As a frequent concert-goer, I have always been fascinated by the ins and outs of touring. When we do get first-hand accounts or depictions, we typically see what it’s like from the artist’s perspective. While their experience is a unique and fascinating one, for big artists playing arenas, there is a large group behind the scenes that work a rigorous schedule to make the concerts happen. The show would not go on without the hardworking crew behind it. This includes the production crew including riggers, lighting, audio, and pyrotechnics. There’re the touring and production managers, security, VIP, and so on. What’s touring life like for them? Luckily, I was able to finally get some answers thanks to a YouTube video recommended to me called, “The Absurd Logistics of Concert Touring.”
There’s a lot of great information packed into a 15-minute video. I thought it would be a great topic to dive into and share information from.
However, what actually inspired me to put together a blog about it was seeing another video pop up just a few weeks later labeled, “Touring Professional REACTS to The Absurd Logistics of Concert Tours By Wendover Productions.”
Based on the thumbnail featuring the creator looking shocked, I thought to myself, “Oh no, that video isn’t accurate after all. There goes my idea.” But to my relief, the touring professional (under the channel Notes From the Road) praised the video for being incredibly informative and he shared how impressed he was by the insider information given within the video essay. He said only those who have toured would know some of these things. After watching his commentary, I learned even more fascinating facts about life on touring for the crew from his own personal insights. Based on the two videos, I decided to put together a list of the most interesting facts about touring that the average concertgoer probably doesn’t know. A lot of people would never even think to look up behind-the-scenes work like this, but if you’re someone who attends a lot of concerts, especially ones in arenas, this post is a great resource to see just how much work goes into the concerts for your favorite artists. The show would not be as phenomenal without the huge crew behind every concert.
1. The Tour Bus Driver’s Schedule
The driver of the tour bus usually never sees the shows of the artists they’re driving. This is because they are required by law to get 8 hours of rest after 10 hours of driving. Back when drivers logged their drive times on paper, there was more wiggle room, but in today’s age, a bus driver logs in when they begin driving, and there is a digital footprint of when their 10 hours are up, and they need to stop. Those hours of rest are often between the set-up and the concert. Once the show has concluded, they’re doing systems checks and preparing to drive to the next location. The initial video included a helpful chart I’ll post below.
There are a lot of logistics the touring crew has to factor in when making use of this bus driver’s on-duty period such as traffic, stops, and construction. If they don’t prepare for these factors, the driver may have to legally stop before they reach their destination which, with a tight schedule like most of these arenas are on, absolutely cannot happen. To prevent this issue, bus companies will often have a second driver further along the route in a regular vehicle days before the scheduled trip. The second driver can then make a swap with the previous bus driver if necessary, in instances that they need to bypass the 10-hour limit for longer trips.
2. An Average Touring Crew’s Size
When you’re looking at the big arena tours for artists like Lizzo or Coldplay, the crew is usually around 30-50 people. This doesn’t include the 30-50 locals or venue staff that assist with arena production. It is through the work of all these people with their own skill sets that the stage, seating, lighting, rigging, and more are completed in a timely manner.
3. The Job of a Rigger and Their Symbols
For anyone who isn’t familiar with the job of a rigger, it is essentially their job to get anything that hangs for the show up and secure, usually hooking them to beams in the roof. For concerts, this is usually lights, speakers, prop pieces, and sometimes even the stage. There’s usually one or two lead riggers that tour with the band and at each venue, they work with 30-40 local riggers to help get everything set up. There’s a lot of precision needed for a job like this and little room for error, especially because the things they’re hanging will be above thousands of people within a matter of hours. When it comes to marking and determining the weight of the equipment they’re rigging, they are 4 known symbols to differentiate them. You can see them below.
Next time you’re at an arena show, be sure to look up, and you can see all the work done by riggers. It’s comforting to know many of the people responsible for this job have been doing it for years and are pros. They must be to secure tons of weight into the air within a matter of hours. The unsung heroes of touring!
4. The Runner
Many touring groups have a runner. It becomes absolutely essential when you get together a large group of people who cannot leave their post to take care of last-minute necessities. If one of the guitarists needs a new set of strings or someone ripped their last pair of socks, it’s the runner’s job to run out to take care of those things. They are also responsible for things such as dropping off and picking up the bus drivers from hotels and picking up meals that aren’t already provided by the pre-scheduled catering. It’s especially helpful to have a local runner when possible because they know their own city best. Much like the riggers, runners are unsung heroes of touring as they are responsible for resolving any little hiccups or last-minute things that come up.
