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On The Road Series: The Rider – Philosophy
Part Three Of A Three-Part Series
By John Schlick Lighting Design
(more articles from this author)
2005-03-25
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In this short series of articles, I have tried to explore the mythical “Rider.” What is the rider, why does it evoke grandiose images to the general public, and how should YOU as a touring professional view the rider? I’ve also gone thru the standard laundry list of things to think about as you create your rider. Some of these are “obvious,” but it’s amazing how often the obvious is not so obvious to the little podunk venue you are about to load a semi trailer full of gear into.

I’ve broken this series this into three articles. The first covered what a rider is, and what sorts of things the artist ought to put on for their own use. If you haven’t read it, please go here: ”The Rider”. The second covered technical things that really ought to be on the rider, and if you haven’t read it, please go here: ”The Rider – Technical”. Now, this last article is VERY important; it’s all the little tips about the rider that often get forgotten. I’m also going to talk about how to think about the rider while you’re writing it.

The first thing that gets forgotten about the rider is that it is NOT the final word. The final word comes when you “ADVANCE” the show. Someone on your tour (usually calling themselves the production manager or tour manager) NEEDS to call the promoter AND the venue ahead of time and go thru the terms of the rider to make sure the terms can be met. If they can’t, this person helps the venue and the promoter find acceptable substitutes. The production or tour manager will then report the specifics of the show to the artist. In rare cases where certain things are needed and the venue just can’t do them, the artist has to make the decision to cancel the show. Now, why call the venue as well as the promoter? Because often the promoter doesn’t pass along the rider paperwork to the venue, and you walk in hearing, “We never saw any advance paperwork on you guys, so here is what we got.” This is sometimes VERY BAD if it’s an unprepared venue. If it’s a bunch of pros they will usually have you covered, especially if you’ve played there before.

Think along the lines of communicating as well as possible: Put your rider on a technical page on your website. Venues that don’t get a copy from the promoter often take a quick peek at websites and if the rider is on a page or two there, they can see it. It also means that even if someone didn’t get it in the mail, they can look it up immediately, without you needing to fax it. Put contact information on the rider for your tour manager, sound engineer, management company, lighting designer and booking agency so that people can get a hold of appropriate other people when the need arises.

When you sit down to do the actual paperwork, putting pen to paper, DON’T write your rider alone. Get your sound engineer to help you with the sound part, get your lighting designer help you with the lighting part (and if you don’t have a lighting designer, hire ME to write the lighting portion of your rider for you), get input from the crew on the brand of beer they drink, or if they have anything they want in an ongoing fashion (I like to see fruit juice on the rider), or anything else THEY need.

BE SURE to do this collaborative process before heading out on tour. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten to the first show and not had something there. The conversation is on the order of, “I sent you an email about adding XYZ to the rider, did that happen?” Answer: “No, I figured we’d just deal with it at the show. I didn’t want to waste the venue’s time with it on the rider.” GRRR. This can make your crew VERY unhappy. The next part of the conversations is, “Well, can we change it?” You all understand now that riders go out as part of the contracts for the shows as those contracts get signed. So, once the rider is sent to a venue, it’s kind of cast in stone. This means that, SURE, you can change it … for the NEXT tour.

In light of this, think of the rider as a living document. The larger the shows you do, the more volume of things you will need. When you do smaller shows, you won’t need an arena concert rider to get thru them. Your rider will probably change from tour to tour, just based on the crew that you have and your own personal tastes, not to mention changes in technology you may want to incorporate into the show. I have a number of stories from house techs about bands that don’t keep their rider current. They show up and say, “We fired the guy that wrote that, so it’s all different now.” You can’t expect a venue to give you what you need unless you can articulate it ahead of time in your rider.

Let me also talk about the perception of extravagance based on riders being very specific. There are two reasons riders are very specific. First, MANY promoters are CHEAP. If you want olives, they will get the cheapest, nastiest brand they can find, and that’s what YOU will get. If you want something nice, the right language is, “Musco Family, Green Pearl Olives or equivalent.” It’s the “or equivalent” part that’s important. This lets them know by reference the quality you are looking for, so you won’t get the bottom of the barrel. Because I can tell you from experience that if all the rider says is “olives,” you will get the black ones with the holes in them that you stick your fingers into so you can eat them!

Let me talk about another kind of specificity. I can tell you from experience that vegetarian meals tend to be the nastiest scummy meals EVER out on tour. Most caterers make only a token effort to fulfill these requests. If there are vegetarian meals requested, and it’s the singer (or someone actually important) that’s a vegetarian, you need to let them know. Otherwise you may end up with the “token” wilted vegetarian plate. When I was out with Billy Idol for six months, the rider called for a vegetarian meal, and the rider specifically stated, “By the way, the artist (Billy Idol) is one of the vegetarians.” On that tour, the vegetarian food was better –every day- than the standard food.

Oh, and it’s also OK to state that while the promoter or venue may substitute something, the following are “NOT acceptable substitutes,” and go on and list them. In many cases, the sound guys will say, “PEAVY consoles will not be accepted.”

Now, there is another a reason for some things to be specific … it forces the promoter to pay at least some attention to what you want. Many riders look almost the same, and some promoters are there doing shows every day, day in and day out. If you have something that stands out, then they have to go over the rider to see what’s strange, as opposed to just glossing over and forgetting things. Artists tend to be VERY specific with things especially important to them.

It’s OK (really, it is) to use STRONG language in the rider. “Should” and “ought” are NOT requirements. “SHALL” and “WILL” ARE requirements.

Let me leave the section on being specific with one last thought. Spinal Tap. If a promoter can, in any way, misread a rider, he or she WILL. That 18-INCH (as opposed to foot) Stonehenge has happened to more people on tour than will EVER own up to it. (Another reason to have the whole crew read the rider before hand, we call them techs for a reason.)

And the last REALLY important tip: if you take away NOTHING except this from this series, you will be far ahead of the game on many other bands… TRY to be appropriate, and not capricious, about the things on your rider. WHY you may ask? Well, think about it this way. This is the music business after all, and it is a BUSINESS. Where do you think the money to pay for things on your rider comes from? It comes out of the promoter’s pocket. If your rider costs $2000 to fulfill, then that’s $2000 he’s already budgeting against your show, and he’s not going to be willing to give you that extra $2000 as part of your guarantee. The more you ask for (and demand) in the rider, the less you get in cash. So, think of the rider as you spending YOUR OWN money to make your life easier on the road.

In closing, the rider is part of the legal documents you have signed with the promoter as part of doing a show. The rider ought to specify the current things you need in order to live on a day to day basis on the road, as well as specify what technical things you need in order to get the show done. The Rider is not the last word; it’s only a part of the process of communicating your needs to the promoter and the venue. Remember, there is room to negotiate around some things and lastly, remember you are really spending your OWN money in the rider, so be appropriate to your lifestyle with what goes on it.

So, there you have it. There ought to be enough tricks here for you to write a first rider and not have a really tough time of it on the road. Will all of these things be appropriate for you? Probably not. But many will, and I’m hoping these articles have shown you what to think about in the process of writing one.

For more information and to contact this writer, click on the author’s name at the top of the page.


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