Tag Archives: Business

It’s Not About The Gear – It’s About Receipts

Sure, it’s a cool toy – but can you make money on it?

Please Remember:

The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

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If you want to hear great wisdom about the business of sound and music, you should seek out Tim McCulloch over at Pro Sound Web. Just recently he was advising another audio human to “get very real” with a band about demanding a certain console for a tour. Having gotten the strong whiff that the choice of mixing desk was basically one of vanity, Mr. McCulloch dropped the proverbial load of bricks: The gear you take on tour is – and should be categorized as – an expense. The merch and tickets you can sell are profit. (So, decide if you want to make a profit and then act accordingly.)

Of course, the application of this to band tour-o-nomics is self explanatory. With just a bit of imagination, though, you can see how this applies everywhere – especially to audio craftspersons who own equipment.

The gear you own is an expense. It’s always an expense. It’s an expense when you make a full or partial payment for purchase. It’s a debit if you’re making leasing payments. It’s a negative ledger entry every second of every day, because its value depreciates forever in an asymptotic slide towards $0. It’s also a constant drain because you are always paying to store, maintain, and replace it (even if you don’t see a bill directly).

The above is a big reason behind why Tim McCulloch will also tell you that “Excess capacity is infinitely expensive.”

Anyway.

Equipment does not represent profit. It’s a tool that can be used to generate profit, but if you want to imagine the audio business as an airplane, gear is a constant contributor to weight and drag. What you need to keep going is lift and propulsion – profit, that is. Receipts. Money coming in. As such, every purchase and upgrade plan has to answer one question: “How will this increase my receipts?”

The harsh truth is that, past a certain point, just being able to get louder probably won’t increase your receipts.

Past a certain point, being able to rattle peoples’ rib cages with bass probably won’t increase your receipts.

Past a certain point, “super-trick,” spendy mics probably won’t increase your receipts.

A nifty new console probably won’t increase your receipts (not by itself).

What many of us (including myself) have a longstanding struggle with understanding is that what we THINK is cool is not necessarily what gets us phone calls. Meeting the demands of the market is what gets the phone calls. For those of us with maverick-esque tendencies (like Yours “Anti Establishment Is Where It’s At” Truly), we have to take care. We have to balance our curiosity and experimental bent with still being functional where it counts.

We CAN be bold. In fact, I think we MUST be bold. We ought to dare to be different, but we can’t be reckless or vain. If we’re in a situation where our clientele encourages our unorthodoxy, we can let ‘er rip! If not, then we have to accept that going down some particular road might just be for our own enjoyment, and that we can’t bet our entire future on it.

By way of example, I can speak of my own career. I’m currently looking at what the next phase might be like. I have a whole host of notions about what upgrade and expansion paths that might entail. I’ve also gotten on the call list of a local audio provider that I really, really enjoy working with – and the provider in question is far, FAR better than I am at scaring up work. With that being the case, some of my pet-project ideas are going to need a hard look. In devising my upgrade path, it’s far smarter for me to talk to the other provider and find out what would dovetail nicely with their future roadmap, rather than to just do whatever I think might be interesting. Fitting in with them means a chance at more receipts. More receipts means I can do more of what I love. Doing more of what I love means that I might just have enough excess capital to do some weird experiments here and there.

I don’t say any of this to dampen anyone’s enthusiasm. I say this so that we can all be clear about our choices. There are times when we might declare, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” It’s just that we sometimes say that without realizing that we’ve said it, in terms of business decisions. If we’re going to buy tools to make money with, it’s a very good idea to figure out what tools will actually serve to make money.


The Mystical Guarantee

Getting paid a guarantee means you guaranteed something valuable to someone else.

Please Remember:

The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

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Ah, the perennial discussion: “Should local bands get paid from the door, or a guarantee?”

I’ve touched on this subject before, but I’ve never gotten into this aspect directly. I believe I can give you a definitive answer:

Any band, at any level, can get paid a guarantee – but only if they can guarantee something that’s “business-valuable” to the person writing the checks.

