A mainstay and driving force of Production Live!, Jake Berry is known as one of the biggest names in tour production management, having most recently wrapped U2’s “Experience and Innocence” tour in 2018. Over the years he has counted Beyoncé, Metallica, The Rolling Stones, Shakira, Madonna, Black Sabbath, AC/DC and many, many others as clients.
He is currently spending lots of time at home and he, along with many other production professionals, is without much work to do until the industry develops a clear idea when operations can begin to resume.
Berry was gracious enough to talk with Pollstar about his experiences during the current pandemic and offered clear advice to younger professionals in the field: as much as you can, use this time wisely.
POLLSTAR: So you work with some of the biggest names in the music business. How has COVID-19 impacted your day-to-day?
Jake Berry: I think I’m in the same boat as everybody else. Probably not as bad as [others], because I do a lot of work from home before I go on the road with my team. I hire people for events, but I hire them from home. So I’m not facing the major crises some of the major vendors are facing. There has been an impact yes, but there are people worse off than I am.
But obviously, if there are no tours, there is no work, for me or anyone else in our space.
What projects were you working on when COVID-19 hit?
I finished U2, and I was taking a bit of a sabbatical, to tell you the truth, that’s what I had in mind.
I work as a consultant for Insomniac, which produces Electric Daisy Carnival, Beyond Wonderland, Nocturnal, and other events, and of course, we do a lot of planning six-to-nine months out for those events.
The biggest of those events is EDC Vegas, which as of today is still scheduled for mid-May.
That would be very optimistic, so we’ll [likely] have to reschedule and re-plan. That will take some of my time, planning with Insomniac for that and other events.
For that I’m working from home, I’m not totally isolated. Like everyone else, I’m cleaning out closets and doing all the projects I’ve been neglecting for the last 15 years.
Are there other ways COVID-19 has impacted your life?
Well my girlfriend is Greek, she lives in Athens, and she’s been in the hospital for a week with coronavirus.
Thankfully, she’s coming out of it. All I can say [from this experience] is I feel our industry in America might be just a little bit behind what Europe is experiencing, I think we can expect something like that to happen here.
By the time this is over, we are all going to know somebody who could be in the same position. We'll all be talking about it for sure.
What do you see on the horizon for the industry?
The short-term is not fantastic. But we’re in the entertainment industry, we’ve survived two world wars and we’ll survive this. Hopefully everyone comes back as strong as we were when things suddenly came to a grinding halt.
The way I've run my business, it's me-and-me, and when we do projects, I hire people on a need basis. Right now, I don't have anybody because I don't need anybody. People that have more projects than me, they'll be in a difficult position.
But the people we have to focus on are the touring crews, our truck drivers, bus drivers, lighting, sound, carpenters, production coordinators, [etc.] We have to get through this as a family, we have to help each other.
You mentioned you don’t staff people full-time, year-round. So how are the contractors you work with doing?
Everybody is doing the same in that there is no work for the foreseeable future. Maybe for one month, six weeks, two months. No one knows.
Normally this is the peak of the work year. I don’t think there is anybody that is not affected by this, at all. The touring industry, the people that work in theater, nightclubs, the people that work in the 500-cap clubs, the lifeblood of our industry, this has affected everybody.
You could be BTS doing multiple nights in the biggest arenas, or Joe Blow in clubs, if you have no revenue, you have no revenue.
The vendors, general contractors, t-shirts salespeople, people who work behind the bars, you can go on and on, this affects everyone. It’s terrible.
Vegas is shut down – and they never shut down for 9/11 or SARS – but it shut down.
I would say, it’s quite possible with the way things are going, within the industry we could see a few production companies suffer and maybe go out of business, and that would be terrible. Our industry is large, but also very small. Everybody knows somebody who knows somebody, you are a big brother and sister [or a little brother or sister] to someone else. We look after and protect each other, whether it’s with the grassroots or the high-profile tours. I don’t know what we can do but be there for somebody right now.
If somebody asked me “What can we do Jake?,” I would be there if they wanted to talk, but I don’t know if I can offer good advice because I’ve never seen anything like this. We [the lifers] are beginners in this as well.
Whenever operations can resume, do you think there is a possibility of a squeeze on production labor if everyone tries to reschedule for the same dates?
It's already tight right now, and the bottom line is it's tightened again. It’s already hard to get a bus in peak season, or a truck, bus drivers, truck drivers, it’s hard to get a touring-professional road crew during peak season.
Everyone wants to reschedule to make up for lost income, but we need to be sensible about it and not over-saturate because A) there would be a shortage of crew and B) there may be a shortage of money to pay for this. If there is a shortage of money, people become selective, and if a tour doesn’t do as well, everybody loses.
Do you have any idea when operations might resume?
You can flip a coin, pick a random date on the calendar and it could be right or wrong.
If somebody asked me for advice, I would aim for the best but plan for the worst.
What advice would you give people unsure of how to use this time?
I would say to people coming up in the business, take this time to learn new skills. Maybe learn AutoCAD if you don’t know it.
Maybe you’re not strong with drawing programs. It could be you're weak on numbers.
Maybe you're weak on dealing with people. Work on things that you never had time to do, besides tidying your house.
Expand your purview as a better touring professional for when this all comes back, because we, as an industry, will need everybody and more, so take the opportunity to learn.
I'm too old to learn, so I’m really going to the youngsters. Look, there’s a lot of us, we know, are in the twilight of our career. We want to see the young people come on and take over.
Take this opportunity, hone and perfect your skills, and be a better all-around person at the end of it. Take this opportunity because you will never, ever get it again.