Travel, transportation and production companies--the backbone of the touring industry--offer a unique perspective on the state of the business
The show can't go on without them.
The companies that provide the means of travel for touring artists, the transportation of their equipment and the production of every night's concert are the unheralded support acts of the live music business.
For this special feature, Billboard surveyed a select number of leaders in this sector for their views on the state of the market.
While economic uncertainty may still dampen the national fiscal outlook, the industry experts charged with getting artists and their gear from Point A to Point B say the touring business is still strong--if you approach it with the proper mind-set.
Artists continue to tour both domestically and internationally while these service providers constantly adapt to changing needs.
J.B. Dolphin, whose Mojo Barriers is celebrating 25 years of providing "high-quality, safe, crowd-control barriers and related products," says, "Like most other industries, we've noticed that budgets are getting tighter, and we're feeling the affects of a rising cost of doing business and a greater amount of competition, which is driving prices down a bit."
That said, Dolphin, whose U.S. division is providing barriers for the tours of Carrie Underwood, Muse, Bon Jovi and Kenny Chesney, says, "The touring market continues to be strong."
Pioneer Coach president Doug Rountree agrees. "Since you have to be there to experience live music, we have seen the demand remain strong for touring." His company has coaches that are on the road with the Avett Brothers, My Morning Jacket, fun. and Kenny Rogers, among others. "One of the biggest challenges for the touring business is meeting customer demands during the peak season," Rountree adds. "There is a general shortage of coaches during the peak season."
Senators Coach executive VP John Aikin is on the same page. "Our business is very strong," he says. "Everyone has to tour; everyone needs a bus to tour." Senators' clients include Rihanna, Alicia Keys, Bon Jovi, Eric Clapton, Sheryl Crow and Muse.
For Rock-It Cargo, which is celebrating its 35th anniversary in providing service to such acts as Aerosmith, Bon Jovi, Bruce Springsteen, Elton John, John Mayer, Kings of Leon, Kiss, Mumford & Sons, One Direction, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Sting, Taylor Swift and the Who, adaptability is key.
"The number of smaller bands we work with has increased over the years," says Hillary Nosbisch, marketing and customer relations manager for Rock-It. "Digital distribution of music and social media have allowed bands that are just starting out to attract a following outside of their home countries. That means there is greater desire for small bands to add international venues to their tour itineraries."
At live-sound company Clair Global, account executive Justin Weaver says, "We are seeing more clients touring in foreign territories that used to be taboo in our industry. Places like Azerbaijan, Russia, India, Dubai, China and Korea are just a few that have shown up on routing sheets."
SkyNet Aviation Group global private aviation director Adam K. Hasiak also sees growth in overseas markets.
"We are continuing to see an influx of business in the European markets where American entertainment groups often go on tour during the summer months," he says. "Another market ripe for growth is the Brazilian and South American markets. As a result, in the second quarter of 2012 we opened up our fourth office in Buenos Aires." The company's other locations are in Miami, Minneapolis and Los Angeles.
Bob Brigham, president of PRG Nocturne Productions, whose clients include Underwood, Bon Jovi, Metallica, Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones, Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Eagles, Elton John and Lady Gaga, also sees international growth. "Everyone is looking to save money now, which means tighter budgets and a more competitive process all round," he says. "With our expansion into Europe with PRG Nocturne U.K., it's helped us better serve our clients worldwide and better yet, meet some new ones."
Yet there's still a robust domestic touring market, according to Trent Hemphill, president/CEO of Hemphill Brothers Coach.
"Flying has increasingly become more difficult due to ongoing [Transportation Security Administration] restrictions, so more tours are leasing buses for their travel needs," says Hemphill, whose clients include Chesney, Keys, Lady Gaga, P!nk, Green Day, Rihanna, Tim McGraw, Little Big Town, TobyMac and Chris Tomlin. "From performers on tour to executives traveling for personal vacations, the bus business is picking up the void of those not wanting to fly."
Hemphill sees another growing trend on many tours: trailers. "This includes wardrobe trailers. Tours are cutting down on the number of trucks they are taking to haul their equipment and using trailers. They are also putting more people on fewer buses. Both the upswing in trailer use and increased passengers on coaches are results of tours being more cost-efficient during these economic times."