Business-value is different from other values. It’s revenue and profit, pure and simple. There are bands out there that argue in favor of a guarantee everywhere, due to their hours of practice and expensive equipment. I must be blunt. None of that represents any business-value to a venue. Zilch. Zippo. Nothing. You know what does?

People paying money for whatever the venue sells. Some venues sell admission. Others sell things that people can consume. Others sell both.

If booking you appears to be a direct cause of the venue making money, you will also make money. If booking you several times begins to present a statistical pattern, a pattern where bringing you on results in an average amount of revenue and profit for the venue, a guarantee becomes far more possible. Until that pattern becomes established, you aren’t “guarantee” material for that particular establishment.

Of course, some places pay everybody a guarantee. This is a great thing, and it comes from that room having enough overall income to support it. If I were to ever run my own place again, I would hope to be able to do that. However, if it didn’t end up being possible, I wouldn’t be sitting there beating myself up over it. There are plenty of great places that do, in fact, care about music and musicians, but are not economically able to pay a guarantee to everybody. I spent a few years running one such place, and then several more years working for another such outfit.

The music business does not run on some exotic model of risk and reward. It’s just like everything else. If paying every band a set amount (or even just a set “base”) is of manageable risk and significant reward, it will happen. If not, it won’t. If you must have a certain amount to pack in your gear and play, I can respect that, and I would encourage you to find and tailor your show to the places that will pay up, “rain or shine.”

I would also ask you to recognize that proportional payouts are not automatically a sign of greed or other moral failing by a venue operator. If you haven’t looked at the whole picture, please look again.


Regarding The “Value” Of Bands

What really matters is your “business value” from the perspective of the booker/ event manager/ whatever.

Please Remember:

The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

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The Video

The Summary

If you want to make a deal, you have to provide value to the other party. For some venues, the only real value you can provide is the ability to draw a crowd. In other situations, your ability to play well might be more important. This is all figured out on a case-by-case basis, with few shortcuts (if any) available.


The 2X/ 4X Guideline

A guest-post for Schwilly Family Musicians about “money clout” for bands and artists.

Please Remember:

The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

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From the article: “A band’s monetary clout is directly proportional to the real value they offer the venue or event organizer. For an act to ask for a specific payout amount, the real value they represent to the venue or event should be 4X their asking price. The exception to this is when the band, in and of itself, is THE draw to the event. In that case, the multiplier is only 2X – but venue or organizer expenses should be factored in.”


The whole article is available, free, right here.


Three Reasons Why I’ll Tell You NOT To Pursue A Record Deal

A Schwilly Family article I wrote about why getting signed isn’t the solution to everything.

Please Remember:

The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

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From the article:

The whole point of a recording contract is basically to say, “We’ll help finance the creation of a recording and other things, because we think we can sell those things for a TON more than the price of the financing.” If it works out, it’s a sweet deal for the record company, because they very likely have all the rights to the sound recording of your songs – and they can keep selling that sound recording to as many people as they can manage. If you’re not careful, or don’t have enough negotiating power, they will probably own those rights “in perpetuity.” (That means “forever.”)


Read the whole thing, for free, right here.


Trimming The Sails

Change the variables you control. It’s more effective.

Please Remember:

The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

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The music industry has a bad habit because every industry has a bad habit.

Because humans have a bad habit.

The wind changes, and we groan on and on about the wind:

“People need to go to this or that kind of gig more.” “Streaming is unfair.” “People need to buy vinyl.” “People need to assign value to music in the way I assign value to it.” “People need to stop listening to Pop.” “Bars need to stop hiring DJs.” “Promoters need to do this thing that I want.” “Musicians need to do what the engineer tells them.” “Guitar players need to dial up the sound I want.”

Now, I’m all for changing the world. I’m in favor of discovering what works and what doesn’t, and passing that information along – the allure of mythology and innuendo be hanged! I’m also an admirer of being able to sit patiently, waiting for things to start moving in the way you like. All of that has its place.