5. The Benefits of Shore Power
Something I found to be really fascinating from both videos was the discussion of plugging into shore power when making a pit stop at a gas station. Shore power is typically a 240-watt power source that large vehicles like tour buses can use to keep the power on in the bus without having to keep the engine idling. Think of it as a generator that keeps things working without having to burn through gas. To keep lights and the air conditioning or heating on, to make sure automatic doors or windows can still operate, and other electrical needs, using this power source when making pit stops is essential while also being environmentally friendly (and saving the company some gas too). This is a detail acknowledged by the touring professional that this is an insider sort of detail that many wouldn’t even think about. I surely didn’t think about its usefulness for being on the go like this. It’s a very cool fact to learn!
6. A typical split between venues and artists is 85%
According to both videos, for big arena tours like this, the split for ticket prices are usually 85%, with the artists (and their team) pocketing 85% with the venue getting the remaining 15%. This is the case for larger artists out there, but this split can vary for smaller venues, but it’s interesting to discover how much of the ticket itself actually goes to the artist. It really puts into perspective the reason the ticket prices keep rising. Perhaps it’s to help venues garner a larger profit.
7. Concert Curfew is 11 PM
Yes, the standard curfew for concerts to end is 11 PM according to the initial video and confirmed by the touring professional. This fact is not something I definitely knew as fact, but I did know that most bands finish before or very close to 11. Among fans, I think it’s something we’ve put together and assumed as fact, but it’s interesting to learn that there is actually a definite rule that keeps our favorite artists from coming back for a second encore.
8. Building From Very Little - Concert Set Up
In preparing an arena for a concert, it's often pretty empty so that the crew can add or move around whatever is necessary. Picture a blank floor. They have to build the stage, set up chairs, lighting, rigging, and more. And the crew typically has 10 hours to get it ready for attendees. About 4-5 hours of that is devoted to building things before they can begin things like soundcheck around 4 PM for an evening concert. It’s not something you think about when you’re in the arena during the concert, but it’s fascinating to think about what the place looked like just 10 hours earlier.
While it is common to have to build and tear down stage setups each night, a commenter that says they’ve worked tours in stage automation included some insight I appreciated that today, big shows with a lot of big set pieces will often have large parts of the stage built twice as in an A set and a B set. “Set A will be built in Venue 1, while Set B is already being built in Venue 2. When the show is done in venue 1, Set A will move on to Venue 3 while the tour moves to Venue 2 and so on.” I’m sure that makes things a lot easier for production on big tours, especially ones with over 40 tour dates.
9. Concert Sales and Venue Layout
This is probably one of the most fascinating and cool insider facts included in the initial video. If a concert hasn’t sold out, they may opt to bring the stage forward and remove sections to give the appearance of the concert being fuller. On the flip side, if a concert sells out, they sometimes also move the stage back to a better sight line to accommodate a few more seats being added. This is to get more tickets sold on the day of the concert. This is a decision often made on the morning of the concert to give the crew time to make the changes. This is something I never knew or realized was allowed. I definitely want to see if I can notice that sort of change in setup next time I’m at an arena concert.
10. Backstage Maps
For an artist and their crew on tour, they are moving from place to place so often, it can be hard to distinguish what city they’re in and where they need to go. The make things easier for the likely exhausted and jade group, maps are put up everywhere backstage, so they know how to get places and do not have to think about the layout of a new city and venue. Their job isn’t to learn the layout of a new place; it’s to get the place ready for the show. These signs are meant to add one less stressor so crew can focus on their jobs. This makes a lot of sense, especially for some of these month-long tours. I’m glad things like this have become common to make life easier for people who are exhausted from being on the road. These are the 10 most interesting facts I discovered thanks to these videos, but the entire video essay is full of incredibly detailed knowledge of tour life. If you’d like to learn more, I urge you to check the video out. This was a great window into a day in the life of a crew member, and I hope to keep discovering insights like this. I hope this blog taught you something you never knew about arena tours and gave you a greater appreciation for the many faceless hardworking people behind the shows of your favorite artists.
If you know of any other insightful videos like this one, leave them in the comments! I’m always looking to learn more. Thanks for reading!
Special thanks again to the videos that inspired this blog:
Written by Kristen Petronio