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After a year and a half of canceled events, concerts and shows, the live entertainment business rebounded and then accelerated following the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Live Nation Entertainment, a U.S.-based global leader in live entertainment promotion, and Landstar customer.
In February 2022, Live Nation reported in its earnings release that after restarting its concert business in the second half of 2021, the company ended the year with “a record pipeline of concerts, ticket sales and advertising commitments for 2022,” as stated by Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino.
In August 2022, Rapino said the company “promoted more concerts, had more fans attend shows where they spent more money, sold more tickets and enabled brands to connect with fans at a scale we have never seen before” in Live Nation’s second quarter earnings release.
The return of events means the return of event freight. Rob Johnston has been an independent Landstar agent for nearly 20 years and a large part of his business is focused on event, entertainment and tour freight. He says he has experienced a resurgence in the business over the past year after tour freight dried up in 2020.
“My business didn’t go under during the pandemic, but 2020 was pretty much a wash for me from a profit standpoint,” said Johnston. “Now it seems like everybody is going back out on the road. We’re talking with production company customers nearly every day as they move forward on shows for the remainder of this year and into next year.”
In addition to tours, Johnston said freight for conferences, festivals and even new immersive experiences like Beyond Van Gogh, which is marketed as “a unique multimedia experience,” has picked up. While these kinds of events don’t require as much ongoing freight coordination, the “one-offs,” as he calls them, still provide steady business for Johnston.
Johnston also observed an uptick in business capacity owners (BCOs), Landstar’s term for independent
owner-operators leased to Landstar, who are interested in hauling tour and event freight for his agency, which he said is good, given the increase in business. “Without a driver, I’m worthless to a client and without a client, I’m worthless to a driver. We’re worthless without each other,” joked Johnston.
Mike Lassers, owner of independent Landstar agency Round the Clock Logistics, said his business also felt the impact of the pandemic due to canceled events. “We closed our office in September 2020, because business kind of died with the live entertainment industry. Not kind of died – it died.”
Operating out of his home and with a reduced staff, Lassers’ agency was forced to focus on other freight opportunities. The agency has since bounced back and is even more invested in event and tour freight now. According to Lassers, 90% of his business today is focused on the live entertainment industry, a significant portion of which comes from stage and lighting freight.
Lassers said as the U.S. began opening up for live events following the pandemic, a lot of niche trucking companies that previously serviced the industry had gone under or lost a significant number of drivers and/or trucks. “Production companies were eagerly looking for other capacity solutions and with Landstar’s more than 11,000 BCOs, we were able to meet their needs.”
“Another change since the pandemic is Canada’s COVID-19 vaccination requirement to enter the country,” continued Lassers. “We were recently helping to supplement the fleet of a trucking company that specializes in concerts and had a tour with a stop in Toronto. With about two weeks’ notice, we were asked by the company to find 12 Canadian-based owner-operators who could cover the loads across the border and back. With Landstar’s established presence in Canada, it was no problem for us to do that.”
Landstar’s unique capacity network also helps to ensure that “the show goes on,” said Lassers. “I think we bring to the industry not only the ability to find trucks to handle capacity needs but also the ability to recover from within the network if and when something goes wrong, like an equipment breakdown. We had one recently, but were able to repower with team drivers and still make it to the venue on time.”
Lassers said everyone he’s talked to in the concert industry says that 2023 is going to be just as busy as it has been in 2022. “There’s just so much pent-up demand from the past two years because no one could tour. Last year was all about the spot market, but this year and next, I think tours and events are where the money is to be made.”
Hauling tour freight has its own unique set of expectations, opportunities and challenges according to two independent Landstar owner-operators.
Landstar BCOs Jeff Pelletier and David Hawkins, who have worked on multiple nationwide tours for major artists and recently wrapped up hauling tour freight for Korn and Evanescence’s summer tour, suggest owner-operators have a good understanding of this niche before deciding if touring is right for their business.
1. Understand the commitment
JP: This is not a one-and-done job. It requires commitment for weeks or even months at a time.
There’s no time for sick days or equipment issues –
the show must go on and will have to go on without you. And you’ll probably miss some special occasions back home. I recommend that owner-operators who are new to this type of business start with a shorter tour to test
DH: Understand that the cost to quickly recover or repower your load will fall on your business. The show must, and will, go on. Make sure you are up-to-date on all your equipment and operator compliance tasks. If your Landstar 120-day inspection falls during the tour, reach out to the compliance department and request authorization to complete it before you start the tour. The production company will not wait for you to sort out any issues if you are put out of service.
JP: It’s important to know that tours generally have a chain of command when it comes to decision-making because there are so many moving parts. When driving for a tour, independent owner-operators are part of a team and report to a lead driver assigned by the tour’s production company. The lead driver provides instructions for loading and unloading, parking, departing for the next location and more. Drivers are expected to follow the directions given and to sort out any issues through the proper channels.
DH: A common misconception about working on a tour is that you’ll be partying with the talent. In reality, you both sleep during the day, work at night and rarely cross paths. My best advice is to do your job, get enough sleep, be helpful when you can and stay out of the way the rest of the time.
JP: When driving for a tour, you’ll be required to provide a trailer with logistics posts on the interior sides that are 2 feet or less apart, logistics bars that hook
into the posts (not tension bars) and 10-12 straps. Most tours prefer a white trailer with no graphics or a clean Landstar trailer.
DH: It’s necessary to have interior lights in the trailer, even if they are battery powered, because a lot of the loading happens at night. Typically, 18-volt lights are the minimum needed. It is also good to have a working
CB radio with high and low bands to communicate with the lead driver and production technicians during loading and unloading. They generally prefer CB radio over using cell phones.
JP: Physical stamina is important with touring because you are often expected to help with the loading and unloading of equipment. Driving at night and in big cities can be both physically and mentally demanding. A tour driver must be able to handle the intense schedule and workload day in and day out.
DH: Flexibility is very important – things change at a moment’s notice. And you’ll want to do your best to get along with other tour drivers because you’ll be spending a lot of time with them and need to have each other’s back. I always say, having the heart of a servant is needed for this type of work.
JP: Tours offer great opportunities for independent owner-operators who like steady work and a regular income. Most tours pay a daily rate for seven days a week while you are under contract. Even on days when the tour is stationary, you’re still making money.
DH: You’re traveling to some of the greatest cities in the country, so if a tour is stopped at a location for a few days, you generally have some downtime and can explore. Just be sure to get your rest and show up to work when you are supposed to.
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