I’m writing this moments after walking out of a giant skyscraper in Manhattan. The monolithic building is home to several US business leviathans—“evil” corporate giants, the types of businesses that middle America fears as it cowers under the possibility of having its local mom-and-pop stores stomped out by an unstoppable corporate foe. These are companies rarely spoken about in good favor outside the B.R.B. Club (that’s Blue jackets, Red meat, and Brown liquor), consisting mostly of males over the age of 40. Those guys are never without stock options in those companies either. They tend to pride themselves on crushing the little guys that built the very foundations on which their high-rise offices reside and brag about it while yachting off the Cape in their khakis and boat shoes.
So what the heck am I doing leaving one of these joints wearing blue jeans and a pair of Chucks? Well, I’ve just left a meeting. It wasn’t about designing a show. It didn’t entail discussions over tour routing schedules. There was no talk of rigging points or venue sizes. My meeting was with the Human Resources department of what could easily be considered one of the largest corporations in the nation. Welcome to “Selling Out 101.”
I had to devote an entire hour just to filling out tax paperwork, and now I’ve got a freshly issued employee handbook along with a copy of “code of business conduct and ethics.” It’s all very exciting, in the way that I used to get excited about playing a new role way back when I was studying to be an actor. The best part about this is that I actually am studying for a new role, although the acting days are far behind. You can almost envision the insert gently falling out of the program, and it reads, “In tonight’s performance, the role usually played by the designer will now be played by...the designer.”
If you thought I was leaving the business to work in a cubicle and wear a suit, then you were mistaken. This isn’t actually selling out, and I’m not actually on any sort of formal job interview. This is the new world order within the concert touring business, and if you have dreams of jumping on the road to have endless wild nights touring around the world with your favorite band, then you had better get used to the new way. The business model for live events has been slowly evolving, and the past two years alone have shown the most dramatic changes. The business is maturing, and, much to the chagrin of many who grew up in it, it’s becoming more corporate.
This is the stuff that used to terrify me. I’m quite certain that I’m not alone either. Up to now, we had an entire industry of “Lost Boys.” Nobody ever really wanted to grow up and leave the Neverland of the road. The thought of having to answer to any corporate entity was absurd. In fact, that very premise is what drove most of us into this business in the first place. Answer to a bona fide boss? HA! Adhere to a dress code? I don’t think so! Have to reference a code of business conduct and ethics? We’re roadies. We’re just one step above Somali pirates, for God’s sake!
Having a corporate overseer has been a ridiculous notion until now, and the roadie’s Codex Pirata has been rewritten. As with any growing industry, changes are inevitable. The business model shifts, and in this case, many were skeptical that it could be pulled off, but the model is, in fact, working really well. We are now the roadies with an HR department. We are the backline techs who are issued a black tour logo shirt along with benefits package paperwork. We are the non-union card holders with worker’s comp and an annuity.
One improvement of corporate involvement seems to be regarding payment schedules. In general, personnel that I’ve seen working under corporate payrolls seem happier with the billing side of their lives. Paychecks tend to show up on time and with a minimal amount of fuss, and we seem to have more accurate tax withholdings and, in some rare cases, actual benefit packages including retirement plans and health insurance.
This concept has been tested for several years now as it has slowly grown, and the proof of concept has come shining through. Of course, there are exceptions, but I’m finding that my tour mates are really quite happy with this new way of doing business. The actual “business” of life on the road has become a little easier to deal with from a distance, and it seems to be creating more peace of mind for those that spend so much time away from home.
I guess we all have to grow up sometime, even those of us living on tour buses, but I still got dibs on the bottom bunk!
Patrick Dierson has been called upon for his programming and design skills for numerous productions, including tours for Shakira, R. Kelly, Bon Jovi, and Dashboard Confessional, as well as for Wynn Hotel & Casino, the MTV Video Music Awards, appearances for artists on VH1, and events for the NFL, NBA, and NHL. He earned an Emmy® Award nomination for his work on the post-September 11 telethon America: A Tribute to Heroes. Dierson is an associate designer and creative director at Performance Environment Design Group, LLC and a partner in content creation company Idyll Hands Imagery.