Rules & Regulations: Changes & Challenges in Worldwide Production
Chair: Andy Lenthall, Production Services Association (UK)
Roger Barrett (Star Events Ltd, UK)
Ruud De Deugd (ProLyte Group, NL)
Borek Jiřík (Event Safety Lab, DE)
Marcel Kok (dBcontrol, NL)
After a short introduction by conference host Dan Craig, IPM 11 began in earnest with the first panel of the day, chaired by Production Services Association’s Andy Lenthall.
Beginning with a presentation on the Czech production landscape by Borek Jiřík of Event Safety Lab, discussion then turned to noise, with dBcontrol’s Marcel Kok outlining the extent to which decibel limits vary across Europe – and how several countries are starting to implement caps on low-frequency dBC sound levels, as well as specific noise restrictions for children, presenting a new challenge for production professionals.
Star Events’ Roger Barrett next asked whether the UK’s reputation as ‘safety island’ – a moniker supposedly originally coined at Wembley Stadium by Jake Berry – is warranted when there were 72 failures of temporary event structures in 2017 alone. Describing a culture where the “only focus is on safe work methods,” to the detriment of the enforcement of structural safety, Barrett says the majority of the event structures he sees worldwide “are in the amber category,” meaning at least partially unsafe, as opposed to a fully safe green.
Speaking from the audience, Production Solutions’ Keith Wood suggested that if promoters only work with “competent companies,” those companies will know how to build structures safely as, “very often, they’re the ones who have written the guidance. It’s only when you go to smaller, less well-known ones that you run into problems,” he said.
“THERE ARE MORE THAN A THOUSAND PEOPLE IN THIS HOTEL, AND NOT ONE THEM WOULD SAY THEY’D BE HAPPY FOR SOMEONE TO DIE AT THEIR EVENTS”
However, ProLyte Group’s Ruud De Geugd revealed that while the first European standard for trussing is set to be released imminently, only one manufacturer was involved authoring it, as no others wanted to spend the money.
Playing devil’s advocate, Lenthall asked if the authors of safety guides such as the Purple Guide are “wasting our time writing guidance” if, as had been suggested, many event organisers aren’t paying attention. The panel’s conclusion: Definitely not, because no guidance at all would lead to a far greater number of failures than the 72 mentioned earlier by Barrett.
“There are more than a thousand live music people in this hotel this week,” said Lenthall, “and not one them would say they’d be happy for someone to die at one of their events.”
Kok concluded by highlighting the importance of all stakeholders working together, and all events having a clear chain of command and responsibility. Using the recent example of a small carnival event in a village in Germany, he described how, following noise complaints, neither promoter nor PA company had been keeping an eye on noise levels – with each claiming it was the other’s responsibility.
Ultimately, said Kok, the promoter learnt the hard way about the importance of communication between all parties when planning and executing events – after they were “fined €8,000… after ten people complained!”
Welfare for Workers: Work in Progress
Chair: Sanjin Ćorović (Production Pool, Serbia)
James Cobb (CrowdConnected Ltd, UK)
Mary Shelley-Smith (Eat To The Beat, UK)
Jon Drape (Ground Control, UK)
Peter van Galen (Earproof, NL)
Returning to the conference programme after a coffee break, the second panel of IPM 2018 discussed the welfare – or lack thereof – of event staff, particularly those working multi-day events such as festivals.
James Cobb of Crowd Connected reflected on the presentation on fatigue he gave at IPM 2013, which, he noted, showed that workers are “not getting enough food, enough sleep, and it’s killing people.” His recommendation five years ago was simple – to comply with the working time directive – but, seeing as “no one liked that answer,” this time around he suggested using technology to monitor how much sleep staff are getting.
While he acknowledged it “does sound a bit Big Brother, we’re all wearing Fitbits now anyway,” so bracelets that track sleeping patterns shouldn’t be too difficult to stomach.
Continuing on the theme of fatigue, Eat the Beat’s Mary Shelley-Smith highlighted the role proper nutrition plays in keeping energy levels high. “Well-fed people are happy people,” she explained. At the moment, workers at many festivals “don’t get enough calories, and that means they’re going to make poor decisions.”
Jon Drape of festival production company Ground Control said, as an industry, “how we look after workers on festival sites is probably getting worse not better, and it’s having a material impact on how we deliver our shows.”
The biggest issue facing the sector, said Drape, is something discussed at IPM 10: a chronic lack of qualified security staff. “Part of that comes down to the conditions on festival sites: of getting fed poorly, paid poorly, having to stay in poor accommodation,” he said. “There are a whole range of staff – whether they’re security staff or volunteers – who are being neglected.”
