on with their lives.

Well, sort of. That is, of course, unless you work in concert touring, in which case new requirements for visas (for people) and carnets (for goods) – as well as restrictions on cabotage (ie the right to transport goods and people within the EU and/or UK’s borders) for trucking companies – represented a less than ideal outcome for an industry built on decades of free movement across Europe.

In response, many UK-based firms, particularly hauliers affected by the new limits on cabotage in the European Union, are investing considerable sums to open new depots in mainland Europe or the Republic of Ireland.

In contrast to these ‘new Europeans’, many in the touring sector were “sleepwalking towards Brexit day,” according to Robert Hewett, founder and director of Stagetruck. “They were just completely indifferent to it,” he says, “thinking that we’d all just carry on as it was before. I would be saying to people, ‘Look, I don’t think you should assume that. This is how we make a living; it’s our livelihood…’”

However, with all touring still on hold because of the coronavirus, the impact of the TCA’s more restrictive provisions, particularly on cabotage, has yet to be felt fully, Hewett continues. “What happened with the pandemic when it hit is that it masked it [the Brexit question] for at least the next 12 months,” he says.

According to Stuart McPherson, managing director of KB Event, a ‘no-deal’ Brexit – repeatedly rejected as the worst possible outcome by most live music industry associations and professionals – would have been a better option for hauliers than the TCA signed by Johnson’s government and their counterparts in the EU.

“Bizarrely, for us that would have been a better outcome than the one we have,” he explains. “For rock’n’roll touring companies there was an exemption in place, from back in 1996, that allowed entertainment transport to move freely throughout the EU. That protocol was overwritten by the TCA, which came into law with the Brexit agreement and overrode the previous exemption we had under the ECMT [European Conference of Ministers of Transport] protocols. So for us, this is the worst possible outcome.”

A ‘no-deal’ Brexit  would have been a better option for hauliers than the Trade and Cooperation Agreement

When the TCA was reached and the Brexit deal done, what we were left with was something that said we can no longer tour in Europe,” McPherson continues, “and so the only solution for that – as it sits right now and for the foreseeable future – is for us to open up a full European operating centre with a European operator’s licence, which gives us more freedom in terms of cabotage and interstate movements in Europe.”

As a result of that outcome, all the major UK-headquartered concert trucking and transport companies, which also include Stagetruck and Transam/EST (Edwin Shirley Trucking), are now based at least partially in the EU, or are considering a move, with offices in places like the Netherlands and Republic of Ireland serving as all-important hubs for continental operations.

Under the current rules, Transam/EST will have to make a choice: “Either to become Dutch or Irish, or a bit of both, or to stay in the UK – but I can’t see the latter happening,” says senior manager Ollie Kite. “We’re going to have to re-register all our trucks, or a lot of them, into the EU, and that costs money. So we want to be able to be ready to do that, but we’re delaying it as long as possible. Because until work starts to return, we’re a bit strapped for cash…”

McPherson estimates that the cost to KB Event to set up an office in Ireland – including the operations centre with parking for 60 trucks, an EU operator’s licence, and duplicate fleet insurance – is already up to £500,000 (€578,000), with European CPCs (certificates of professional competence) for KB’s drivers set to cost a further £100,000 (€116,000) – a considerable outlay for a sector that has had little revenue since March 2020.

Stagetruck, which already had an office near Veghel in the Netherlands, is similarly facing a bill of between £100,000 and £110,000 to send its drivers to the Irish republic to do an EU-certified driver CPC course, says Hewett.

“All the European countries, at this moment, are standing together and saying, ‘No, unless you come and take a driving test [in an EU member state] you cannot drive a European-registered truck,’” he comments. “That is the nightmare that we’re all facing at the moment.”

Kite says Transam/EST is also looking toward Ireland, to minimise the language barrier for the company’s UK drivers. “The nonsense of it is,” he adds, “is that they already know what they’re going to be taught, as the course and the exams are exactly the same as in England – just that you have to take them in Ireland or somewhere in the EU instead. Nothing’s actually changed.”

