Bands: Please check your tires.

Winter in Canada can be intense. We drove through 400 km of bad weather yesterday. We got new tires last week and I’m thankful we did. They have Mountain Snowflake designation for outstanding winter traction.

Bands: check your tire treads. Check your tire pressure. Read about it so you know how to keep the rubber side down and stay between the ditches.

Be safe out there.

My knuckles were still white when I took this photo.

Sugarland likely saved by tour manager’s decision

Click here to read how Sugarland’s tour manager saved them.

I really don’t have much to say about this incident. We’ve all seen the photos and videos, and I’ve gone to the point of calculating how much weight worth of speakers were hanging from the stage. I certainly have my opinions of how I think the stage was too high, and had more weight hung on it than was necessary. The fact is – I’m not a structural engineer. I have seen these stages get set up and torn down, and quite frankly, I don’t like them one bit.

As tour managers we’re all going to have to be more diligent.

Digital is here.

There’s no doubt in my mind that digital consoles are the new standard in audio production. They’ve proven themselves to be great tools for the job – all of the modern ones have compressors and gates on each channel, great 4-band parametric eqs on each channel and output, built-in multi-fx, graphic eqs, etc.  All of the clunky unreliable outboard gear is now obsolete.

It’s in the best interest for ANYONE who wants to do live sound to learn how to use these consoles. You can get used Yamaha 01V consoles for dirt-cheap and they’re great little workhorses. Used Yamaha LS9 consoles can be found online for a few thousand, and they are worth every penny. If you want to be serious, you can spend more and get an Avid SC48 or Yamaha M7CL, or whatever brand of mid-range digital console you like.

I’m going on about this because I am carrying a Yamaha LS9 on this tour and am having the openers mixed on my console by house engineers – most of whom have no idea how to use the console and are either afraid of it, or don’t want to know how to and dismiss digital as something that isn’t worth knowing.  These people also probably think that VHS tapes, 35mm SLR cameras (sorry photogs everywhere), and 8-track are all better formats. They aren’t. The market has dictated that, and nobody is buying analog consoles anymore, so all the audio techs out there had better start figuring that out or they’re going to be left behind.  I guess this isn’t a bad thing for me though, it may land me more gigs in the future.

The importance of days off.

I’m currently sitting at a bench at marble slab in West Edmonton Mall after a day of shopping and waterslides. Anyone who knows me knows how much I enjoy sliding down tubes filled with water at breakneck speeds.

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West Edmonton Mall Waterpark - too bad the Sky Screamer is no more. Nessie's revenge is still there though.

Having days off on a tour is so important. It just allows everyone to reset and unwind and be a normal human being while living out of a suitcase for a long period of time. It allows people to get away from each other and just relax. I remember when I took the Arkells boys to the very same waterpark about a year and a half ago and they completely loved it.

The funny thing about this tour is that we get another day off in two days at the WEM again. I think we might hit the gun range then. I love shooting guns – only long range guns though, handguns do not interest me at all.

I think tonight we’re going to have some dinner and watch a movie. It’s almost like real life.

The value of good personnel.

More often than not, people in this industry work ridiculous hours. It’s not uncommon to find someone who works 80+ hour weeks in the summertime. It certainly isn’t uncommon to find someone who does one 8 hour shift, and immediately goes to do another 8 hour shift.  Even more commonplace than those two scenarios, it’s not uncommon to work a long 12-14 hour day, and then get 4 hours of sleep (or less) and then get up to do it all again.

All these years I’ve wondered: “Why we do it to ourselves?”

The simple answer would be that it’s for the money.

The not-so-simple answer would be that we have to.  We have to because if we want to live in what was considered in 2010 to be the eighth most expensive city in the world to live in, we have to work our tails off just to be able to afford our expensive apartments, overpriced groceries, and our over-priced/under-serving transit system.

The issue doesn’t stop there. The other issue is that I feel we are often under-valued.  In any other industry/trade, if we worked as many hours, we would all be making six-figure income.  So why the heck are we all making so little?

One problem I see is the fact that there unfortunately are so darn many of us. There’s a number of “schools” that are pumping kids out of their $20,000+ programs at a rate that no market could possibly employ them all.  This drives the value of all of us down. Why would anyone pay X when they can get Y for 33% less?

Of course the argument can be made of how well and efficient the person does the job.  The answer there, unfortunately lies in the eyes of the beholder.  How much is efficiency worth? Often times the rental of the venue is not handled by the production company – the production company strictly is responsible for paying for their transportation and labour, and the rest of the income from the production covers their overhead.

Let’s say for example that a load out stacked with a stellar crew can get the gear out of the venue in 2.5 hours.  20 people are on the call, all at $25 per hour.  Of course there is the lovely thing known as a minimum 4-hour call, so we’re still all going to be charging for four hours, even though we pulled off the job in 2.5.  We all consider this a nice little bonus to ourselves, right? 4x20x25 = $2000.

Now, let’s make it so there are 2 people on the the load out as supervisors, and the other 18 are making $15 per hour.   And since the 18 other crew aren’t as experienced, the load out takes the full 4 hours.  If you do the math that figure comes in at $1280.

So what will the company choose?  They really don’t care how long it takes because it’s not costing them any extra.  I think you can see how this tiny little example can be carried over into all areas.

Now here’s the interesting question: how can we solve this problem of being undervalued?

Quite honestly, the only solution I see here is a solution that exists out there already, and I can’t believe I’m going to say this:  Unionize.

As long as these schools are going to keep pumping out 20 year olds at a rate that allows companies to perform a complete annual turnover of personnel, The only realistic solution could be unionization.  I think I just threw up in my mouth a bit.  I’ve always been anti-union, because they often result in one person losing accountability for their work, and as a result become more difficult to deal with on a daily basis.

But they get paid. And get paid well.

Have you been to a venue that has a union? All of the older guys bragging about how they make six figures? And the crazy thing of it all: they don’t kill themselves with insanely long days, and when they do, they make even more money.  That acts as a heck of a good way to make sure you aren’t on the job too long, and if you are you get properly compensated.

Having said that unions are not immune to their fair share of issues either. Nobody likes doing productions in unionized venues. They’re expensive, and drive the ticket prices through the roof as a result.  But heck, I think you get medical coverage.

I think if companies valued their staff and treated them as well as possbile, said company would ultimately succeed. When someone is proud to work for a company, the job is done better as a result. Companies need to realize that 9 times out of 10 it doesn’t matter what sound or lighting equipment you own, it’s the people who deal with the clients, artist, and audience. If a glowing review comes into your inbox from a client bragging about how well the show went, do you think it’s about the par-cans that you own, or the LD?  Is it about your new hip digital console, or the person behind it?  Good people make for a good product.  Nickel and diming definitely has its place in this industry, but when you take from the people (or refuse to give to the people) what is fair just so they can maybe afford to take a vacation once a year, you end up taking from yourself, because one unhappy employee is poison, and when it’s company wide, it’s even worse.