Shelley-Smith says the poor health of workers is exacerbated by the fact the industry is so reliant on the so-called ‘gig economy.’ “Most people are self-employed,” she explained, “so many people want to work as many days as possible, which contributes to that fatigue.”
Peter van Galen of the Netherlands’ Earproof also emphasised the importance of taking care of one’s hearing. “In a loud-sound environment, your ears get tired as well, and you can end up losing concentration if your ears aren’t in good condition,” he explained.
“we need to change the culture of substance abuse and late-night drinking”
“Everyone should wear hearing protection – and sound engineers, when they reach a certain age, should test their ears to see how they are functioning, as they work with very powerful equipment.”
Additionally, suggested Drape, there remains a “drink and drug culture” that permeates the industry, with people turning up for work drunk “and we’re asking them to drive a telehandler.” While Cobb countered that you “can’t control that [kind of behaviour] in any industry,” Drape maintained that “we need to change the culture of substance abuse and late-night drinking” in order to keep both staff and eventgoers safe.
Shelley-Smith said that “providing good facilities for everyone, and taking them off-site, helps,” while audience member Roger Barrett of Star Events described how his company “did an interesting experiment: we put everybody into single rooms, and it absolutely transformed things.
“We found that if people are sharing they didn’t want to appear wimpy – so they didn’t do things they maybe wanted to do, like read a book, watch TV, et cetera, as they felt pressure to stay up all night drinking.”
While it proved effective, booking individual rooms for all workers obviously makes less sense commercially – particularly when Star has “competitors who are putting four people in a tent behind the stage.”
Ultimately, “we know what needs to be done,” he concluded. “It’s just a question of whether event organisers are willing to stump up the money to do it.”
Places & Spaces: The Big Venue Discussion
Chair: Paul Sergeant (PSE, Australia)
Alice Asbury (O2 Academy Oxford, UK)
Nick Handford (Mick Perrin Worldwide, UK)
Peter McKenna (Croke Park, IR)
Peter Thorpe (Spotless Stadium, AU)
Sergeant and his panellists explored the complex relationships between venues and the shows that populate their diaries, noting that the communication and understanding between the parties needs to improve for the overall good of the live entertainment business.
Questioning the love-hate relationship between both sides, Sergeant underlined the fact that all events need a venue, no matter how small or big, and therefore are a crucial part of the overall business.
In a discussion about private versus public ownership of venues, McKenna revealed that Croke Park is privately owned but by 750,000 members, and because it is a city centre venue, one of his priorities was to make sure that the stadium and surrounding neighbourhoods are not negatively impacted by the visiting bands and productions.
Thorpe highlighted that every venue is governed by its own rules and regulations, which can make it a real balancing act when it comes to catering to touring productions. Thorpe and Sergeant also revealed that in Australia, alcohol sales were limited to beer with a 3.5% alcohol content – far lower than most other countries.
Asbury addressed increasing venue costs – an issue that most visiting acts would be completely unaware of. “We have to stick to strict budgets, as it’s very difficult to make money,” she said, adding that building maintenance and keeping equipment running, while meeting relevant guidelines is also a major challenge.
Raising the thorny subject of Brexit, McKenna said the UK”s exit from the European Union was effectively going to add 20% costs to the price of turf that Croke Park used to source from the UK for its sporting fixtures, and, therefore, the stadium has bought its own farm in Ireland to supply its turf.
Thorpe said that, whereas years ago his venues in Australia would close for two months for maintenance, that was no longer possible because the business is seven days a week and 52 weeks a year – an issue recognised by Asbury, who said that, on a daily basis, staff are repairing new holes in the wall, created at the previous night’s gig.
“I THINK BOTH SIDES CAN BE FRACTIOUS AND DIFFICULT”
Talking from a promoter’s point of view, Handford said that his objectives were very different from that of the venue owner. “Our sole objective is to put on the show that night, rather than thinking about the long-term upkeep of the venue.” However, McKenna said that meeting the fans’ expectations gave both the venues and the promoters a common objective. “Beer needs to be cold, food needs to be good quality, the sound has to be great – the experience has to be world-class.”
“I think both sides can be fractious and difficult,” said Handford, about the relationship. He noted that it might be difficult for venue staff to understand the needs of the visiting production staff who just want to load in and get some rest before the show, rather than deal with local red tape and regulations. “Tension is healthy,” stated McKenna. “People choose to work in the area that they work in. Most of the acts we deal with are extraordinarily professional, so I think we should relax a bit more and just concentrate on the serious challenges.”
The panel also touched upon language and cultural barriers, while Handford noted that as a production manager in China, he would have to dress in a business-like fashion before local crew would pay attention to him, as wearing jeans and a T-shirt, he wasn’t recognised as a decision maker.