But the thing is, changing the direction of the world is difficult and time-consuming. Training a large number of people to think and act as you would have them do is a gargantuan and frustrating project. Waiting for the stars to align sometimes requires years that you don’t have.

On the other hand, trying to “turn to catch the wind” is relatively quick and easy. You go, “How do I leverage this situation with what I have available?” Then you do. Sometimes this means getting propelled by the force of the flow, and sometimes this means carving your own channel.

For instance, let’s talk about streaming. If I had a nickel for every artist moaning about how streaming doesn’t pay musicians enough, I’d have a lot of money compared to the complainers. Recorded music is data. Data is in incredibly high supply. High supply means low monetary value. Streaming is how more and more people consume music. That’s just the way it is. Selling expensive, physical media isn’t “the only way” anymore, and that’s that. The wind of streaming is blowing stronger and stronger, so you may as well catch it.

Then, there’s the problem of “promoters don’t book my genre in this town.” Well, you can sit and mope, or you can rent a space, get your favorite bands together, and do things on your terms. Pick yourself, as Seth Godin would say. If you don’t want to sail with the breeze, you’re going to have to row. Paddling across the water is tougher than getting pushed along, but it’s still a choice that you can make and control.

I support your right to shake your fist at the circumstances that won’t play by your preferred rule-set. Life in music can truly “vacuum” on certain days, and there’s nothing wrong with being irritated. At the same time, I strongly urge you to have an attitude of “Meet ’em where they are.” Going to where the action is, whether physically or metaphorically, is almost always easier than getting the action to come to you.


I Expected A Different Future

What we thought was going to happen didn’t happen.

Please Remember:

The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

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Back when I was in recording school, everything was going to be different.

It was, of course, already different back then, too. The digital console revolution was still pretty much off the radar, but the “triumph of the amateurs” was definitely in force. I still sort of cared about linear-access media. I recorded my final projects on Tascam DA-series decks. They used Hi-8 tapes to record digital data. Tapes! You had to rewind and fast-forward. And it was digital! I checked out the mobile Pro-Tools rig so I could quickly loop over the tom hits I was obsessing about, running the line-level outputs through an SSL G series console the size of a family car. I mixed down to a DAT tape that the whole class shared. It was uphill, both ways, in the snow, and it was glorious.

Anyway.

Sixteen-ish years ago, the production landscape was a very different piece of terrain. We were all getting ready to be fired off into the yonder, and I knew what I was going to do: I was going to be mixing rock-records in surround. That was going to be the new thing that would fill the careers of us young bucks. DVD audio was going to keep the music business relevant and moving forward.

Well, we can all see how that turned out.

Physical media still exists, of course. The really retro stuff has a big following, and a sort of cachet. Sure, the streaming files will get released, but the BIG fans will buy the thing on limited-release vinyl. Hey, there’s nothing like inconvenience and fragility when it comes to music playback. The struggle makes the guitars sound better, or something. I do have fond, childhood memories of a Sesame Street LP that sounded great on my Dad’s “Allegro” system.

“La dee da dee dum, la dee da dee dum, what’s the name of that song?”

We were convinced that physical media would be around forever. The original iPod wouldn’t ship until months after I graduated from The Conservatory, and even that thing still counts as a form of physical media in my mind. It might blow your mind a bit, but you have to realize that we had NO IDEA it would be common to stream music over wireless networks to wherever your phone is. The battle was between inconvenient, high-quality playback that required a lot from the user, versus insanely convenient, acceptable-quality playback that required almost nothing from a listener.

Tough call, right? (SARCASM!)

In my mind, it’s the same for live music. If we’re trying to get patrons of the arts to do something inconvenient that requires a lot of effort, that’s perfectly fine (just like vinyl). That’s a choice we can make, and it has legitimacy. At the same time, we have to realize that we are limiting the audience to the “hardcore fans,” especially if we’re short on ways to make the live experience compelling. I’m no fan of unnecessary frippery, but if we’re going to ask people to drive out of their way, fight for parking, and cough up a bunch of dough for admission, the show had better be worth it. We may not have every possible production toy ever invented (I certainly don’t), but we have to strive to take pride in our craft.

