Rock bands and international travel

If a major rock band is planning an international tour, do they bring all of the amplifiers, lights, and stage setup with them? Let’s say they’re a UK based band, but they’re planning a world tour starting on the European continent, then to North America, and ending in Japan. They’ll playing arenas that seat 17000-20000 people

I’d think the voltage differences and different electrical outlet design would be a pain to deal with. It’s not like the average person who just gets an adapter to charge an iPhone in Paris that’s designed to work on 110 or 220 volts anyway.

Honestly it depends on the band and how much they going to make from the tour. You definitely bring your primary instrument, guitars, bass, horns. Singers are well-advised to bring their own microphone…it’s part of remaining healthy on the road. Keyboards are a little trickier, you have one unique and hard to find one, you might have to bring it. But if it’s a current model or a common vintage instrument, you just rent one when you get there. Most keyboard players will have a USB key with their particular patches and splits for the rental unit. Drummers might bring a favorite drum or cymbal, and rent all the stands toms and kick drum.

After that it’s a kind of grey area. Every venue you’re going to play at will have what they call “back line” - guitar and bass amps, one or more drum kits, pianos and common
keyboards (some like a Hammond b-3 are hideously heavy).
S.I.R. (Studio Instrument Rental) is everywhere and should be able to supply almost any specific guitar or bass amplifier, keyboard or drum kit you want, and in most cases is going to be a LOT cheaper than paying all the air freight charges, and they will supply a technician who can fix almost anything that goes wrong.Ootherwise you specify all this in the rider for your contract and hope the venue reads it.

I know some of the big established bands have gear on both sides of the pond. This includes stage, PA, instruments, amps and special effects.

But MY best answer is, it varies.

This seems an apropos place to mention the story of Van Halen and the brown M&Ms. To summarize, one of the points in their contract with venues hosting their tour was that they were to be provided backstage with a bowl of M&Ms, with all of the brown ones removed. It’s not because they actually cared about the candy, or because of pure capriciousness: It was a way of quickly checking whether the venue had paid attention to all of the fine details of the contract, because some of those details were important: Like, was the stage strong enough to support the weight of all of the lights and other infrastructure, and was the electrical system up to meeting their power requirements. If they went backstage and saw brown M&Ms in that bowl, then they knew that the venue wasn’t paying attention to the details, and that they’d better make for darned sure that everything else was OK.

Part of the tour managers job is sourcing equipment. Often what gets taken depends on what can’t be sourced. Things like instruments, soundboards, mic’s, etc, always go.

Almost nobody carries their own sound system, they all contract with one of the big companies - Clair Brothers, Eighth Day, and the like who will supply the main speakers and amplifiers (aka “racks & stacks”) the monitor speakers and/or in-ear monitors, and the main and monitor mixers and any external signal processing.

At the club/theater level, the band may bring their own mixers and monitors to ensure consistency. At the shed/arena/stadium level they always bring the whole system.

But you DO need to bring your own giant horned skull, clear pods and giant Stonehenge model. Not every venue has those.

When bands are starting out they travel around with all of their own equipment (it often all fits into a small truck or van). As they get more famous and the venues get bigger and the shows get more rock and roll excessive, more and more of the equipment becomes rented or leased by the promoters and producers (this puts the onus on the rental company to insure the equipment is in working order). And for the really big tours a separate company (for example) will be subcontracted and deal with everything themselves. Occasionally, on national tours, there may be two or more sets of equipment traveling around, so that the next venue can be set up while the current one is being used. Traveling abroad has its own issues as you have noted, but even if everything was the same, it is usually cheaper to rent local equipment than shipping yours overseas.

TL/DR once you get past the van stage, you probably own very little of the gear used in concert.


Almost nobody/some:smack:

So the real question is do they carry their own hair splitting devices?:smiley:

I’ve never traveled with international acts, hell I was lucky to get outa Town. All I know is what I heard while we were all looking for craft service leftovers.:wink:

Great answers on the equipment they bring (or don’t bring), what about people? At an extreme, how many roadies and techies do the Stones have on their world tours? What about other bands doing world tours?

They definitely travel with their primary Mick, but it’s often cheaper to rent a Keith in whatever country they’re in.

This thread is cracking me up.

It’s managed to paint a mental picture, like a Far Side cartoon, of a crowd ready to riot in Madison Square Garden because The Pink Floyd can’t plug in their amp.

The band is standing on stage, looking nervous, while a goofy-looking roadie is holding the end of a power cord and staring at a socket it won’t fit.


Roadies and techs are two different beings.
For the roadies, it can obviously vary, but a good rule of thumb would be 2 per department; a lead and an assistant. Depts usually include, Lights, sound, video, rigging, scenic, costumes and makeup, and Stage mgmt. sometimes some of these dept are combined or a single can be split into 2 or more depending on the needs of the show. Then you have the techs, there is usually 1 per band member and they are responsible for the instruments and any personal effects of the performer.

A large arena type show will hire local crew, alot of them. I’ve been on shows with over a hundred locals. And these are splint into 2 types: loadin and strike crew, and show crew. The show crew is not as big as the other, usually just a few locals, to do things like run spot lights and help with scenic shifts, or assist the other roadies if they need it.

And let’s not forget about FOH (front of house) such as merch, company managment (in charge of the logistics of moving all the personnel from one city to the next and lodging and food) There will usually be at least one rep from the producers, and reps from the agents of the performers. These reps dont usually travel with the show but they are always there, none the less.

Oh, and dont forget the truck drivers, there can easily be dozens of them. The largest show I’ve seen, was Pink Floyd, 32 semis FULL of gear!

So. . .not counting locals or truckers you could easily have 24-30 people traveling with a show like the Stones.


Hey, I’m just relaying what I’ve seen working hundreds of concerts. Everybody is so crabby these days on the Straight Dope.

OK - now I totally want to work a local show :smiley:
Is there any way to get a gig like that of you don’t know someone?

you can apply to be an apprentice with the local chapter of IATSE (Internatl Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees) In Chi that’s Local 2. they are always looking for new hires. just be aware that jobs are dealt out by seniority, so as an FNG (fucking new guy) you’re gonna end up with the hard dirty jobs. But as the old joke goes. . .at least you’ll be in show biz!


Years ago (probably in the 80s) I remember reading about a rare European/UK tour Link Ray was doing.
He didn’t even bring a band. He, or is management I guess, hired musicians once they got here to play with him! Of course, in his case, no-one cared who was backing him, they went to see him Rumble…

And, from what I’ve read, using pick-up musicians was quite common back in the 60s when US stars came to play.

Playing with a local band was very common for artists like Link Wray, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, etc as long as I saw them touring. So the show you got could vary greatly depending on the quality of the locals. I saw Bo four times and the only time he brought a band was when he was co-touring with Ronnie Wood so it was a bigger deal.

Springsteen writes of this in his intro to on of Chuck Berry’s autobiographies. The E Street band is hired to be Chuck’s band for a show and they’re excited. Chuck shows up right before the gig - RIGHT before the gig - and when they ask him what songs they’re playing he just says ‘We’re gonna play some Chuck Berry songs.’ and walks on stage. The E Streeters have to vamp the entire performance trying to figure out what Chuck wants out of them and what songs they’re playing.


“This is a blues riff in B, watch me for the changes, and try and keep up.”