Currently, explains Kite, the UK allows EU drivers to drive British-registered trucks on an EU licence, “although they’re hinting that they won’t let that continue” should it not be reciprocated from the other side.

All the major UK-headquartered concert trucking and transport companies are now based at least partially in the EU, or are considering a move

Keep on truckin’
As Craig Stanley of Marshall Arts, who is the chair of the UK’s LIVE (Live music Industry Venues and Entertainment) Touring group, told IQ earlier this year, the cabotage issue – the lack of an exemption for concert hauliers under the TCA – is by far the biggest problem facing hauliers who haven’t already made the jump across the English Channel or Irish Sea. “Unlimited movement by UK-based concert hauliers will cease,” he said. “The biggest impact of the cabotage regulations is that non-EU-based haulage companies will only be allowed to have a load going into the EU and then two further movements before having to turn back to their place of registration. So, as it stands, to undertake EU tours it will be necessary to have EU-registered hauliers.”

The Road Haulage Association (RHA), the UK trade association for haulage and logistics operators, has called on Boris Johnson to secure an exemption, or ‘easement,’ from the current rules for UK-based entertainment hauliers to enable them to continue touring Europe. “If the UK events haulage industry is to have any chance of survival it needs an EU-wide easement so that trucks moving touring equipment can continue to make multiple stops across Europe,” says RHA chief executive Richard Burnett.

Unfortunately, on the British side at least, there remain fundamental misunderstandings about the role of concert hauliers and their needs in the post-Brexit landscape, says Kite. “We’ve been lobbying for change, we’re talking to the Department for Transport, and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, but they don’t really understand. They think it’s just going from A to B, dropping off a kit and then picking it up again. We’re struggling with trying to get them to understand that under the TCA we simply can’t tour like we used to.

“We’re inching forward – whereas before, under other rules, cultural tours and events were exempt from the cabotage rule.”

“There is a lack of understanding in government about transport,” agrees Hewett, “even more than the lack of understanding about the music industry. Every headline you ever saw was about fishing, but if you compare what the music industry brings in – what it brings to every local economy when a big band arrives – it’s a massive injection of income into local areas, and they seem to have bypassed it completely. It’s amazing.”

“There is a lack of understanding in government about transport – even more than the lack of understanding about the music industry”

Teething problems
It’s not just hauliers who have been forced to set up costly EU offices to continue trading after Brexit. London-based World Touring Exhibitions, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, has been forced to slim down its UK office and set up shop in Rotterdam – a reflection of visa considerations and the other expensive barriers against both UK–EU and inter-EU travel for a non-EU company, founder Corrado Canonici tells IQ.

“It’s a shame, but it is necessary, as we can’t really bring UK people [to Europe] at the touch of a button, like we could before,” he says. “For example, we are about to open an exhibition in Germany – I can’t get my crew there unless I get them all visas, which would have taken an enormous amount of time and money, which makes no sense when you only need them to work five days. What sense does it make to get them a 30-day visa?”

For exhibitions coming into the EU, “we have to do all kinds of paperwork – ATA carnets, rule-of-origin papers – in addition to visas for the crew,” Canonici continues, “so we just thought, ‘How about we continue to be part of [the EU]?’ Europe is 27 countries and the UK is one. So [by opening an EU office] we have 27 countries that we can serve and tour without any problems.”

From a freedom of movement perspective, the political climate in the UK would never have allowed for permit-free travel between the UK and Europe, suggests Andy Corrigan of Viva La Visa. “Anything regarding immigration would have needed a degree of reciprocity: that if we [the UK] were saying we are going to have visa- free travel, the EU would have said, ‘Well, we want it to the UK,’ and the UK – the Home Office and Boris Johnson – would have said, ‘No way.’ Anything regarding Brexit that would have led to increased immigration into the UK, they’d have said no, because of how that would play out in the Daily Mail: ‘That’s not what we voted for…’”

While Corrigan believes the problems surrounding other aspects of post-Brexit touring “are soluble, it’s going to take a bit of time to make everything run smoothly. And anecdotally, things are not terribly well organised at the moment. We had a sound company went out [to the EU] on a carnet last week. I had to get them the emergency car and the two-hour special service, and they got to Folkestone and the guy there refused to stamp it. I don’t know why – he just said he couldn’t do it and moved them on. So they got to France and, because it was Ascension Day, customs was closed. There was nobody there.