People don’t tolerate crap, and the definition of crap involves multiple, interlocking variables. Good quality but difficult to get is crap. Horrifically bad quality that’s delivered to your door is also crap.

But basically okay and really easy is NOT crap, and thus people are okay with it.

I’m convinced that this is not about flash and who can spend the most money. What I am convinced of is that, if a live show isn’t quickly recognizable as being better than just listening to playback at home, nobody owes us the courtesy of showing up.

Back in the day, music was hard enough to come by that going out to hear it was a necessity. Now, it’s entirely optional. This may not be the future we expected, but it’s a future where we’re invited (by necessity) to do the coolest stuff we can think of. That’s pretty daunting at times, but sitting here typing this, I feel like it’s also a fun challenge. I guess we’ll see what happens.


Approaching The Venue That Doesn’t Know You

An article for Schwilly Family Musicians.

Please Remember:

The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

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From the article:

“When making your pitch, focus intently upon what is truly actionable in terms of creating a profitable event for the venue. This is something of a ruthless process, because a lot of standard sales-pitch elements simply don’t apply.”

The whole thing is available for free, here.


Should You Go To Audio School?

I went, and I loved it, but I don’t universally recommend it.

Please Remember:

The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

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I’m not entirely sure if me being a graduate of The Conservatory Of Recording Arts And Sciences reflects well or poorly on the institution. I definitely did NOT walk out of there and summarily change the world, but I have made plenty of friends and mixed a whole bunch of shows that were well received.

In any case…

I went to The Conservatory. I loved it. It was the best academic experience of my entire life. You would think, then, that I would wholeheartedly recommend to anyone considering a run in this business that they also go to school for the craft.

That’s not the case, though.


At the level of the general population, we are slowly waking up to the reality that the “diploma in hand” is really not a golden ticket. Our collective, aggressive somnolence in regards to this realization can be partially excused; For a long time, school was THE key to the brighter future. There was quite a long count of years where the piece-o-paper did indeed function well as a gate pass to getting a gig. There are some professions that still absolutely require proof of getting through the coursework to even get started. For many occupations, though, successful passage through related education is now a pretty mediocre commodity. You went to school? So? The 10,000 other people who want to do this job also did.

Having the education on your resume is no longer anything that makes you stand out from the pack. It’s not at all rare.

But higher-ed institutions of all types, especially those that really need your tuition dollars, won’t tell you that. They live on your believing that the best way to get into [insert profession here] is to have some sort of diploma. Like I said, though, the diploma no longer marks you as exceptional. It just shows that you were able to spend enough money and hang on long enough to get your credit hours.


From the above, you might think that I’m against school. I’m not. I’m against believing that school is something that it inherently isn’t.

School is not, at its core, an entry card into a profession or socio-economic group. It can act as those things under certain circumstances, but that’s not inherently what school is.

School is actually your becoming familiar with basic concepts and vocabulary such that you have a chance to understand your real education, which is the doing of the work in real life. It’s the mental foundation for asking the really interesting questions, questions that tend not to be covered in school.

(There are educational institutions which get into those questions, but they do so only at the very highest levels. Original research, the prime-example of this, is not school. It’s “doing the work in real life,” just in an academic setting where the goals are more than making a profit this month.)

The point of school is to make you able to learn something later, when you’re not in the classroom, lab, or other controlled environment.

So, if that’s the premise I’m going with, why would I NOT encourage you (like crazy) to go to school for sound? Doesn’t recording or live-audio school give you a crucial foundation for a future life in noise-louderization and electron inconveniencing?

Well, it can, but it’s not the only way to get there.


