No other tour in history tops Taylor Swift’s towering colossus in terms of visual sensationalism. But in terms of the sheer Mount Everest-ness of mounting a major artist’s tour, the further back you go in time the more daunting it gets.
Notwithstanding soaring production costs, things are buttery for big artists and their teams criss-crossing the post-COVID globe, as they’re reaping more revenue than ever thanks to a roaring return to live events, better ticket resale regulation in some territories, and 3D video imaging that mimics much more expensive steel staging.
Interesting new tour management and accounting software is also helping pave the roadways and runways that lead to sunny net revenues for journeying music acts.
A newly launched app called Daysheets allows musicians and their road crews to create and manage logistics directly from mobile phones in a simpler way than before. The app is great “for smaller acts that may not be able to afford, and don’t need, a more complicated tool, and of course it’s also ideal for established operations,” says Ben Melman, co-founder of Daysheets and former road manager for Rod Stewart. “This app declares war on tour complications, allowing band members to bypass load-in details irrelevant to them, while admins are able to manage all aspects of the day-to-day from a single interface,” he says. The app counts Shakira, Alicia Keys and John Legend among its clients.
Meanwhile, Master Tour, which has led the way in this space for more than two decades, claims more than 80% of top grossing touring artists use its platform, including Harry Styles, Muse, Bad Bunny, and Elton John (until he stopped touring). Two decades of use has allowed the product’s team to “battle-test it to perfection,” says Paul Bradley, CEO and founder of Eventric, which developed the software.
These apps seek to address not only money making issues in the live concert business – where many acts struggle to break even – but also mental health concerns that have plagued troubadors and their crews for decades … and centuries.
Given the insane stress and hours that tour teams have faced, not to mention income instability during COVID followed by double duties during the comeback, Bradley says Master Tour is partnering with Backline, a non-profit providing mental health and wellness services to tour workers and their families from providers who understand their uniquely challenging line of work. “Those on the road sometimes put in 18-to-20-hour days and don’t always know how to get help when they need it,” Bradley says. “The question at Eventric is always, ‘what can we do to make the lives of those in live events better?’”
Stress for those transporting and building stages is a strong concern, but its a softer parade than yesteryear’s march to put up and tear down ferocious fortresses of steel and massive pyrotechnical contraptions of a Rammstein or Kiss show, or the earth shuddering and ear shattering amp walls of Grateful Dead and Who shows in decades past.
The further back you travel in time, the tougher the tour logistics.
“Back in the day, you would have to pull over to a gas station to get on a pay phone to call the venue to make sure they were expecting you in three hours,” recalls Bradley. “And with stadium tours, somehow you did a stadium tour on fax machines. Somehow it worked.”
Before the high-tech miracle of faxing, worldwide tour management involved phone calls at all hours of the night.
“So you’re talking on the phone with someone in Japan and they ask, ‘don’t you have a facsimile number,’ and you have no idea what they’re talking about,” recalls John “JayDub” Warren, a pioneering tour accountant at Friends at Work, which manages John Legend, and an advisor/investor in Daysheets. “And they ask you again ‘don’t you have a fax number?’ and you play along and go, oh, yeah, my fax number is … four.” Fax machines revolutionized the touring business, Warren says. “My first fax machine was a gift from a Japanese promoter,” he recalls.
Earlier, in the ‘50s, the trials and troubles of touring spawned the “Rat Pack” residencies, where if you wanted to see Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., or Dean Martin, you had to come to a Casino in Vegas. “All those guys wanted to hang out together and didn’t want to go on the bloody road,” says Phil Carson, a touring pro who worked with Led Zeppelin and AC/DC, in a Grammy website interview.
But to truly understand how touring has progressed, you need to go back to ‘63. Not 1963 when Beatlemania was taking off, but 1763 when the Mozarts commenced their grand family tour.
Leopold and Anna Maria Mozart packed their seven year-old son and 11-year old daughter in the Ford Econoline of its day, the family’s four-wheeled carriage with a hired valet at the reins.
On the first day of the three-year tour, about halfway to Munich from the family’s home in Salzburg, they busted a wheel.
“Speedy help provided a wheel but of slightly the wrong size,” writes Stanley Sadie in Mozart: The Early Years 1756-1781.
So Leo and Anna made the best of the 24-hour layover for repairs by taking the kids to the nearby church in Wasserburg to see if they could play the organ and perhaps garner a little promotion. They were allowed to try out the rare and high-tech “pedalboard” instrument (none like it in Salzburg). A curious crowd gathered as Leopold tried to teach his seven-year old son how to sit on the stool and use the pedals, but Wolfgang simply “pushed the stool away and [standing] played with the pedals ‘as if he had been studying it for several months. Everyone was astonished,’” and someone declared the miraculous performance was a ‘‘new sign of God’s grace,’’ Sadie wrote.
Many years later, by Sadie’s account, Leo instructed his son on the art of tour management so Wolfgang could handle it himself one day, writing:
“This is the way to do it. Ask your host who is the Kapellmeister or musical director of the town; or, if there isn’t one, who is the best-known musician. [After meeting them] you will quickly know whether the cost of putting on a concert is too great, whether you can obtain a decent keyboard instrument – whether an orchestra can be got together, whether there are music-lovers … and this should be done in travelling clothes, without even unpacking: just put on a couple of fine rings or something, in case when you call you find a keyboard instrument there and are asked to perform.”
Such smart advance prep is as key to a touring musician’s success today as in centuries past. “We make sure everything is advanced locally at each venue,” Warren says of modern touring. “Full staging is in place, the basic lighting plot, and the PA is hanging when we walk in. So when we show up with our trucks the day before, we just load in the pyro, confetti, balloons, backline monitors, house control system, etc. And when it’s done, we load out and drive away, leaving the local promoters to take it down. About a week or so later, we’re settling the show with final bills and final labor. Daysheets makes the process easier than ever.”
Had Mozart’s touring team had Daysheets or Master Tour at their fingertips (not to mention WiFi, digital staging, and fan data), maybe he wouldn’t have died at age 35, financially stressed and surprisingly uncelebrated (until after his death).
But despite all the progress in technology and tour management since Mozart’s time, does anyone today make such magnificently magical music? I don’t know, ask ChatGPT.