Exclusive: Touring Career Workshop—Leading With Heart And Wisdom

Chris Lisle

Chris Lisle

Chris Lisle of Chris Lisle Lighting Design has a passion for his work that is matched only by his care for the members of the concert touring community. His 25-plus year career has included work in several segments of touring, including production, lighting design, and tour management. He has worked with Miranda Lambert, Robert Plant, Chris Young, and more.

Now in its sixth year, the Touring Career Workshop will offer a myriad of sessions centering on breaking into the touring industry, retirement options for touring professionals, tax information, freelance opportunities, maintaining health on the road, and more. The Touring Career Workshop, a free event, is slated for Nov. 9 at Soundcheck Nashville Annex.

After launching in 2011, the workshop grew to 300 attendees in 2015. This year, Keith Urban’s production manager Randy Fletcher will present a keynote presentation on the evolvement of the touring industry. Also speaking are Erik Leighty (Miranda Lambert, Paramore), Jim Runge (The Black Keys, Major Lazor), Mark Miles (IEBA, Lambert) and more.

Lisle, who serves as the workshop’s Executive Director, spoke with MusicRow about this year’s Touring Career Workshop, the state of the touring industry, and his advice for newcomers.

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MusicRow: How did Touring Career Workshop begin?

Chris Lisle: Many touring production staff members don’t have any kind of benefits, unless they work for a great company. Friends and colleagues coming to me and asking, ‘Who do you like to use for an accountant?’ Or ‘How do you do your health insurance?’ I also saw someone close to me go through some really tough things in their later years because they didn’t address a lot of things financially and physically that they should have in their 20s, 30s, and 40s.

Erik Parker [Touring Career Workshop Co-Founder and Associate Director] and I discussed giving small sessions where people could come and learn how to get insurance or how to get the most out of your tax deductions. We even get into personal things like how to make marriage work on the road or how to raise kids when you are being a part-time parent when you travel so much. Staying fit on the road, just these skills they are not getting anywhere else.

MR: What Touring Career Workshop sessions are you most excited about this year?

CL: We try to always do new stuff every year, but we also know the ones that are most attended. Our most-attended ones are always about getting in and staying in the touring business. Sessions about the health insurance, legal contracts, and accounting are big. This year we have a parenting session. It’s one that is close to my heart. How do you parent when you are only home three days per week?

We’ve also got a tour manager panel this year. I’m always excited about it because they give their perspectives on how they run their tours and handle conflict management. A tour bus holds 12 people. They work together all day in the venue then they get on the bus and there is always that one person who is smelly or plays their music too loud. We grill them to tell the next generation what they can expect as far as conflict resolution on the road. 

MR: Artists are relying on income from touring more than ever. What effects has that had on our industry?

CL: It’s no secret that record sales are not what they used to be and touring sales are up. So the touring business as a whole, not just from the artists and band side, but from the production side, is huge right now.

I’ve been doing concert lighting for 25 years and I’ve never seen Nashville or the industry the way it is right now, in terms of demand for not only show production but for technicians, sound people and lighting people, etc. They are in high demand.

MR: Are you finding that sometimes employers are having trouble filling spots?

CL: I do. The good thing with this is that we have a couple of great schools like Belmont,

MTSU and The Blackbird Academy that are training people to take on some of these roles. We are doing our best. I definitely know from a lighting end this past summer, we hit a point where we were out of people. Right now, I have a video person that I am showing how to do lights, to kind of get the most. We are seeing a lot of this. We are molding people to what they need to be and giving them work.

MR: What other services do you offer in addition to the Touring Career Workshop?

CL: We started our All Access program two years ago. We have three counselors working with us, and touring personnel can go to any of those counselors and TCW pays for the first two sessions, no questions asked. We never know the person’s name, we just get an invoice from [the counselor]. I’ve even had situations where the counselor calls and says, ‘I have a person who can’t afford it, but they need at least three more sessions,’ then cool, let’s get them in there and let’s do it. That’s all about us wanting to make sure if you are going through stuff, you can talk it out.

MR: What advice do you give to young people wanting to enter the touring business?

CL: Honestly, technical skill is great, but personality is key. You are your own business. You have to sell yourself constantly. Yes, I want you to know how to run lights, or whatever your path is, but you have to get along with others for months on end and find that next gig. The key is your networking tree. I explain how even in my career, one contact branches out to become 50. That’s how you get work to progress your career.

The Sixth Annual Touring Career Workshop will take place Wednesday, Nov. 9 at Soundcheck Nashville Annex, beginning at 6 p.m. For more information on the Touring Career Workshop or the All Access program, and to register for the Touring Career Workshop, visit touringcareerworkshop.com.

This year, the Touring Career Workshop has partnered with Stagecall, which collects bikes for underprivileged children in Nashville. Attendees are encouraged to bring a new bike and/or cash donations.

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About the Author

Jessica Nicholson serves as the Managing Editor for MusicRow magazine. Her previous music journalism experience includes work with Country Weekly magazine and Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) magazine. She holds a BBA degree in Music Business and Marketing from Belmont University. She welcomes your feedback at [email protected]

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