Gary James' Interview With
Three Dog Night Tour Manager / Production Manager
Tom Halpain serves as the Tour Manager and Production Manager for Three Dog Night. What does he do? How do you get a job like that? That's what we asked Tom Halpain - and a whole lot more!
Q - Tom, how busy is Three Dog Night's touring schedule these days? Do they have a pretty active touring schedule?
A - Yeah. We're still doing between 60 and 70 shows a year.
Q - All over the world?
A - Mostly US and Canada, but we do venture into other countries when we can.
Q - You've been with Three Dog Night since May 2008?
A - Correct.
Q - How did you get involved with the tour management and production side of the business? Were you formally a musician?
A - No. I actually started in the business as a lighting guy. Started just like everybody else did down in the clubs, doing the club circuit and then moved on to lighting companies doing tours. And once they found I had organizational skills, that kind of opened the door for Production Manager and tour managing. It was just a natural progression.
Q - When Three Dog Night played the New York State fair in Syracuse New York, the fair provides the sound system and I believe they also provide the lights.
A - Correct.
Q - So, as a Production Manager for a gig like that, what exactly are you doing?
A - Basically just arranging everything, making sure they have what we need to do the show, being able to integrate the pieces we carry with ourselves, the backline and our monitor system, integrated into the sound system, basically making sure all the i's are dotted and the t's crossed.
Q - You supervise a crew of how many people?
A - We have a four-man staff that travels with us and then we have local stagehands that assist, the local vendors for the sound and lighting and the actual labor. So, when all is said and done, on the show day it's between 20 and 25 people.
Q - Well, now there is a Personal Manager, a Tour Manager, a Road Manager and a Production Manager. So, what's the difference between a Road Manager and a Tour Manager?
A - A word. It's basically the same thing. The main time when you see a difference between the two is if you're not on one of the multiple band tours, when there is three or four bands. Then there'll be a Tour Manager that oversees the whole tour and then each band would have a Road Manager. But, in reality for 99% of what goes on, Road Manager and Tour Manager are the exact same thing. It was just one of those terms for some reason that didn't seem important enough, so somebody changed it to "Tour". (laughs)
Q - I guess that makes sense.
A - Yeah
Q - If it makes someone feel better about their job, why not?
A - Yeah. It just means more responsibilities and not a bigger check, but it's a funny title.
Q - I always thought a Tour Manager is looking out at the whole tour, whereas a Road Manager is more or less gig to gig.
A - Because of the way it's evolved over the years, you are correct in your thinking. A lot of that time it's the same person doing both sides of it.
Q - I can see the job you're doing being complicated enough in the US, but when you go overseas, it almost seems like it's impossible to get the equipment where it's supposed to go, and the money.
A - No. It's pretty much the same. The only thing that enters into the picture that would be different would be the language barrier. You can get pretty much any gear you need anywhere in the world. You can get the people. It's not a new business anymore. It's something that's been going on now since the '60s as far as the touring in the way we think of it. But it's worldwide. You've got people everywhere that have been doing it for long enough to where the language barrier is the one part that is the only tricky part.
Q - So, when you can't understand what someone is saying to you, what do you have to do, hire an interpreter?
A - Yeah, basically any time we would go overseas, the promoter or the buyer of the event would provide at least one if not more liaisons whose main job is interpreting between the languages.
Q - You worked with The Four Tops, The Temptations, Harry Connick Junior and now you are with Three Dog Night. Is there any difference in who you go out on the road with and how you're treated?
A - I've been lucky, and every group that I've worked for, I couldn't ask for better people to work with. That's one thing about working for legendary acts who have been around a long time, they are passed the being blinded by fame. It is a business and they've seen it all and done it all and they know how to treat people out on the road to get the things that they need done easily. That's been very consistent with every act I've been out with.
Q - I guess it almost goes without saying, if anybody didn't treat you properly, you wouldn't be with them.
A - Correct.
Q - Is there such a thing as a stepping stone in your kind of work? If so, what would it be?
A - Stepping stone would be just resume building gigs, because most people in this business don't have the luxury of working for bands that tour year-round such as I do with Three Dog Night. They're going from tour to tour. Sometimes you have what they call the "baby bands", the young upcoming bands. That would be a stepping stone gig to where you could get out there, get the experience that you need. If you're lucky, the band likes you and they hit it big and keep you in their camp, but for the most part you've got people looking for new tours every 6 to 8 weeks. So, just about everybody in this business, unless you're working for the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd or U2, would probably be considered a stepping stone gig.
Q - I guess what I was getting at is, would you ever want to go from the Tour Manager to the Personal Manager?
A - It would really depend on the group and what they're looking to accomplish. It's kind of funny you should mention that because in February of last year (2012) Three Dog's longtime business manager passed away. He'd been with the group whole time as their business manager since the early '80s. Before that, when they were back in the heyday, a gentleman by the name of Bill MacKenzie, who is the gentleman I'm talking about, was one of the partners at Concerts West. That's where the relationship between Three Dog Night and Bill started. That was a relationship that was in place almost from day one. For the last 30 some odd years he'd been their business manager. When he passed away, rather than go outside the camp, we decided to keep everything in-house and I picked up a lot of Bill's responsibilities and then we brought in another account to handle the numbers side of it. So in a way, Three Dog was kind of a stepping stone for me to move into the management realm. Not 100% sure if it's something I'm going to pursue with any other group, just because while I'm familiar with the duties of a personal manager, there is a big learning curve. So, it's been an interesting last 10 months for me as far as that goes.
Q - You know what life is like on the road and that's a big plus. That's a different than a guy sitting behind a desk punching buttons.
A - Correct, but where that guy has the advantage over me is, he has spent a career making the connections with record companies, promoters, that sort of thing, whereas I've been making the connections I need to make a successful roadshow. So now I'm just trying to incorporate the two. Laurie Dunham and her business partner Randy Nicholas, who handle all the marketing, publicity, catering and keeping track of that side of it, they have been very helpful to me. When I get up against something I'm not quite sure of, I call either one of them and they walk me through it because they've been in the management business their entire careers. It's a nice, well oiled machine we have going right now.
Q - That's the only kind of machine to have.
A - Yeah. That was always our goal, keep the train on the tracks.