I went to recording school at just around the turn of the century. Digital consoles were out there, but were still a revolutionary concept for a lot of us in the classroom. The music industry still revolved around rock bands being recorded in big, expensive rooms through big, expensive consoles, connected to big, expensive outboard gear. CPU-based audio workstations were just at the doorway of competing with Pro Tools rigs running DSP cards. The project-studio revolution was definitely in full swing, but audio was still in a place where you could spend a lot without getting a lot.

You also have to realize that the Internet was in the midst of revolutionizing everything, but not nearly as far along as it is now. Information that’s easy to find these days was still difficult to ferret out then. YouTube, and a million people doing “how to hook up your sound system” did not exist. Not everybody posted their manuals and free(!) editor software online.

What audio schools had at that time was full-featured gear, actual studio rooms like what were in vogue, information, and the opportunity to do “lab” work that combined all that. They could charge you a fair amount for the privilege, and be basically justified in doing so. They were riding that bleeding edge of a business that traditionally worked on the “master and apprentice” model anyway, but had become big enough for commoditized education to handle the basics.

Do you know what’s changed since then?

The schools have newer gear.

They charge quite a bit more for tuition.

Gear with immense functionality has dropped in price.

All the information you need is available almost instantaneously, often for free.

Huge sections of the music business have stopped being “big industry,” and have returned to their DIY, “punk rock” roots.

What hasn’t changed at all is that “hands-on” time is still the most precious part of learning the craft.

To be brutally frank, as far as I can tell, for the price of an audio school program you can buy your own gear that – while certainly not top-shelf – will have all the features necessary for you to learn much more than the bare basics. Once you get comfortable with signal flow fundamentals, you could then start looking for bands to work with, and maybe even make some money while you establish experience. A diploma is worth very little compared to real experience, a reputation, and having some of your own equipment.


None of this is to write off academic audio programs entirely. If you truly want to go to school for sound, you should – but I would encourage you to look at non-traditional factors when choosing a school. Forget about the nameplates on the gear and the manufacturer-sponsored certification programs. Forget about whether or not the live-sound lab has the biggest and loudest flown array ever assembled. Forget about the stories of (a very small minority of their students, probably) who are working with giant artists and getting their names on industry awards that are mostly based on sales. Rather, think about:

How much hands-on time is part of the curriculum? The more there is, the better.

Related to the above, how much real, honest-to-goodness portfolio material will you have when you graduate? The more you can get, the better.

How much recruiting is done by potential employers at the school? Do local production companies go looking for graduates? The more of that there is, the better.

Will there be easy opportunities to meet and form relationships with people working at local, regional, and national levels? The more of those, the better.

We’re in a new age where the traditional barriers to entry are nearly nonexistent. If you’re going to go to school, go to a place that serves as a functional launchpad for your career, not merely a factory for people who can answer questions on tests. To use the language of Seth Godin, look for a place that prepares you to pick yourself, rather than for other people to pick you. If I had all of this to do over again, and I went to school, I would go to a school like that.

Heck, I want to teach there.


The Story Of A Road Gig, Part 1

It’s more about logistics than sound.

Please Remember:

The opinions expressed are mine only. These opinions do not necessarily reflect anybody else’s opinions. I do not own, operate, manage, or represent any band, venue, or company that I talk about, unless explicitly noted.

Want to use this image for something else? Great! Click it for the link to a high-res or resolution-independent version.

There’s this quote that I like. If I could find the exact wording, I would put it here for you. As I remember, it was about photographers, and derived from something that Oscar Wilde supposedly said:

“Amateur photographers talk about things like lenses and film speed and aperture settings. Professionals talk about money.”

My take on it?

“Audio craftspersons with less experience do their gig planning by talking about spec sheets, wattage ratings, model numbers, and sound quality. Once they get a few more miles and years on themselves, they realize that it’s all about logistics, money, and vehicles.”

