The Coronavirus Economy: How a music tour manager deals with an international tour coming to a grinding halt
AJ Faber, tour manager for The National, was supposed to spend the second half of March traveling through Japan and Australia with the band and the rest of its crew, as part of a monthslong tour in support of last year’s I Am Easy to Find. However, as news surrounding the coronavirus intensified, the band called off the majority of their upcoming tour dates, eventually launching a fundraiser to help affected members of the crew.
Faber, 34, who has worked for The National a little more than a year, has numerous responsibilities including overseeing travel logistics, handling the accounting and finances, and dealing with press on the day of a show.
But she was social distancing in Toronto—where she went to school and tends to spend time between tours—when she spoke with Fortune at the end of March for The Coronavirus Economy, noting that it was “difficult” to be away from her parents in Florida considering how much she tries to spend time with them when she’s not traveling for work.
Faber chatted with Fortune about how The National’s tour began to fall apart, the overall impact on the live music industry, and how she thinks the sector will get through an unprecedented situation. This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Fortune: The tour cycle for 2020 started fairly recently, right?
Faber: Well, it was supposed to. Their latest record was released last year when we started—and we’re kind of in the middle of that album cycle. The whole industry has kind of a lull; from mid-December until beginning of March is normal downtime. And so most people in the industry are used to padding their wallets to prepare for those few months of not having an income.
And that was around the time you guys were going to Japan?
Exactly. Our first shows back were supposed to be two shows in Tokyo on March 17 and 18, so obviously that didn’t happen. And as soon as the [Diamond] Princess cruise thing was going down, that’s when I started being like, “Well, there’s a good chance Tokyo won’t happen.”
How did the situation generally begin to devolve to the point where you realized most of this tour just wasn’t going to happen?
Well, the band and management, they’re incredible guys who always seem to put crews’ health and safety first—and they of course all have families themselves and want to make sure they’re taking care of themselves and not putting their families’ health at risk either. Talks were starting a lot earlier, because our first show was in Tokyo and all of a sudden, Japan became that hotbed back in February. The band decided that it was better to reroute and go directly to Australia and just bypass it because we also had so many connecting flights on the way in.
The initial discussions were “If we could just avoid going through Asia, then we have a much better chance of all things being smooth for Australia.” But sure enough, 10 days go by and everything changed.
So as of now, none of the dates have been seen through and everything’s on pause, much like it is for everyone else.
Yeah, so we do have new dates confirmed for the Australia shows… for December. And anyone that had tickets already can retain their tickets to come to those shows, which is by the way always really really really helpful to all the bands trying to reschedule—the less that people ask for refunds, the more that’s really going to help the industry get through this.
Is there any concern though, given the fact that so many other artists are in the exact same boat, that you may not be able to reschedule other shows as easily?
Essentially, our biggest busiest time of year is the summer. So it’s definitely interesting, not just with venue availability. Are lighting companies all going to stay afloat, are we all going to be able to get lighting packages, are we all going to be able to get audio packages, are we all going to be able to get the trucks we need? There are so many things beyond just trying to get the right venue.
I think it’s going to be probably, I hate to say, as late as Summer 2021 probably before everything feels completely normal again. But if there’s any industry that can MacGyver their way through and figure it out, it is definitely the touring industry.
Is the fundraiser set up by the band helping right now?
I don’t know what the sales on anything are. I just know that this isn’t the first time that they’ve gone out of their way to help crew in a hard time. Whatever it is that we get is going to help enormously.
There are a couple of positions where myself and the production manager [and production coordinator], we do what’s called advance work [which pays sooner]. Not everyone else in the crew does work before we actually fly to the shows, whereas we do work all the time. So I was doing Japan and Australia visa applications back in November, December. It’s slightly different for certain positions on the crew, but for the majority of people and for the majority of even tour managers and production managers, you’re not necessarily on a two-week salary.
A lot of other people, they’re paid an advance fee kind of the same week the show happens. All I know is a lot of my other friends were really left in the lurch and have not been paid any advance pay because the show didn’t happen.
You were mentioning it would be helpful for people to retain tickets instead of getting refunds. What are some other things people can do to help people in the industry?
Buy merch for sure—just pretend you went to the show, go online, there’s a couple of bands are doing merch items that will in particular help crew as well. Fan clubs are great. If you join a fan club, they generally get to pocket a little more of the cash immediately, so that can help. Same with buying songs on Bandcamp, especially for smaller bands; they get to keep more money.
And a lot of bands are doing these live shows online and generally have a link to help out. Sometimes they’re raising money for a nonprofit, but… if everyone could pick a few of their favorite bands that they could throw five bucks a month to, that could go a really long way. Of course, there’s millions of people out of work, so not trying to guilt anybody into supporting someone if they’re not in a position, but even five bucks a month will go a long way.
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