“It’s one thing saying you need a carnet to take your goods over. But the actual practicalities of it – the system and the infrastructure – are not all together yet. And I think you will get more random decisions being made by border people asking for the wrong things and discriminating and asking for stuff they shouldn’t, and the same coming into the UK. Hopefully, it will smooth itself out.”

World Touring Exhibitions’ new reality was illustrated recently as the company prepared to put the aforementioned exhibition into Cologne. Canonici recalls: “All of a sudden we found out that if we were using a British company, it would have been a problem. We were told, ‘You can’t do that without a big, big cost.’ So, we used a Dutch company instead and immediately the shipper told us, ‘Oh, that’s great.’ We literally just signed one piece of paper and that was it.”

“When the pressure is coming from the other side of the Channel, that’s when things will change”

‘Make it work’
Despite this exodus of profitable business out of the UK, McPherson is of the opinion that there is little appetite on the British side for renegotiating the terms of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement, even on a bilateral basis (between the UK and individual EU member countries). “At the moment, it’s being made very clear that there is going to be no reengagement or renegotiating on the TCA,” he says. “To read into that, the message is: this is what you’ve got, and you’ve got to find a way to make it work.”

While KB Event and companies like it have already spent hundreds of thousands of euros on doing just that, McPherson remains concerned about what he sees as a fundamental lack of haulage capacity for tours in the pipeline – particularly given the number of shows that have been postponed to 2022 and beyond because of Covid-19 restrictions.

“When we get to 2022 and there are not enough trucks in the EU to be able to cover the tours, you’re going to have European promoters saying they cannot deliver their tours as they have no way of moving them because 85% of trucks for touring come out of the UK.”

Hewett emphasises the importance of also keeping the pressure on the government in the UK, warning that the entertainment haulage sector – especially those smaller British outfits that couldn’t afford to become ‘new Europeans’ – is facing wipe-out under current cabotage regulations. “We really need a concerted effort now, with the press, the music industry and everyone to come on board and push this issue because it could decimate this industry,” he says.

For Corrigan, there’s “too much at stake, economically and artistically,” for the UK and EU not to get back around the negotiating table to resolve the outstanding issues facing performers, crew and hauliers. “It’s going to happen. In the past, things have been overcome,” he says. “We used to tour Europe with carnets at every border, which was a nightmare. But today’s major touring is a much more business-like activity than it was 30 years ago, and think how much it would upset the accountants if the lighting truck didn’t make it to a gig because it got stuck at the Belgian border for 12 hours…”

In a scenario like the one mentioned, where promoters cannot deliver shows for which fans have bought tickets (and in many cases held onto them for a year or longer), “that’s when the pressure is going to change,” says McPherson, “from the UK trucking company shouting about the fact we can’t do what we do for a living anymore, to promoters in the EU shouting at their country’s government, saying, ‘You guys need to do something here. We can’t move our tours. Our revenue streams have dried up for us, and for our nation.’

“At that point, when the pressure is coming from the other side of the Channel, that’s when things will change.”

 


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EU cabotage rules threaten post-Covid-19 touring

Major touring productions will no longer be able to draw on the expertise of British-based hauliers under the terms of the current Brexit deal, industry experts have warned.

As IQ reported on new year’s eve, the day before the deal came into effect, the days of tours of starting in the UK and continuing on to an effectively unlimited number of dates in continental Europe have come to an end – with ‘cabotage’ rules in the new EU–UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement limiting UK trucks over 3.5 tonnes to just three stops in the EU’s internal market.

“Unlimited movement by UK-based concert hauliers will cease,” confirms promoter Craig Stanley of Marshall Arts, who is the chair of the LIVE (Live music Industry Venues and Entertainment) Touring group. “The biggest impact of the cabotage regulations is that non-EU-based haulage companies will only be allowed to have a load going into the EU and then two further movements before having to turn back to their place of registration. So, as it stands, to undertake EU tours it will be necessary to have EU-registered hauliers.”

