How event production, event staffing companies, and event crew are being tasked to do more with less than ever
The LASSO team is chock-full of industry veterans, and one thing we love about this industry is that we’re privileged to be a part of a tight-knit community. We’re grateful to the community leaders and industry experts who lent their insights to this piece:
- Steven Q. Evans of Show Imaging, Inc.
- Destiny Künstman of Klance Unlimited
- Omar Colom of AV Educate
- Alex Gray of Protostream
The live events industry has never been for the faint of heart. A million variables must act perfectly in concert together (pun intended) to make your event a success. You can’t push deadlines or ask for extensions. The show will go on exactly when the show goes on.
The crazy pressure, high stakes, and last-minute Hail Marys have given most of us the impression that event coordination is unavoidably chaotic.
If you were already feeling that heat, the pandemic may not have helped things. There was the chaos of surviving in an industry rocked to its core – and many of us are still shell shocked. There are the ever-evolving new rules to navigate and complicated event staffing logistics to plan. And then there are those who left the industry altogether.
There have been challenges for sure. Some of these changes will stay with us long after we’ve figured out how to manage the coronavirus. Not all of these changes will be disastrous. In fact, there’s reason to believe that in weathering this storm, we may come out stronger than ever.
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So, where do we go from here? What challenges still lie ahead? And what are the bright spots that indicate our industry will come back a better place than ever?
Event staffing challenge #1: Scheduling vaccinated live event crew in a nationwide labor shortage
Our short-term pain isn’t totally healed yet. Pandemic pains continue to plague event staffing in ways that remain difficult to anticipate.
The first challenge for many in event staffing has been vaccination. As we face an industry-wide labor shortage, more live event clients and venues are requesting all-vaccinated event crews.
As this trend in show and venue vaccination requirements continues, techs and other on-site event staff will have to make this decision for themselves – and labor coordinators will have another level of complexity to manage. “It requires a lot more coordination. So we’re using LASSO to make vaccination status tags for our crew, and adding profile fields where crew can voluntarily share their vaccination status so we know they’re eligible for shows for clients that require it,” Destiny Künstman of Klance Unlimited shared.
“It’s a whole other layer. You’re not only coordinating crew, estimates, billing and client relationships, you’re also dealing with this whole other layer with your crew [of vaccination status]. That’s been challenging. But if we want to do shows, then that’s what we have to do.”
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Event staffing challenge #2: Searching for solutions in a battered industry
Concert season is ramping up. Corporate events are slowly coming back. Hospitality is booming. The world is ready to get back to partying, and they need event staff. For us in the live events industry, that means we’re anticipating a very busy fall and winter.
“November is booked solid for everybody right now,” says Steven Q. Evans of Show Imaging, Inc. “We are going to run out of skilled people. The local union here [in southern California] had 2600 people on their roster before COVID. [Now] they’re down to 600.”
What’s going to happen with the labor shortage in the live events industry?
Omar Colom of AV Educate agrees. “People have gone to another career, they have a 9 to 5, they get a steady paycheck, they’re not waiting 30 days, 60 days, 90 days for a paycheck… Then on top of that, the techs who stayed current and involved are few and far [between].”
Nobody disagrees that we’re experiencing a labor shortage (or, as Destiny pointed out, especially a shortage for those clients that require vaccinated crews). What’s less clear is what we should do about it as an industry to move forward and make event staffing better.
Event staffing tip: Put your event crew’s well-being first
“A lot of us are hiking in the mornings now and trying to take better care of ourselves,” Steve says of his staff at Show Imaging. It’s been a serendipitous journey for companies and their talent like Show Imaging. They were able to bring back their workforce with the support provided by PPP, convert a disused warehouse into an in-house studio, and empower their staff to learn new skills that were suddenly in demand with the rise of virtual and hybrid events.
“This is a great opportunity for us to move forward,” says Steve. He points out what he calls a “fundamental problem” in our industry – we all work long days, we’re away from our families and our own beds for days on end, and we don’t always take great care of ourselves. “Number one on my list is to find more ways to give people more time off [and] more rest, because it’s too easy just to work every day.”
Event staffing tip: Make sure your event crew are compensated fairly
Steve and Omar also both point out the issue with pay rates that have stagnated. In California, where Show Imaging is based, stagehand hourly rates have sat at $20 to 25 dollars an hour for years, while in Florida where Omar is based, these rates are even lower at $18. (See our latest regional pay rate data here.)
“The demand [for my labor] is more and more,” says Omar, “but my gear costs more. And I have a lot of clients coming my way, so naturally my prices are going up. A lot of the AV companies have been fighting very hard to keep pay rates where they’re at.”
“A lot of the AV companies have been fighting very hard to keep pay rates where they’re at.”
Event staffing challenge #3: AV professionals and event crew also need to improve their skills
The flip side of that coin is how much client demand and technological innovation have reshaped the live events industry. In fact, the skills and know-how required to stay at the top of your game as an AV technician were already changing pre-pandemic thanks to movements like e-sports and the world of Twitch.
“These kids control this whole interaction with the comments, they do it live, they’re popping up things because they’ve got different queues created,” explains Omar. “They’re automating the audio, the lighting… The AV world has been incorporating this into our world more and more because the automation saves so much time. It used to be that these are options for you – now they’re becoming a mainstay of what we’re doing.”
These changes were making inroads before the pandemic hit us – and then, overnight, live events companies and crews had to pivot and innovate on a dime to meet a brave new world of virtual events.
