Touring

Let's Protect Touring Crews Long After This Pandemic Is Over (Guest Column)

Concert crew member
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Now is the time to start thinking about a permanent plan to take care of crew members, says pioneering booking agent Tom Ross.

The concert business is a multi-billion dollar industry that is now shut down. Estimates, which I believe are low, say the touring world employees at least 200,000 “gig” employees who are hired on a week-by-week or tour basis. All the music techs, loading crews, sound board engineers, lighting crews, production crews, wardrobe assistants, make up artists and other behind-the-curtain personnel are hugely needed to make the talent create that magical playground of the concert experience. Most of these people don't have lawyers, agents or, most importantly, unions (stagehands have IATSE, but many buildings are non-union). They have no safety net to fall back on during a crisis.

When COVID-19 has been tamed and when we start to rebuild the tours and the careers that will take the concert business to bigger heights and grosses, why not do it with a method that will offer financial benefits and health coverage for all those players in the support services, so that they have not only health and welfare benefits, but a future? So that if they contract some deadly disease, they are secure in knowing that the business they dedicated their lives to actually cares and has their back?

The television and movie industries have unions and their own facilities, including the Motion Picture Retirement Home, to aid and even house some of the long-term illnesses that we are seeing baby boomers from our music world start to endure. The executive level has insurance programs and most can put up a good fight as they have the means, but what about the guy who spent 40 years rigging a light truss or placing speakers in the right place so the sound would be properly balanced? We as an industry owe these people a responsive and meaningful future and security that is provided to rank and file touring personnel.

What Live Nation has done by launching Crew Nation to extend a helping hand to crew members in need is a major step in the right direction, but $10 million is only the starting point. Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino should be commended for quickly seeing this issue, but that is merely a band aid on the current dilemma. MusiCares has also started a Covid-19 fund, but it will not be able to offer blanket protection to all crew members.

Our Industry deserves a full-time support system and team to be there for the behind the stage people. Night after night the roadies and crew who roll out the red carpets for our artists are the unsung heroes of the live music business. Many of these folks have been dedicated to their craft and skills for decades and deserve to have a protective foundation developed for their future.  Let’s put a 50-cent charge on tickets to take care of our own. Money is going to return to the music pipeline, let's find a way to take a responsible road!

Pioneering booking agent Tom Ross founded and created Creative Artists Agency's music division in 1984 and happily retired in 1998 after 30 years in the agency business. 

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