Robyn Jelleff is a lady who wears many music industry hats, but predominantly works as a Tour Manager, Production Manager and Promoter Representative with her partner-in-crime Kim McCarthy at McCarthy Jelleff.
After starting out as a lighting designer in Melbourne during the early 80’s Robyn made the move to London in 1987. There she designed light shows for artists including The Beautiful South, The Cramps, Jimmy Sommerville, Alison Moyet, and Marc Almond, before moving on to production and later tour management. After 30 years in the business Robyn now prefers to take care of tour & production management and event logistics. With so much wisdom across so many key industry roles, read on to learn what it’s like to live a Week in the Life Of….
Your job description in your own words
Well… it’s hard to know where to start but here goes… The ‘Music Industry’ is a big and varied beast and my part of it is a quite specific and defined area. When I’m offered a tour, usually by a promoter, but sometimes by an artists’ manager, I’ll first check the dates don’t clash with any of my other touring commitments and if all is OK, we’ll lock it in. I then get sent a detailed itinerary, the artist rider, the promoter/artist deal memo, tour budget, any specific travel requirements and so on. The next step is to introduce myself to the international touring management team (if I don’t know them already) and from there, we hit the ground running – planning begins.
At the moment I’m lucky to have quite a few tours on the go, it’s a busy time of year in the concert world. I am currently advancing 5 tours – Bill Murray, Jan Vogler & Friends, RocKwiz, Twenty One Pilots, Mumford & Sons and Happy Mondays, in that chronological order. So the planning and emails never stop. All are different sized tours, in different venues, with varying levels of production, widely differing budgets and even the number of people on the road fluctuates hugely. For example, Bill, Jan & Friends has 8 people on the road and Twenty One Pilots has 80.
No matter how big or small the tour, they all require the same amount of care and attention. Currently any spare minute, whether I’m working in my office or away on tour, is spent making plans, booking production and travel or checking and replying to emails.
As the promoter rep, I also have to deal with the venue a lot throughout the pre-production and also on show days. I request regular ticket sales updates and ‘sold’ maps which show me which seats have been sold, which are still available and which have been held off sale. On the day I need to do things like check seating sightlines, prepare the artist guest list for the box office, oversee the venue catering and dressing rooms, agree on any venue charges, produce an accreditation sheet, conduct a venue security briefing, meet the media photographers prior to the show and so on. There is also an overarching responsibility and attention to OH&S issues.
Prior to and during tours, weekends become irrelevant. In fact, weekends are often the busiest time for shows. When on tour we can sometimes lose track of days of the week, as we tend to think only in terms of show days, travel days and very occasionally – a day off.
This is my last real work day prior to my next tour, as tomorrow will be all about preparation for leaving home and heading off on tour. I spend most of my day on the computer, dealing with constant emails, as well as checking and confirming all production plans and logistics. I also have a late afternoon call with a colleague in London, regarding a potential tour next March and April.
The day before I leave on tour is always a day of washing, packing, checking my production case (my portable office in a suitcase) for supplies – printer, paper, ink cartridges, sticky passes, lanyards, favourite tea bags, etc. I print and laminate my backstage signage for the tour, check I have my passport (we’re going to Wellington), make any final updates to the itinerary and confirm my cash float monies.
These days I live a 2-hour drive from Melbourne and so before each tour I have to make my way to the big smoke, in order to start the next run of shows. This time I leave home in the morning, to arrive in Melbourne in time for a business meeting with the producers of RocKwiz. This is a long time client and the tour starts in 10 days time. I have done many tours with RocKwiz over the past 8 years, and while I’m providing production advance services for the tour, I won’t be on the road this time around. I also have another meeting in the afternoon, followed by dinner catching up with old friends and work colleagues of over 25 years standing, who are in town with international touring artist Sam Smith.
I take an early flight from Melbourne (my home port) to Perth, to start my next tour with Bill, Jan & friends. The plan is to arrive in time to make my way to the hotel to ensure they’re prepared for the group’s arrival this afternoon. I collect their room key packets before heading back out to the airport to meet the international flight of incoming band and crew. They land, clear immigration and customs quite quickly and suddenly they’re in the arrivals hall, smiling but clearly tired after a long flight from Europe. I take them straight to the hotel, where we have a quick production meeting. Then they all disappear to their rooms to get some rest and I do the same. Later on, I have a late night UK call scheduled regarding the Happy Mondays tour I’m looking after in February 2019.
