What qualities make production manager a good one?
We recently asked JJ Erlichman to describe what a touring production manager is and how they do their job. Here are, what he believes, the key elements that lay the foundation for a successful, touring, Production Manager (PM).
JJ’s PM highlights include Foster the People, Stevie Nicks and Enrique Iglesias.
Trying to describe and explicate [to a non-touring person] what a Production Manager does is a lot like trying to explain the role of a Producer on a movie or TV show. It’s not as black and white as many of the other titled positions on a tour. I am going to exercise some liberties with this article and presume that the vast majority of you are in the industry, or at least mildly familiar with the industry.
At its core,
the Production Manager is responsible for everything associated with the actual show, from the moment the trucks arrive at the gig until the moment the trucks leave. Anything that takes place on or around the stage, from the gear to the crew and certainly the Artist, it’s all on the shoulders of the PM.
In that respect there is no singular way in which one approaches the tasks of PM. If you were to ask 100 Production Managers how to do something, you may very well get 100 different answers. I can only speak for the way that I approach my tours.
It all starts with the advance work.
I have found that the best way to advance shows is to make sure that I am armed with all the correct tech and rider information that is current and relevant to the tour that I am about to embark. It sounds rather obvious, but you would be surprised how often riders and tech info can change, even within the same touring cycle. That being stated, it’s important to try to ONLY send the most current and congruous information to whomever you are advancing with. It avoids showing up at a venue or festival and having the local audio guy show you your own input list, only to find that what he was given is two versions old, or to have the local backline company have three different versions of your stage plot, none of which is correct.
Take the time to review what you are sending out, even if it means that you need to read every page of the rider!
While on the topic of advance work, we should discuss setting local labor calls. Each venue has a different set of rules that they abide by. Some are union and some are non-union. Some have short minimums and some have very long minimums. Some places have dedicated truck loaders and forklift operators, while others have a general pool of stagehands that they use for everything.
There is no fighting this so there is no point in getting twisted about how each venue runs their labor.
Once you establish what these requirements are, then set your labor call accordingly. Know your show and know how much labor it actually takes to get the show in and out in a reasonable amount of time. Work with the promoter or building operator to come up with the best labor solution that is both financially and operationally smart.
On the subject of vendors,
We all have our favorite go-to companies we like to use for lights, sound, trucks, busses, video, etc., and many times these will be the companies that will give us the best pricing. I like to take into consideration the specific needs of my tour and speak to my LD, FOH Engineer, Video Director, etc., and get their take on these vendors and see if there are other companies I should consider. For the most part, I am at least willing to have a company that I have not worked with bid on the job and see how their numbers stack up.
Keep in mind, it’s not only the weekly cost of the equipment that you are renting, but you also need to get the gear to you at the beginning of the tour and, more importantly, it needs to get back to the vendor at the end of the tour. Usually, it’s your tour truck that makes these returns. Take a look at the big picture and look at the tour routing as you are considering which vendors to use.
If your tour truck is out of LA and your last tour date is on the West Coast but your audio vendor is in NY, then you need to consider the cost of returning this gear at the end of the tour. Sometimes you get lucky and can get all your rental gear and your tour trucks out of the same city or region of the country. While geographic location shouldn’t be the sole reason to choose a vendor, it should at least be a consideration when looking at the overall cost and budget of rental gear.
You have advanced the shows and selected your vendors.
Now comes what is probably the most subjective part of being a PM, namely how you choose to communicate with your crew. Again, I emphasize that there is no one right way to go about this. I’m merely sharing insight as to what I have found works best for me. I like to get my department heads involved at the onset with all the information I can gather so that they know what to expect when they walk into a building and especially a festival. I like to go so far as to have them be in direct contact with the local audio or lighting vendor so that nothing gets lost in translation.
Before each show, I also like to prepare my crew with what to expect for a particular load in, be it a small stage, no loading docks, a long push, fewer stage hands on the labor call, or for whatever may be waiting for them outside their wonted expectations. The more your crew knows ahead of time, the better they can prepare themselves for what they are walking in to and the better everyone can adapt to the problems that will arise throughout their day. It’s all a collaborative effort between the PM, your crew and the building to get the show loaded in, set up, checked, have the Artist perform, load it out and get on the road. All this being done as safely and as efficiently as possible.
Finally, know your meal schedule and make sure you have advanced this well ahead of time.←
Know your plan for breakfast and, more importantly, make sure your crew knows the plan. The surest way to get the day off on the wrong foot is to not have a plan for breakfast. As basic and as cliché as it sounds, a well fed crew is generally a happier crew. And I always, always have a post-show meal ready for the truck and bus drivers because they too are part of your tour.
And if there is nothing else that you take away from this, remember that it’s always okay to ask questions. Just speak to anyone that I have ever toured with and they will tell you that I do it all day long….