Bonus Q&A: Little Big Town’s Chase Bennett On His All-Encompassing Approach To Tour Management

Chase Bennett moved from Minneapolis to major in audio engineering at Nashville’s Belmont University a dozen years ago. His tour management role cascaded after studio work, which turned in to various roles running front of house, production and road management for artists including A Thousand Horses, Joel Crouse, Darius Rucker and Dan + Shay.

“Tour management is more learn-as-you-go sort of thing,” said Bennett. “It’s never talked about—just assumed it’s out there—but it’s the absolute kingpin center person that keeps things going outside the office.”

Those roles have prepared Bennett for his current gig with group Little Big Town, where he serves as tour manager in addition to maintaining roles as a production manager and tour accountant.

“A lot of tour managers don’t do that,” he says of his varied role. “But once you immerse yourself, you can see how shows work and why people made decisions the way they did. I’m a hands-on guy and I fully believe you have to have eyes on everything as a tour manager. If the hammer drops, I’m already three steps ahead of how I can deal with that problem.”

As an independent contractor directly to the artist, Bennett admits not every part of the outfit is within his control.

“With LBT specifically, I was injected in that scenario. Some [members] have been with them for 10 years. Since then, I’ve made changes with crew people. And people lose sight of that, hearing from various angles like artist agents, manager, publicist, etc. You have to be okay in realizing that’s your decision.

“If there’s a void in the touring crew/band/management/booking process, you see that first hand just like a day-to-day manager does, but you get the back end of that. All of those decisions have been pushed to you, and now you’re executing the tour with things that have already been signed off on and designed. Sometimes that doesn’t work out.”

Now on the road with 45 people, six buses, six trucks and private planes, Bennett sat with MusicRow Magazine to talk about work teasing out those issues on the road. His bonus Q&A is below. To read the full interview, pick up a copy of MusicRow’s 2018 Touring Issue at musicrow.com or subscribe to MusicRow for your copy.

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Scaling

Once you understand how to deal with drivers, driver coordinators, VPs of bus companies—understand how the leases work—then you can do tours three-five times bigger. It’s all the same stuff, just magnified.

You need to understand at which point you become comfortable [with your outfit], because then you can apply to bigger jobs. At one point I was working with three-bus tours and trailer bands at the same time.

Larger tours in the country genre run 18-20 trucks, and all the way up to eight buses. Every set-up with an artist or band is tailored completely differently. My work with Dan + Shay was completely different than LBT, but the tools—templates, how I set my computer or phone up, how I set the production office up—is indicative of previous work in what the artist liked or didn’t like. A big thing for me was getting that toolbox dialed in. I knew exactly the templates I would use. It doesn’t come overnight.

Support Acts

A big thing for me is integration of support acts. I feel like a lot of tour managers totally overlook that. Support acts have their own tour managers but their tour managers come to me for any integration with our camp. With everyone we’re looking after, staging, lighting, bus, truck, support acts—upwards of 60 people.

LBT

I walked in to a scenario with them where I knew I could add a lot with my production background. They’ve never had a tour manager who had equal amounts of production knowledge.

These folks have been doing it for so long they have found a way to operate inside of their group where I’ve seen it fall apart with other bands. I was really excited to work with LBT, mostly because I love their music—that’s always been a driving force for me. You have to love the music you work with each day. They’ve seen a lot, and expect a lot—a certain standard, tailored to LBT.

What I immediately did with LBT that was super helpful for all of our vendors, is separating an artist party (A Party) from the band and crew (B Party). It helped us in transparency and line of communication in dealing with that amount of people. If I send out an A Party request to our travel agent, she then knows the subset of requirements—riders for hotel, locations they like, etc.

Day sheets, specifically, are presented to the artist so they know what’s going on. I’m super specific on how I arrange that after years of making them and then sitting down with the band, who liked certain styles from other managers. It’s time, event and extreme descriptions, so specifically when LBT walks in to a meet and greet, they know exactly who will be there, the names of each station, name of the PD, the last time they met the PD, etc.

What is a Tour Manager?

If you get rid of everything, a tour manager is just there to make sure things work and get the artist home safely. It’s a pretty simple job, but it’s extremely demanding. Artists rely on you to make sure every step of their day is taken care of. The second the artist leaves their house to the second they get back is on me. That has to do with fluency of travel, convenience and comfortability.

You’re the filter for the artist. My buddy Mike Kelly, who works with Darius Rucker, calls himself the shit filter. He takes all of the elements of Darius’ life and precisely delivers it to him. You’re balancing mingling during the show, making sure the artist is taken care of and settling the show. If you have a larger understanding of the operation, you see why the artist may be kicking back at certain points or where you can maybe press to get something out of the artist.

Hiring Friends

You hear of artists hiring their best friends to be their tour manager. I’m not saying that’s a bad decision; they may want to feel comfortable and have a certain vibe on the road. But if you’re hiring people close to you, or the tour manager is more the hang-guy, you’ll immediately see a production manager come in to place that deals with logistics. You have to remember through all of the partying, crazy nights, long days—you want people around you that support you—you’re there to work and support the artist and make sure the show is profitable.

Advice

  • Use technology. I work really close with Master Tour. It streamlines the tour. I still have a checklist template to reference, but I’ve advanced so many shows and have dealt with so many situations, that I already know what to go over.
  • Trust your team. At any different point in the day, you’re dealing with 20-30 problems—or good things, not necessarily problems.
  • Remember who you’re working for. Sure you can shuffle someone off, but you’re there completely as the artist’s support, whether they’re in an airplane, bus, train, hotel. When you make decisions, the artist feels comfortable, even in a hailstorm of stuff going on. If the artist needs something, your agendas, frustrations go out the door.
  • Be sound in your decisions, whether you’re 20 years old or 60 years old. There are guys doing this longer than I’ve been alive, but I see things in their way of operating that I would never do.
  • Be visible. Older guys especially completely disengage where you won’t even see the tour manager. That puts that person in more of a boss scenario and less of a team, which is good for order and discipline on the road I guess, but it’s very hammer-drop and different departments are left to sort it out.
  • Learn everyone’s job. I’ve seen tour managers stumble around, focusing on problems one at a time after they pull the plug on something. Knowing how [the whole operation works] before you go out and start controlling people or delegating work is huge. I’ve worked with people who’ve run merchandise, mixing the show, run lights, and electricians. That benefits me on triaging problems efficiently. I know how each person will look at [any decision that’s made]. You really have to be all-encompassing.
  • Be open to different touring styles. When you follow someone and think of how you could do it better, it will be positive. The best guys I’ve seen are guys who have been immersed in different angles, so they know how to triage, which goes back to knowing all those jobs in order to see where you could enhance.

To read the full interview, pick up a copy of MusicRow’s 2018 Touring Issue at musicrow.com or subscribe to MusicRow for your copy.

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Eric T. Parker oversees operations and contributes editorial for MusicRow's print magazine, MusicRow.com, the RowFax tip sheet and the MusicRow CountryBreakout chart. He also facilitates annual events for the enterprise, including MusicRow Awards, CountryBreakout Awards and the Rising Women on the Row. [email protected] | @EricTParker

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