“The only way that these concert hauliers can actually continue to provide this service is by setting up European operations,” echoes Richard Burnett, CEO of the UK’s Road Haulage Association (RHA). “So that means a European business, and a European operation centre that costs a lot of money.

“Unlimited movement by UK-based concert hauliers will cease”

“Bearing in mind we’ve had the worst year, from a concert perspective, because of the Covid impact, so these hauliers haven’t got any money. They’re struggling enormously. And these are the trusted hauliers that have done this for years and years – the guys that have been around for the best part of 20, 30, 40 years. So this is a massive, massive issue.”

Under the principle of reciprocity, even if UK hauliers which can afford to do so do open an EU office, the same rules apply in the other direction – with those newly EU-registered trucks having the same issue should they be needed back in the UK, explains Stanley.

With the UK occupying a central position in the “vast majority” of international tours, restrictive cabotage regulations risk the “erosion of our position” as a leader in live music production, says Andy Lenthall, GM of the Production Services Association (PSA).

“The whole UK position as a leader in production, and place to start EU tours, has been built on freedom of movement,” he explains. “There’s no going back to the old ways – because the ‘new way’ still exists [among the EU’s remaining 27 members] – but we do need some urgency on this, and the route to a solution.”

Complicating the issue is the fact that, because most hauliers are based in the UK, the majority of drivers are British, or at least UK-based. This means, at present, there simply aren’t enough drivers on the continent to service the major concert tours alone, says Stanley.

“The whole UK position as a leader in production, and place to start EU tours, has been built on freedom of movement”

For those who can’t afford to acquire fleet of EU-registered trucks, the only other solution would be for hauliers to return to the UK after having completed their maximum number of drops, says Burnett. “Could you imagine a concert tour packing up and coming back to the UK, and then going back out? It would be ridiculous,” he adds.

In spite of the ongoing uncertainty, both Stanley and Lenthall are confident the issue can be resolved, ideally before touring restarts post-Covid-19, with the former saying the British government has been supportive +and understanding of the issues so far.

“Clarity is the key,” says Stanley. “Where we’ve enjoyed unfettered access to the EU – that will end. But what we do need to do is ensure we get some kind of cultural exemption.”

LIVE (of which the PSA is a member) and the RHA are both lobbying the British government to intervene to protect the industry by ensuring large-scale tours will be able to continue to start in the UK.

Stanley is also calling on promoters and other professionals on the continent to make their elected representatives aware of the problem in order to also push for a solution from the EU side. “The only people who can help us with this are our colleagues in the EU,” Stanley continues. “Their support is what’s needed – we need them to realise it’s a problem, as ultimately it’s going to be down to the ministers of transport in, for example, of Germany or France, to help get this sorted.”

The new cabotage rules, alongside the impact of the reintroduction of ATA Carnets, will be discussed during the panel Trucking Hell! Is it really that bad? at this year’s ILMC Production Meeting on Tuesday 2 March.

 


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Hauliers push back against proposed European regs

European live industry association Pearle* has urged the EC to rethink plans to force hauliers, along with their trucks, to return to their country of origin every two weeks, saying the proposals could “heavily impact live shows”.

As part of a revision of EU regulations 561/2006 and 1071/2009, the European Commission (EC) is considering making it mandatory for drivers to return home every fortnight, and requiring their vehicles to also be sent back to base – “something that would prove problematic for transport companies carrying gear on longer tours”, according to a spokesperson for the Netherlands’ Pieter Smit Group.

Responding to the proposals, Pearle* (Performing Arts Employers Associations League Europe), which represents more than 7,000 live music and performing arts organisations across Europe, calls on European lawmakers to “to consider the specificities of our industry when amending such rules”.

“Most artists aren’t on the roads for more than a few days or a couple weeks. But the logistics of longer tours – for example in the pop music sector – are much more complex due to tight schedules and the need to carry high-value, fragile equipment, be it audio gear, musical instruments or stage decor,” reads a statement from Pearle*. “Against this backdrop, it is in the interest of both artists and their promoters to be able to rely on one trustworthy service provider who is familiar with the processes in order to minimise interface costs and to keep up with demanding schedules over the whole duration of a tour.

