A tour manager’s diary: keeping the show on the road
How Music Works: Jonathan Pearson on how you keep the touring engine running
Jonathan Pearson: “You need to be the problem-solver, the agony aunt, but you also need to be the person to say ‘let’s do something fun’.”
Two large caravan batteries and 150 metres of cable are among the things you may find if you get into a vehicle that Cork man Jonathan Pearson is driving this summer. That’s because as tour/concerts manager with Crash Ensemble, Pearson is responsible for the logistics of getting the dozen-plus members and their instruments where they need to go.
This summer, their ambitious Crashlands show takes place in outdoor rural locations, hence the batteries and cables.
“You have to be up first and last to bed,” says Pearson of his role as a tour manager. “You need to be the problem-solver, the agony aunt, the person they have a laugh with, the person to say ‘you need to be down in the lobby at 11am’, but you also need be the person to say ‘you look a bit stressed, let’s do something fun.”
I learned all the backline stuff, how to sell a show, who to get for posters and all the basics at those underage gigs
Pearson always wanted to be involved in music so he taught piano and ran underage gigs in Cork from the age of 16. “I learned all the backline stuff, how to sell a show, who to get for posters and all the basics at those underage gigs,” recalls Pearson.
His first major tour as tour manager with Crash Ensemble was in the US. It’s no easy feat to bring a large group of musicians there. As well as the people management, transport logistics, accommodation and flight booking, visas are a priority for any musician working there. It is a huge expense.
“You have to go through quite a rigmarole in that you have to hire an attorney over there that could cost about €1,500 and then each visa about €1,000 as well. So if there’s 10 of you in the group, then a manager and a sound engineer and a lighting engineer, it can get exceptionally expensive.”
Pearson has been racking up experience on the road, driving or tour managing bands around the country or continent since 2007.
If the tour is going in a monotonous fashion, then that’s the sign of a good tour
Running a good tour starts with the “advancing” sheet, which can be sent to a venue a few months in advance and asks logistical questions around set-up, parking, accommodation, food, facilities, wifi etc.
“The pitfall is nearly always financial at the advancing stage. If the tour is going in a monotonous fashion, then that’s the sign of a good tour.”
If a band heads to Europe without a booking agent (who will usually look after logistics and bookings for 10 per cent of the fee), then there are routing decisions to be made in order to spend less on fuel, which Pearson says is the biggest cost of any tour.
“It’s really important to get the first gig near a major ferry port if you’re bringing a van over. So if you’re in Ireland, have a gig in northern France first. Or if you’re leaving from the UK, have a gig in Belgium or Holland as it’s two or three hours from Calais. Otherwise the petrol will sap everyone’s money and the travel will sap everyone’s morale.”
So the old adage of bands getting treated better on the continent still stands
Pearson also manages This is How We Fly, a contemporary music group that has two members in Ireland, one member in Sweden and one member in the United States, which brings its own logistical challenges for gigs.
“So that’s basically a €1,500 premium before a note is even even played or a tank of petrol is filled,” Pearson says.
He operates as their booking agent as well, so those flights from Stockholm and Detroit to get the band in the one place are factored in to the costs. Fees for European tour dates often far outweigh ones you’ll get from Irish ones. Pearson says that This Is How We Fly recently played nine Irish dates and two French dates, and the French dates gave a higher fee than the nine Irish dates combined. So the old adage of bands getting treated better on the continent still stands. Pearson believes it’s largely because promoters often get funding for their venues and people are happier to pay more for gig tickets in mainland Europe.
Touring is where all that money is made
Because touring is where the money is now made in music, having the touring machine well-oiled is more important than ever. Mark-up on merchandise on the road is a valuable income stream too with anything from 35 per cent to 65 per cent mark-up possible.
“You release records now just so people know you’re active, so you can tour. Touring is where all that money is made.”
It’s a tough life but Pearson relishes the role. “I absolutely to my core love music and and I love the people that I get to meet through it. I see a lot more of the world than I would in a desk job. There’s a lack of security but you get it back in flexibility. “
Crash Ensemble will play Crashlands at Kilkenny Arts Festival (August 16th and Sounds from a Safe Harbour Festival, Cork (September 16th). This Is How We Fly launch their album at the same Cork festival on September 15th.