Coronavirus gigs: The music tour manager whose international tour came to a screeching halt
AJ Faber, tour director for The Nationalwere set to spend the second half of March traveling through Japan and Australia with the band and the rest of his crew, as part of a month-long tour in support of last year I’m easy to find. However, as the news surrounding the coronavirus intensified, the band canceled the majority of their upcoming tour dates, eventually launch a fundraiser to help affected members of the crew.
Faber, 34, who has worked for The National for just over a year, has many responsibilities, including overseeing travel logistics, managing accounting and finance, and managing the daytime press of a show.
But she was social distancing in Toronto – where she went to school and tends to hang out between tours – when she spoke with Fortune in late March for The Coronavirus Economy, noting that it was “difficult” to be away from her parents in Florida given how hard she tries to spend time with them when she’s not traveling for work.
Faber chatted with Fortune on how The National’s tour began to fall apart, the overall impact on the live music industry and how she thinks the sector will weather an unprecedented situation. This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Fortune: The touring cycle for 2020 started quite recently, right?
Faber: Well, it was supposed to. Their last album came out last year when we started, and we’re kind of in the middle of that album cycle. The whole industry has kind of a lull; mid-December to early March is normal downtime. And so most people in the industry have a habit of filling their wallets to prepare for those few months without income.
And that was around the time you were going to Japan?
Exactly. Our first concerts were supposed to be two concerts in Tokyo on March 17 and 18, so obviously that didn’t happen. And as soon as the [Diamond] The Princess cruise was falling, that’s when I started to say, “Well, chances are Tokyo won’t make it.”
How did things generally start to evolve to the point where you realized most of this tour just wasn’t going to happen?
Well the band and management they are amazing guys who always seem to put the health and safety of the crews first – and of course they all have families themselves and want to make sure they take care for themselves and don’t put their families’ health at risk either. The talks started much earlier, because our first show was in Tokyo and all of a sudden Japan became that hotbed in February. The group decided it was best to change the route and go straight to Australia and just bypass it because we also had a lot of connecting flights out.
The initial talks were “If we could just avoid going through Asia, then we have a much better chance of everything going well for Australia.” But of course, 10 days pass and everything has changed.
So, for now, none of the dates have been seen and everything is on hiatus, as it is for everyone.
Yes, so we have new dates confirmed for Australian shows… for December. And anyone who already had tickets can keep their tickets to come to those shows, which by the way is always very, very helpful for any bands trying to reschedule – the less people ask for refunds, the more it’s going to really help the industry get by.
Is there a concern though, given that so many other artists are in the exact same boat, that you can’t reschedule other shows as easily?
Essentially, our busiest time of year is summer. So it’s really interesting, not only with the availability of rooms. Are the lighting companies all going to stay afloat, are we all going to be able to get lighting packages, are we all going to be able to get audio packages, are we all going to be able to get the trucks we need? There are so many things beyond just trying to get the right place.
I think it will probably be, I hate to say it, until the summer of 2021, probably before everything is completely back to normal. But if there’s one industry that can navigate MacGyver and understand him, it’s the touring industry.
Is the fundraising set up by the group useful at the moment?
I don’t know what the sales are on anything. I just know it’s not the first time they’ve gone out of their way to help the crew through a tough time. Whatever we get will help us immensely.
There are a few positions where myself and the production manager [and production coordinator]we do what we call a work in advance [which pays sooner]. All the other crew members don’t work until we fly out to the shows, even though we’re working all the time. So I was applying for visas for Japan and Australia in November, December. It’s slightly different for some positions on the team, but for the majority of people and even the majority of tour managers and production managers, you’re not necessarily on a two-week salary.
Many other people are paid in advance the same week the show takes place. All I know is that a lot of my other friends were really left behind and didn’t get any payday advances because the show didn’t happen.
You said it would be helpful if people kept their tickets instead of getting refunds. What other things can people do to help people in the industry?
Buy merchandising for sure – just pretend you went to the show, go online, there are a few groups doing merchandising items that will especially help the team too. Fan clubs are great. If you join a fan club, they usually pocket a bit more money immediately, which can help. Same with buying songs on Bandcamp, especially for smaller bands; they can keep more money.
And a lot of bands are doing these shows online and usually have a link to help them out. Sometimes they raise money for a non-profit organization, but…if everyone could pick a few of their favorite bands that they could donate five bucks a month to, it could go a long way. Sure, there are millions out of work, so don’t try to guilt anyone into supporting someone if they can’t, but even five bucks a month will do.
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