“There’s a whole new set of skills and positions that didn’t used to exist,” says Omar, such as Zoom Operator. “You have people asking you, ‘He made a great comment, can you bring him full screen?’ And then I have to know what quadrant he’s in, what computer he’s on, and how to get to him very quickly.”
Steve at Show Imaging learned the same lesson. After he was able to bring his staff back with their PPP loan, “everybody came back and everybody learned something. We had production managers that became studio managers. Camera operators became video switchers. It gave us a really great opportunity for people to explore what they really want to do, so we have ended up with a group of people with a whole different set of skills that they’re comfortable doing.”
Omar would agree that was a wise investment. “A lot of the companies that have survived and thrived during these pandemic times,” he says, “kept their staff on board and they trained them, and their staff is really good [these skills].”
“A lot of the companies that have survived and thrived during these pandemic times kept their staff on board and trained them.”
Unfortunately not everyone had this opportunity during the pandemic. “The skill sets needed have definitely evolved and gone to this other level. And a lot of guys have adapted, a lot of guys coming into the field are learning quickly… and some guys are struggling.”
How do I grow my career and find more gigs in the live events industry?
So what should you do if you’re an AV professional looking to level up? Omar has a great suggestion that benefits both the techs who are seeking more opportunities and the companies that are seeking more talent:
“Call the company you want to work for [and] say, ‘I want to try this stuff out. Is there any way I can come to the office and work with your team? I’ve read the manual, I just need some hands-on [experience.’ That kind of initiative will take you super far in the industry – with that client as well as with other clients down the road.”
The main challenge of event staffing & planning: Live events companies & crew alike are being asked to do more with less than ever
Coming out of any industry downturn is challenging, but this one is different from any we’ve seen before. We’re all eager to recover capacity, but we know labor and budgets are not restored overnight. That means we’re operating on tighter timelines and budgets with a smaller window for planning.
“A lot of clients now want an in-person option and an online option, and they don’t want it to cost double,” says Destiny. “They want to see two options for the price of one, and you just have to explain, ‘That’s not how this works.’”
“A lot of clients now want an in-person option and an online option, and they don’t want it to cost double. They want to see two options for the price of one, and you just have to explain, ‘That’s not how this works.’”
Steve says their team has been experiencing the same challenge. “The clients are coming in with the same or lower budget, and they want a beautiful hybrid experience, so the educational side of that has been really challenging.”
It’s not just budget restrictions putting on the pressure. Omar says he’s seeing last-minute requests across Florida’s markets. “Across the board…I’ve been hearing this all time: ‘I had a last minute client [and] I’ve got a week to get ready.’ Things are definitely more last-minute now.”
The pressure can be immense for AV techs tasked with executing a hybrid event on a very lean budget, timeline and team. “There are all these little elements that you have to figure out,” says Omar. “What’s the best way to do it? What are we expecting virtually? What are we doing at the in-person event that we have to mirror for the virtual event?” And, as he mentioned earlier, not every AV tech has kept pace with the technical know-how required to be a master Zoom Operator or any of the other myriad skills necessary to run an ideal hybrid event.
Times will remain tough, at least in the short-term, as the industry evolves, matures, and masters hybrid event logistics and technology. The impact of other pandemic-induced phenomena will undoubtedly continue their impact in the short term as well.
“I don’t want to give up the quality of our work just to get the show.”
“I don’t want to give up the quality of our work just to get the show,” says Steve. “We’re a company that tries to handle the last-minute stuff. I try to avoid the 6 month out deadlines. But I’m going to get in trouble for saying yes to something too late.” Any event producer can feel this pain, and with more restricted planning windows than ever, event production companies will have to work hard to strike a balance between satisfying their clients and pushing back where it is necessary to protect the integrity of the event.
Short-term, we as an industry have a lot of pain left. “There aren’t enough venues for every band,” Steve points out. “There are not enough touring trucks, staff, sound and lighting systems to put everybody back to work.” Worldwide inflation and supply chain shocks have also made an inevitable impact on the live events industry. According to Steve, their trucking costs have doubled, which raises the price of everything else.
What will event staffing in the live events industry look like in the future?
For all the short-term problems we have yet to overcome as a community, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. And where we’re going will be bigger and better than from where we’ve come.
“I’m very optimistic. I’m investing. I’m hiring people. I’m spending capital dollars,” says Steve. “For me personally and for us, Show Imaging, [the pandemic] was an opportunity… We had to keep working and find ways to get ahead. We’re a much better company than [we were] 18 months ago.”
“If the number one thing I can do is try to figure out how to make sure I am doing everything I can do to give our staff and our partners a better life, then I think that will be the win for us.”
We’ve got problems left to overcome: A labor shortage and skills gap. Supply that can’t keep up with demand – all along the logistics chain. Rising costs and tighter planning windows. All making event staffing more difficult than ever.
But we’ve also got long-term evolution to anticipate. Even in a year in which almost no events happened at all, our industry found a way forward. People and companies found a way to survive. Some of us have thrived – and if we struggled, we came out of this more certain than ever what should be prioritized.
“From a company perspective, people are really excited to do new things,” says Steve. “And if the number one thing I can do is try to figure out how to make sure I am doing everything I can do to give our staff and our partners a better life, then I think that will be the win for us. I’m super excited about the potential over the next few years.”
What are your predictions for the live events industry in the coming months? Drop us a line at email@example.com to leave your two cents.