This is the first of our 6 date tour of Australia and New Zealand for Bill, Jan & Friends. All the long weeks and months of preparations, planning, budgets, quotes, endless production discussions, travel and hotel bookings, constant emailing and long distance phone calls, all lead to this day. Myself and the crew begin our day by being collected from our hotel to arrive at the venue for load in at 7am. The day is spent, rigging lights and audio, setting the stage equipment and props, taking delivery of Steinway grand piano, having it tuned (twice) and as it’s the first show, an extended rehearsal takes place in the afternoon. Everyone in the artist party is relaxed at dinnertime, which is always a good sign. The show goes brilliantly and everyone is extremely happy. The audience, are blown away by a great and unique performance.
Today we’re traveling from Perth to Sydney. Weirdly, travel days can often be more stressful than show days for tour managers. There are many things that can go wrong – a late departure from the hotel, bad traffic, difficulties with checking in musical equipment, delayed flights and then trying to wrangle people, bags and equipment on arrival in the next city. Moving the tour group and trolleys through the airport to the waiting vehicles can sometimes be tricky. Calling the hotel in advance to make sure they’re aware of your arrival time and will have all the key packets ready to hand out to the group is always a good idea. I want to make sure no one is kept standing around in the hotel foyer. Today went reasonably smoothly with just a little hiccup on arrival in Sydney airport… more about that later…
So, today we have our first of two Sydney Opera House shows. This one is tricky because the Sydney Symphony Orchestra perform in the concert hall during the day. As the Opera House is the SSO’s home, they always have precedence over any other show. Today it means we can’t get access to the Concert Hall to set up for our show until 5pm. We’d normally load in at 9am, so as you can imagine, there’s a huge rush to get everything set up in time. Luckily, I’m working with an extremely professional and experienced bunch and they get the job done with minutes to spare. The show goes up on time and it’s a huge success, which makes us all feel great about the second show tomorrow night.
Challenges and accomplishments in your week
As a tour manager it is always challenging meeting your current touring artist/band and their crew for the first time. You’re always hoping they’ll like you and feel comfortable about having you around. Finding that balance of not constantly being in their space but absolutely being accessible if they need anything is the key. I’m constantly double checking my planning and making adjustments and fine tuning as I get to know my touring people and how they like to roll. My current band have turned out to be lovely and friendly and have expressed their appreciation for the way I am looking after them – good result.
Highlights of the week
Being on a tour with two shows at the iconic Sydney Opera House. It can sometimes be a difficult venue to put a show into but it never ever loses its grandeur and utter ‘coolness’. Having a production office with a view of Circular Quay and the Harbour Bridge is an absolute bonus.
Lowlights of the week
Being chased and hassled by paparazzi on our arrival into Sydney airport on Thursday. The photographers were aggressive and pushed one of our female musicians, which made the lead artist angry. Unfairly, the news reported only the artist getting angry and not the reason behind it.
Words of wisdom for people considering a job in your field
The live touring side of the industry is very much like running away to the circus. You are constantly away from home and living out of a suitcase.
I often get asked by people interested in the music industry, what they should study to get a job like mine. Firstly I stress that what I do is not as glamorous as it may initially seem. All the touring jobs on the road, including mine, can only really be learned in an apprenticeship kind of way over many, many years. Every show on every tour for every artist is different. The tasks we have to undertake are constantly changing and the goal posts are forever moving. I’ve been in this business for over 30 years and I’m still learning.
There’s not only knowing how to put a tour together but also what to do if it falls apart – an artist getting ill, production failing, shows and tours needing to be canceled for whatever reasons, this all has to be dealt with by following the correct procedures.
The best way I can describe what I do on tour is to compare it to the construction industry. My industry has music labels, PR companies, promoters, booking agencies, etc. In construction these would be like the architects, developers, interior designers, real estate agents and so on.
I’m the person in the hard hat on a muddy building site, coordinating logistics and suppliers in order to get things in and up. I deal with trucks, crews, rigging, staging, audio, lighting, video – the equivalent to plumbers, electricians, carpenters, painters and so on. It’s the very unglamorous side of the business – often first into the venue at 7am and last out when the final truck doors shut at 1am in the morning – often sleep deprived and definitely feeling my age.
Feel any wiser yet? Why not check out previous WITLOs in the archives?