I just recently got back from doing an overnighter roadshow in south-eastern Utah, a gig that took about a month of planning (off and on, mind) to bring to fruition. During that planning, we barely talked about audio at all. It was basically the last thing that got any discussion. The reasons for that are mixed; Some of the issues were specific to the show, and some were more generalizable. The point is that a road gig certainly does have to do with sound, but the sound is wrapped up in a LOT of other particulars.

Some Things We Didn’t Have To Talk About Much

With all my harping about audio requiring planning, time, and foresight to pull off properly, my seemingly cavalier attitude towards the production of a big gig might seem out of character. The important word there is “seemingly.” As always, time and effort were neither created nor destroyed – they were just transferred around. Since the loss of my regular gig, I’ve been putting together a small concert system that I’ve designed to handle pretty much any show that I would be called upon to do. Three consoles (one for FOH, one for monitors, and a spare), two compact subs and four top-boxes for FOH, an eight-mix monitor rig that features a drumfill with subwoofers, tons of mics and stands, more XLR cables than I’ve even counted…you get the picture.

Basically, unless a band has some really specific needs, or the show is for a large crowd, I’m very confident that I will have what’s necessary to pull it off.

And I take everything everywhere, so there was no need to discuss exactly which pieces would be required.

Another specific issue with the show was that the lineup was a bit fluid. Eyes Open was supposed to play originally, but their rehearsals didn’t quite pan out, so they pulled in the Katie Ainge Band to bring some sonic goodness to the town of Monticello. Nobody had a detailed input list at any point, and it wasn’t really necessary. Nobody was being picky, and nobody was likely to become picky.

So, a lot of detailed discussion about production wasn’t going to do anything. We were going to have what we were going to have, and it was going to be fine. “Countin’ mic clips” would be a waste of time.

The Bits That Mattered

What was definitely not a waste of time was figuring out the logistics of the show. Longtime readers may remember my “Five S Festival” article, where I’ve previously discussed how productions have to be about the basic needs of humans before they can be about gear. When you’re in a situation where your involvement is compartmentalized, you still have to figure out the various elements. It’s just that the number of people involved is smaller…maybe even just you.

Because the audio production side was already figured out (for all practical purposes), I was mostly concerned about a number of “P” elements.

That is to say: Power, Peeing, Precipitation, Plonking Down, and Payment.

Power – A PA system is worthless without electricity. I needed to know where it was going to come from, especially since we were going to be outside. (The outside is a strange and wondrous place for sound, usually with fewer acoustical problems. The Yin to that Yang is that electrical outlets are far less plentiful.)

Peeing – The location of a bathroom is not a trivial thing. When it’s time to eliminate some waste, it’s time. Period, the end. You don’t think this issue is serious? Wait until you forget about it sometime.

Precipitation – To be precise, what happens if water starts falling out of the sky? Where can people and gear find shelter? Another thing that falls out of the sky is heat. It’s not precipitation, but whatever, I’ve got a theme going here. Anyway…I’ve been on unprotected hillsides during high-desert summers, and I’ll tell you, shade is something you really, really want. Really.

Plonking Down – Where is a person going to sleep? Whether it’s for-profit lodging or somebody’s residence, you need to know where it is, how you get access to it, and the folks in charge need to know you’re coming. Also, it’s critical to take other sleepers into account. For instance, my snoring is loud enough to drown some drummers that I know. For the sake of other people’s rest and sanity (and maybe my own safety), giving other sleepers a way to get out of earshot is a necessary plan.

Payment – How much is the gig worth to everybody? How can you accommodate the event budget? You have to figure out how to cover your transport, wear-n-tear, food, and lodging costs while making a profit and NOT costing too much for the folks writing the checks. Lowballing and being greedy are pretty much equally bad.

None of the above items are audio. All of the above are logistical considerations. The conversations that I had with the Eyes Open guys consisted of about 98% logistical issues and 2% show production. That might seem a little bit weird, but I can tell you that a gig sits on a lot of “infrastructure” support. Fail to get that figured out, and the gig will collapse just as surely as if the PA is all wrong.