As most of you know by now from the little "who the hell is this chick" tagline at the end of my articles, I am not only a photographer, but also an event coordinator and promotions director in Southern California. The company I work for coordinates and promotes all types of events which include everything from the posh hoity toity's that you imagine event coordinators do, all the way up to large scale concerts and corporate events.
Because of my background in music, when we do take on these larger events, I get handed the job of booking and handling the entertainment. As we speak, I am in the process of booking several "signed" acts and we just finished working on some events for the Rolling Stones concert here in San Diego. I bring this up to you because I am just curious if anyone just plays a show, gets paid and rolls on to the next town anymore? Is there anyone left on the national circuit who is still just in it for the show and the music or has the whole fucking lot of them become corrupted and spoiled to the point of no return?
The booking process is bad enough, there's the offer, the counter offer, the offer the other city has, the other offer for the other band and the subsequent offer which leads back to the original offer and then you have to submit the offer, only to be given another offer entirely, until you finally agree on a figure. Whew! You think now that you get to sign a contract and move on right? Wrong. Now comes the absolute worst part, the goddamned rider!
It all started with Van Halen and the infamous brown M&M clause. The story goes that Van Halen had a clause in their contract that said they had to have a bowl of M&M's available backstage but that all brown M&M's be removed or they could cancel the show be paid in full and leave on the spot. So you would think that Van Halen was the first group of dickheads to be spoiled little jerks who wanted to take advantage of their fame by running the producer to death.
Truth is, they really weren't. They only had the clause because they were one of the first bands to come in with this huge production and tons of equipment. They added the clause to make sure show producers were paying attention. If they went into a show and had brown M&M's in the bowl, they knew that the producer had not read the technical requirements fully and that there were probably going to be some technical oversights as well. It was a smart move and done for the right reasons, but now, the "technical" portion of the technical rider is only a tiny part of it.
Following the onset of the now infamous M&M urban legend, artist and agencies have made a mockery of the technical rider. Those boys in Spinal Tap weren't far off the mark. It can easily cost as much or more than the actual booking fee to fulfill some artist's technical riders. Because of the astronomical cost associated with the rider, we are now forced into rider negotiations or as I like to call it "Migraine Highway".
What kills me is that these things are still ironically called the "technical rider" but include everything from airline tickets to 4 large pepperoni pizza's that have not been out of the pizza oven for more than 5 minutes to be ready backstage immediately following the performance to buying underwear and socks for the band. I'm sorry, but the last time I checked, making sure Mick Jagger has a Snooker table backstage doesn't have a fucking thing to do with the technical production of the show.
The bigger the act, the bigger the rider. Some are hundreds of pages long and are completely written in that foreign lawyer language. The requests can range from the odd, to the downright excessive and absurd. If you are in a band, please don't get me wrong. I got no problem with providing the band with a hot meal and a decent place to sleep. Hell, I don't even have an issue with doing it for a reasonable number of crew and management, but there's a limit to my generosity. After all, it is only a 90 to 120 minute performance and I am paying most of them more for that increment of time than I will make in a year and in some cases more that I will make in a decade.
So pardon me if I get pissed off when in addition to his six figure check, Kid Rock wants dinner served to him with flatware and china and wants packages of crew socks, t-shirts, tank tops and boxer shorts in his dressing room, when Snoop Dog needs a full Sony Playstation and assorted games, when the Dixie Chicks need 2 dozen fresh cut flowers that include Stargazers, Casablanca Lilies, Irises, Gladiolas and Eucalyptus which must be delivered in paper so that their personal floral designer can arrange them or when Metallica needs hot & cold water hookups for their personal washing machines. It's called laundry service boys and it's available at the 5 star hotels I have to pay for you stay in. Look into it.
While Van Halen no longer asks for the brown M&M's to be removed, the addition of Sammy Hagar now requires backstage celery that must be "trimmed, not peeled" along with a bottle of Absolute vodka, a bottle of Black label Jack Daniels, a bottle of Bacardi Anjeo rum a bottle of super premium tequila, six whole limes and 4 shot glasses. Back when the boys from Guns & Roses were still touring, they needed a carton of Dunhill cigarettes, a carton of Marlboro Red (hard pack), a carton of Camel filter (hard pack) and an assortment of adult magazines i.e. Penthouse and Playboy from show producers. Personally, I would have rather handled Pantera's rider, who's only really specific request was a taco bell run with a full bag of hot sauce to include "Fire". Now that's a rider requirement I can handle.
It's not just A-list celebs that want their pampered behinds wiped for them. Oh no, even bands that haven't had a hit in decades get in on the action. I'm in negotiations with KC & the Sunshine band right now and they want 21 first class airline tickets. Lucky for me, the agent says I can buy them out of it for an additional several thousand dollars. Oh goody, so instead of spending thousands of dollars to get them here, I can just give them several thousand dollars to get here. It's a great deal until you realize, "wait a minute, aren't I already paying you thousands of dollars to get here? It's called your booking fee."
Last year I worked with Three Dog Night who's rider called for all these different types of breakfast cereals. Somehow on the day of the show, they got overlooked. The road manager had an absolute conniption fit and literally threatened to cancel the show. So we rushed out got the cereal and got it into the dressing room before the band arrived only to find after the show that not one box had ever been opened. I swear sometimes, it feels more like extortion and almost nothing like making music.
Some will argue that it's the cost of the production that drives artist's fees higher and higher and cause the rider requirements to keep getting bigger and bigger. Bigger, cooler stages and bigger, cooler light shows require bigger crews that have to be cared for and all that work will require more time in each city which requires the artist to stay longer and need more comforts from home. I have a couple of problems with that.
First, in all the events that I have done with "name bands" I have not had one that stayed onsite long enough to necessitate these excessive demands. They almost always get to town the same day as the show and arrive to the venue just before show time and are immediately escorted away following the show. Secondly, take care of your own people. I know when my boss signs a new contract, she doesn't say, "Well, I expect Stacie will have to stay late at least 12 times, so I'm going to need you to provide 12 fully catered meals for her and she will miss laundry day at least once, so you will need to buy her at least one business suit, oh, and she really likes photography, so you will need to buy her a few rolls of film to help her manage her stress. She tells them the fee, they pay it and my stress levels and missed meals are her problem. Why can't bands and their crews do the same? It may not be mainstream, but it is after all their job.
I love the Rolling Stones more than just about anyone, but do they really need a stage that takes a week to build and is taller than the scoreboard at Petco Park? No wonder tickets started at $400 a pop. I mean seriously, they are 4 little old men now, isn't something a little more demure in order? Or am I the only one who would rather see them in an intimate setting on a small stage where you could actually concentrate on these icons and their music?
I guess, in the end, what I really want to know is, has the music gotten so bad that we need a five day stage build and enough lighting, pyro and technical elements that you have 17 semi's worth of equipment? I think that if you need that much crap to keep your audience interested for 90 minutes, then you should be paying me six figures for keeping your career alive.