“Requiring drivers and vehicles to return to [their home country] in the middle of a tour would prove very disruptive”

“On long tours, service providers – including drivers – are essentially part of the crew. They have the possibility to eat, rest and live with other tour staff and artists, and can use the facilities available at the show venues, which are much higher standard than most facilities used by the general haulage industry. They also have the option to spend their free time in hotels in the vicinity of show venues.”

The new proposals, says Pearle*, “are compromising this model – not necessarily for a majority of shows for which performers are not on the roads for a very long time, but would be critical for a number of bigger, longer tours. Requiring drivers and vehicles to return to the establishment country of the transport service provider in the middle of a show would prove very disruptive.”

The association proposes an exemption for hauliers working in the live entertainment sector, to allow them to stay with tours for their entire duration, like other crew.

“We call on decision-makers to consider the specific needs of our industry, and to align the regime of logistics and transport providers who serve us with the one of our other providers, who stay with the artists for the whole duration of a tour,” it concludes. “This can be achieved through a targeted exemption – only from the ‘return home’ rule – that would specifically apply to touring companies.”

 


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Sheeran-themed truck launches as ÷ tour kicks off

UK-based trucking company KB Event has commissioned a Ed Sheeran-liveried trailer to commemorate its part in the singer’s landmark ÷ tour.

The truck – one of 14 KB Event vehicles on the road for the UK and European leg of the tour, which gets underway in Italy today and wraps up at The O2 in London on 3 May – was, says KB, “spotted by Ed’s fans as it arrived two days ago at Turin’s Pala Alpitour, with groups already gathering outside trying to get their photo taken with it”.

Sheeran’s ÷ album (pronounced Divide’) is currently lighting up charts around the world, and the tour is expected is expected to do similarly well: His last world tour, x (‘Multiply’), grossed more than US$82 million, culminating with three nights at Wembley Stadium in London – the first headline show at the 90,000-cap. venue by a male solo artist.

 


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Shifting gear

Certain phrases get used more than others at a time when densely scheduled tours and festival dashes snake seasonally across a jumpy, troubled world.

When it comes to scheduling, the key phrase you need is ‘margin for error’, because there usually isn’t much – which is one reason why freight and trucking specialists, along with production staff, are the under-praised supermen and wonder women of this business.

And on the subject of Brexit, you can’t go wrong with ‘nobody knows what’s going to happen’, because that’s still pretty much all anyone can say about it. You might need ‘wait and see’ as well.

So there is a familiar feel to many conversations about live music transport, but that doesn’t mean it’s not one of the more quietly exciting areas of the business, as artists chase the money across the world, from festivals to shows to last-minute private gigs, and leave the freight forwarders and the truckers to make it all join up.

Live music transport is one more quietly exciting areas of the business, as artists chase the money across the world and leave the freight forwarders and the truckers to make it all join up

The big stuff
Freight forwarding, and logistics in general, comprises a world of very, very big things and very, very small details. One minute you’re packing seven jumbo jets full of superstar stage production. The next you’re telling the roadies off about batteries.

At the very, very big end this summer, Beyoncé set new standards of grandiosity with her Es Devlin-designed Formation production, famously featuring a four-sided video structure – ‘the monolith’ – at its heart. At 22m by 16m by 9m, the monolith is quite a spectacle, and it’s safe to assume it doesn’t fold up into a small box.

Sound Moves was the company tasked with shipping the thing – actually four of them, which crisscrossed each other as the tour stomped across the land. “The monolith is a fairly phenomenal piece of engineering,” says Sound Moves tour principal John Corr. “They are custom-made pieces, built in Belgium. We shipped all four of them to the USA by ocean. But the tour was so successful that they wanted to extend in America before coming to Europe, so they went from being able to move everything by ocean to being able to move only part of it by ocean, due to the time available.”

 


Read the rest of this feature in issue 68 of IQ Magazine.


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