Putting Live Credits Where Credits are Due On Screen

by Dan Daley
in The Biz
A few bands, including Journey, have given the crew video screen credits while on tour. Photo by Steve Jennings
A few bands, including Journey, have given the crew video screen credits while on tour. Photo by Steve Jennings

I’ve previously written about the importance of credits in the fields of technology arts. Earlier this year (FRONT of HOUSE, July 2016, page 40) we discussed the significant benefits of having work credits available in some form or another. Aside from the satisfaction of recognition that comes with a job well done, there are the more tangible rewards when those credits act as calling cards and résumés. Allowing potential employers to identify and track down someone who got “that” sound on a record is what leads to the next gig and the next one. It’s how careers are built.

There are a few rare instances where technical credits run like a cinema credit crawl just before or after a show. I saw it at the end of the Beyoncé concert at Nashville’s Nissan Stadium in October. It ran about three minutes long as the crowd began filing out, and like the end of a cinema visit, I could see more than a few audience members who stayed in their seats watching the names go by. I’m not sure they even knew what they were looking at, but it’s the kind of thing that — like the first time you figured out who those people were on the back of an album jacket — could ultimately inspire a career.

A source at a tour-video supplier in Nashville tells me that as many as 20 percent of their touring clients have done that at one time or another, though he closed the email by saying, “I haven’t seen anyone care that much about it either way.”

Working To Make Credits Available

That attitude is unfortunately pervasive, simply because live-sound professionals have never enjoyed the kind of ready-made resources that their land-locked brethren have enjoyed for decades, in the form of the backs of album and CD jackets. Essentially, it’s hard to miss something that you’ve never had. We nearly lost that when the industry shifted to downloads for music. We can thank the Recording Academy’s Producers & Engineers Wing for developing metadata protocols that allowed credits information to be attached to those downloads. Not every artist or label did it, or did it comprehensively, but the fact that it could be done at all was enormously encouraging.

The streaming environment will be even more challenging for credits. That industry sector is now focused mainly on giants like Spotify, Apple Music and most recently Amazon Music Unlimited jockeying for content and market share; including credits is likely pretty far down their hierarchies at the moment. Plus, attaching additional metadata beyond basic title and artist info to streams has the potential to interfere with the streaming process itself, not something these major players want to risk in a hyper-competitive environment.

However, that may become easier to do in the future. Standards for metadata for music in the digital domain in general, including the streaming environment, were slated to be released later this year, in the wake of a meeting of the standards committee, in Berlin, of the Digital Data Exchange (DDEX), part of the organization’s Electronic Release Notification (ERN) 4. The intent is to streamline music metadata in a standardized format to reduce operational costs, but also to include information that will make it easier for royalty stakeholders to track revenues derived from them, as well as engineers and other technical personnel and equipment manufacturers — to attach their information. Using DDEX, a listener of a song could discover the composers, session musicians, producers, studios and consoles used to record it; by extension, that same protocol could tell someone listening to the recording of a live show the same information but also include the FOH and monitor engineers’ names as well as the make and model of the consoles and line arrays. If you want to futurecast that idea out a few iterations, there’s no reason that some adaptation of a Shazam-like app couldn’t do the same thing in real time at a concert.

Let ‘Em Roll

But in the meantime, a post-show credit roll offers the best opportunity to acknowledge the contribution of every entity that goes into a production. Rob Kern, who has managed the tour and production needs of the band Journey for the last eight years, says the group began experimenting with the idea in 2012. During the 2014 world tour, the show rolled a cinema-type closing-credits list following mini videos of band-member bios. Here, the musicians’ photos and on-screen signatures faded to black and the technical acknowledgements followed, including crew names and titles as well as shout-outs to key vendors, such as rental house VER and rep Ralph Mastrangelo.

“It took a bit to come into its final form, but what it does is give [credit] to everyone who made the show happen, from the musicians to the freight forwarding people,” Kern says. “Too many people come to a show and think that this whole thing springs up magically out of nowhere. This gives the crewmembers the credit they deserve, but it also makes the people in the audience aware of what it takes to put a show like this together.”

As if to illustrate just that, Kern says Journey’s production staff has toyed with the idea of rolling credits over a time-lapse video of the load-in, set-up, break-down and load-out of a typical show. Coincidentally, that was also a suggestion brought up by Everett Lybolt, general manager of the Sound Image office in Nashville, which has sound systems on tour with Rascal Flatts, Brad Paisley and others. “I’d love to see something like that, but more important, I’d like the audience to see it,” he says. “That would be another way to show appreciation for what everyone does.”

Ultimately, the green light for a post-show credit roll has to come from the artist and/or their management. But the initial idea can be raised by anyone on a production crew willing to speak up. Kern says someone has to volunteer to be the paper chaser in the beginning, collecting names and titles and then making sure spellings are correct and keeping track of any changes in personnel along the way. There are also other, less obvious considerations: Lybolt notes that if the scroll happens at the end of the show, tour managers need to be aware that union and house rules may be very strict about making sure everything on the screen and in the speakers shuts down precisely at the stroke of whatever time is stipulated on the contract, to avoid overcharges. And unlike Hollywood, which has a very highly regimented formula for the precise order in which below-the-line (i.e., after the lead cast) credits should proceed on screen (the protocol, which began in the 1970s, puts video, grip and electric ahead of sound, but audio ahead of makeup and transportation), touring credits are a wide-open field. There’s no reason why sound couldn’t go first.

But that kind of housekeeping aside, the reasons for doing it are considerable, including raising esprit de corps among crewmembers not used to getting that kind of acknowledgement, and the opportunity to thank/stroke vendors and suppliers in a novel way. You don’t think Albert Broccoli paid for those BMWs and Austin Minis in the Bond films, did you?

Any way you look at this, it’s a win for everyone, especially for sound mixers and system technicians who often are looking for the next gig as soon as the last notes of the last show die down. I’d like that to be my Christmas present to you.