Operations

How To Drive The Band On The Run

Jim Luff
Posted on April 14, 2016

Driving for a music act on tour is an exciting gig, but you must uphold stratospheric standards. One mistake on your part could cause an account to be lost forever. And you won’t be getting any encore requests. Advance planning, proper selection of chauffeurs and excellent communication skills are essential.

Music acts and entertainers rely on the best companies to serve their celebrity clients when on tour or traveling for leisure. Companies such as AJL International, Daitz Personal Logistics (DPL) and Music Express have carved out this niche market.

How They Choose Providers
Transportation brokers rely on specific factors when selecting a local ground transportation company. The fleet vehicles are most important, as artists are picky about vehicles. Substituting a fleet vehicle type without prior consent is a good way to make sure you will never be called upon again for future work.

“If I order a 15-passenger van with the rear seat removed, that’s exactly what I want,” says Matt Johnston, CEO of AJL in Dallas. “I don’t want a Turtle Top or a Van Terra or an SUV. I want a 15-passenger van.”

When Johnston doesn’t have an affiliate in a particular city, he calls the local concert promoter first for a recommendation. He then calls the best hotels in the area to ask who they recommend. He also calls the FBO where the plane is landing to see if they have a relationship with a local provider. Make sure you have relationships with all of these people if you want to be considered for this type of work.

Who To Assign
This is probably your most critical decision. You need a chauffeur thoroughly familiar with back entrances of hotels and a deep knowledge of the city. You need a chauffeur who will not become star-struck — one who will speak only when spoken to. Many artists demand absolute silence in the car while traveling.

“Artists don’t want a fan to drive them or they would just ask a fan to drive,” Johnston says. “They want a professional chauffeur. You need a chauffeur who can be trusted to remain backstage only in designated areas. Almost always, chauffeurs are allowed to watch the show from the back of the stage. It doesn’t mean it’s okay to eat the food set out for the artist and crew unless specifically invited to do so. It doesn’t mean they can walk into the arena to get a hot dog. Asking for an autograph or a photo is an absolute no-no. However, many artists will offer it, and as long as they initiate it, it is okay to accept. Chauffeurs should never attempt to talk to any of the artist’s staff for any reason except related to travel plans.

What Is A Transportation Rider?
You may be given a copy of a contract “rider.” A rider is an addendum to the master performance contract that mandates certain things be in the vehicle or certain conditions be met. For instance, The Eagles require A/C systems to be turned completely off as the cold air can affect their vocal cords before a show. Coming off the stage, they are usually sweaty and getting into a cold vehicle could easily make them sick, Johnston says. Some artists want their bottled water chilled, some want it at room temperature, and others even specify the brand of bottled water. Clients may have other requirements for clean towels or a particular food or beverage. You should read every single line item of the contract and adhere to it. Chauffeurs are routinely asked to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) that prevents them from talking about anything seen or heard while serving the group.

Doing A Dry Run
No matter how well versed you think you might be, these types of trips require a “dry-run” either the day before or the “day of” prior to the group arriving. Bob Daitz, CEO of DPL in Naples, Fla., calls this exercise “climbing the wall and ringing the bell.” He expects subcontracted companies to do it. This includes driving out to the FBO to find out where you will enter, stage your vehicle, and load passengers. Make sure you can get out of the secured area easily and select the most logical route to the venue. The route should be free from construction zones and follow light traffic patterns with minimal signal lights.

Your access to the backstage area should be decided by venue security in advance and practiced during the dry-run. The chauffeur should actually access the facility as if the passengers were onboard. In many cases, this means pulling all the way into the building through a roll-up door. During the actual job, you will back out of the arena and then back the vehicle in for a quick departure. Visually inspecting the site will prepare the chauffeur for the job. Don’t plan on doing the dry-run yourself and then telling your chauffeurs about it. If there are six chauffeurs assigned, all should participate. As for the cost of all this extra work, Daitz and Johnston say clients are not looking for the cheapest price but the best service. So build it into your pricing.

Convoys And Law Enforcement
Large groups often use multiple vehicles. The booking company may ask you to contact local law enforcement officials for a police escort. The correct person to start with is called the Public Information Officer (PIO). Inform the PIO who you are, who you are driving and ask who you might speak to about a police escort. Instead of asking as a favor, state your concerns for the safety of the celebrity passengers as they travel down the road in a caravan. Having Elton John stopped at an intersection easily can become a free-for-all autograph and photo session if people recognize him. This will hinder traffic and endanger the artist. Most often, law enforcement will cooperate and assign an officer to coordinate routes and times with you. Be prepared for an exhilarating ride as you blow through traffic signals at 80 mph amid flashing lights. Vehicles travel with about one car length in between with everyone expected to stay together. Assign only the best chauffeurs to convoys.

Communications
Success depends on excellent communication among everyone. Your company must be in touch with the broker that gave you the order, the assigned police officer, the venue’s security manager, the FBO manager, and the tour manager traveling with the group. Promptly communicate any changes to original plans that might affect any of those individuals. “Never make any changes of any kind without calling the booking agent to inform them of the change and get it approved,” Daitz says. “Make sure you know who is requesting a change and don’t call my office and say, ‘Some guy said,’ since that isn’t good enough.” It should go without saying that an affiliate performing a job should never discuss rates with passengers.

Going The Extra Mile
If you really want to be conscientious in your service delivery, assign an extra vehicle such as an SUV to work the job in the background. This chauffeur will constantly run ahead of the pack checking for vehicle accidents, traffic issues, and people who might be stalking the path for photos, autographs or worse.

While some artists demand chauffeur cell phones be completely shut off, you might inform the artist of an “advancement vehicle” providing information about the route or safety issues. Once the advance vehicle has arrived at the venue, it can be used as a decoy to distract waiting fans causing them to rush the decoy vehicle while the artists enter the safe zone backstage. Remember to inform everyone who needs to know that you are using this vehicle. If an artist asks for specific food or other items, this vehicle can immediately be placed into service to fetch it.

Divas & Difficult Dudes
Celebrities are known to be demanding. Remember, they are human like everyone else. They can have bad moods, they may be spoiled, they are under pressure — whatever the reason, never take any insults, remarks, or slights personally. Always be polite and never, ever lose your cool. Accommodate, apologize, and anticipate as best you can. Sometimes celebrities may be testing you or checking you out. You never know. Remain professional during any and all tense interactions. With celebrities, the customer is either always right, or must be made to think they are right.

Related Topics: California operators, celebrities, Dallas operators, Entertainment, Florida operators, How To, Los Angeles operators, Music Express, Texas operators, VIP service, wealthy clients

Jim Luff Contributing Editor
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