When students at the University of Oklahoma released Jack White’s tour rider, the media had a field day, taking White to task over the inclusion of a favorite guacamole recipe, accusing the artist of so-called “diva” behavior. Jack White recently responded to the hype with an open letter, originally posted on his record label website, and aptly titled ‘For God Sakes!’.
To the question of, “why don’t you want your tour rider publicized, is it because you’re a diva?”, White says:
do you know why we don’t do that or want that? a hundred articles about bananas, free speech, and guacamole is why; it’s because people don’t understand what a rider is or what the terms of a contract are. they’re out of their element, and you can’t blame them for it. and people who write about that know this. people WANT a rider to be a list of demands that a diva insists occur lest he or she refuse to play a note of music.
As White points out, fans, journalists, and pretty much everyone outside of the touring industry has a hard time understanding and interpreting tour riders. To outsiders, they look like diva behavior, and while there are certainly diva performers, the simple inclusion of a tour rider does not a diva make.
The classic example of tour rider excess is actually an urban legend of mythic proportions, rooted in Van Halen’s famous stipulation that M&Ms would be provided, but no brown M&Ms would appear backstage, ANYWHERE. Most people mistakenly believe this to be diva behavior. In fact, it was an ingenious way to make sure venues read the entire tour rider to ensure the safety of the road crew in setting up what was the most ambitious (and dangerous) stage setup in rock and roll history. The band could care less about brown M&Ms — but when the tour crew saw them, they knew to double-check every electrical connection and equipment rig, because inevitably the venue had missed other details, which could have more fatal consequences.
White points out that had journalists just done a little bit of digging into how tour riders work — for example, asking a tour manager — they would have quickly learned that riders are not about diva rock star behavior. Just a few facts these journalists would have learned had they done the research:
• The band is a small fraction of the tour crew, and any tour crew exhibiting diva behavior would be kicked off tour immediately.
• The rider usually contains more items than needed because tour managers assume venues may not logistically be able to get 100% of the items on the list.
• The rider is incredibly specific based on experience — the guacamole recipe is incredibly detailed not because of divas that need their guacamole just so, but because detailed instructions are helpful to the person tasked with providing the food.
• The rider isn’t written by the musician(s), it’s generally written by the tour manager with input from not just the musicians, but the whole crew. Everyone’s dietary instructions have to be taken into account, and again, very specific instructions in this regard can come off as ‘diva’ behavior even if it’s to ensure someone doesn’t die of a peanut allergy.
• The life of a touring musician — even one with a fleet of tour buses — is rough. Most of the time is spent cooped up in a vehicle. Meals at the venue are really one of the only semblances of normalcy and sanity for touring musicians. It’s impossible to understand how important a simple hot meal can be unless you’ve been on tour for extended periods of time. That’s why you’ll see lots of extra care dedicated to the food section of the rider.
While White’s open letter should help protect his reputation in light of these baseless accusations of diva behavior, based on previous patterns, it seems the public will continue to be underserved by lazy new media.