Thorpe said that five years ago they were not allowed to talk to the city council, whereas now they work hand in hand with the city to try to bring events into the city and into Australia. Discussing the relationships with local authorities, McKenna said he believes that promoters should have higher status, noting that they risk millions of euros to bring in touring shows – some that work and some that do not. “If they were Google or Facebook or some such company investing similar sums in the local economy, the government would be building them new office buildings for free,” he observed.
On the subject of remuneration, Asbury said that respect for staff was paramount, while she also underlined the importance of training, as many staff use the O2 Academy circuit as a stepping stone to becoming freelance and going on the road, which is crucial for the health of the overall industry.
One delegate from the NEC Group commented that the tension points these days revolve around bigger productions needing more time to load in and out, meaning the margin for error was getting ever more slim. To mitigate that, he said that staff from NEC Group travel all over Europe to study the needs of incoming productions – a policy applauded by all on the panel.
Handford agreed that establishing dialogue with a tour to find out what its needs and goals are was vital, as there was more chance to find out about changing production values as the tour progressed. “As long as the chain of communication is strong, things tend to run fairly smoothly,” agreed Asbury.
Supply & Demand – an Imbalance?
Chair: Tony Hayes (Arena Birmingham, UK)
Julia Frank (Wizard Promotions, DE)
Ollie Kite (Transam, UK)
Meagan Walker, Rod Laver Arena (AU)
Tamás Szabó (Intellitix, HU)
Tackling the all-too real dilemma of a lack of trained and skilled personnel, the final IPM session of 2018 saw Hayes lead a discussion about how the production industry, and all its constituent parts, can remain sustainable by ensuring that the next generation of staff are coming through the ranks.
Szabó confirmed that Intellitix, like most companies in the live music industry, suffers from a lack of skilled staff during the summer season. “We need to start training people in February and March for our work in the summer, but often by the time the high season comes around, those people might have secured another job or moved abroad or whatever, so that investment in training is wasted.”
Walker warned that a shortage of staff in the security sector is something that needs to be addressed with some urgency.
Wizard’s Frank said the German promoter does not have problems with staffing levels, but security demands from American acts in particular are now impossible to fulfil as they cannot have canine teams continuously onsite, whereas in the States promoters can call upon local police units to assist with sniffer dogs. He also said that armed police are now a standard request from American touring productions, but in the UK nobody can supply that.
Responding to a question from the PSA’s Andy Lenthall, Kite said that Transam has an advantage in that rock & roll can offer more money than the normal kind of trucking jobs. However, the average driver age is 48-50 and there are very few young people coming through the ranks, as not many people want to go on the road for six to eight weeks sleeping in their cab and being treated badly when they get to each destination. Having “your truck parked miles away from catering and toilets is not a good incentive.”
“ARMED POLICE ARE NOW A STANDARD REQUEST FROM AMERICAN TOURING PRODUCTIONS, BUT IN THE UK NOBODY CAN SUPPLY THAT”
Kite added, “We’re sold-out until the end of June. We have 130 trucks and we could do with 200 on the road. On some tours you’ll have 60 trucks, double drivers, so 120 drivers and perhaps another 60 drivers waiting down the road when you get the triple drivers situation…”
Delegates from across Europe voiced their concerns that the lack of personnel across multiple sectors is reaching crisis levels, with one German expert noting that although the country had full employment, it was big industry, construction and other careers that are recruiting young people, rather than the sectors involved in live entertainment.
Noting some of the various apprenticeship schemes and training courses that companies are investing in, the panellists nonetheless conceded that there is an international issue when it comes to attracting young people into filling vacancies in the production supply industries.
Turning to solutions, Frank spoke about shows Wizard did with Aerosmith where she talked with promoters in other countries to buy production for four days rather than two, meaning that the band could also benefit from that continuity.
The panel also addressed the potential of live entertainment corporations acquiring the likes of trucking and production suppliers to ensure that their tours are catered for, perhaps cementing their monopolistic businesses.
With the growth of live entertainment in China, Star Events’ chief Roger Barrett concluded that in a few years’ time, Chinese riggers and crew might be awash in countries like the UK.
ContiNest showcased how to reduce transport costs with their foldable containers and provided delegates with a case study that involved accessing the hard-to-reach Exit Festival in Serbia; Paul Pike spoke about the programmes that the University of Surrey offers to students with an interest in working in the events industry; IPM’s Carl AH Martin hosted a compelling Q&A session with industry veteran Chris Vaughan; and David Suslik and Jáchym Pospísil from Sinch showcased their crewing solution software.
IPM & GEI Closing Drinks Party
Photos: Sytske Kamstra