Keep­ing the tour ma­chine run­ning

Jonathan Pear­son talks to Niall Byrne about the dif­fi­cul­ties of keep­ing a band on the road

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - MUSIC -

“You need to be the prob­lem-solver, the agony aunt, the per­son to say ‘you need to be down in the lobby at 11am’, but also the per­son to say ‘you look a bit stressed, 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’.”

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.

Vi­sais­sue

His first ma­jor stint 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 manag- er 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.

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.”

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.

Bookinga­gent

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 into 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.

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 a 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.

Jonathan Pear­son

‘If the tour is go­ing in a monotonous fash­ion, then that’s the sign of a good tour’

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