Welcome back to On Production, the podcast where production professionals share their stories and insights. In today's episode, we're excited to chat with Nichole Jensen, a talented professional who spent over a decade producing and working on live events for acts like Imagine Dragons, Nas, Janet Jackson, and Neil Young. From working as a production coordinator and studio coordinator to managing logistics at music festivals. Nichole has built an impressive career in the live events industry. Now, she's taken her wealth of experience and passion for music to the world of commercial insurance, where she specializes in serving the live event space. Nichole, I'm really excited to have you here to explore your journey. Discuss the skills you've gained from your time in live event production and learn how you're using your unique background to help the music industry from an insurance perspective. Welcome.
Thank you, Cameron. I'm excited to be here.
That's awesome. Okay, well, look, let's jump in. Can you tell us about how you got started in the live event industry and what drew you to it.
So what drew me to it was actually going to all the punk shows when I was a teenager, and, you know, being at Warped Tour and things where you saw the tour buses around and knowing how much I loved it. And I needed to, that was my community. That was where I felt the most understood and at home and watching all the tour buses leave was the saddest moment of my life. You know, like, I knew that I had to be there, like I had to be a part of it. And it was always in the back of my mind. But I have a pretty extensive hospitality background. I was a freelance yacht stewardess for a lot of the mid 2000s. And I knew like my roommate had worked for Live Nation and the catering department, and I just kept badgering him like, get me in, you know, but the season is so specific. It's during the summer. So I was originally supposed to do dressing rooms and Live Nation, like God held me before the catering company could and was like, she's going to be a runner. And I had no idea what I was getting myself into. But I was thrilled, I felt like I was finally in the heartbeat. You know. And that has started to mean, I had a good rapport with the production coordinators and the tour managers that I worked with. So they would ask me to come and do all the shows in the Northeast or work their festivals or, you know, eventually come on tour with them. And from there, just my career was building, you know, I mean, but I started out as a runner as a dressing room person. I was, you know, like cutting shirts that Drake wore on stage, just random things that people needed. Like I could kind of cater to all of it.
What were some of those first acts and where were you in the world?
I was in Philadelphia, and I lived in Philly. Actually, my first show was Phish. And all of them turned out to be my lifelong friends. It was where I'm actually about to witness my friend's wedding. And I met her because I was with all the women in production for Phish, who are still mostly like them. It's an incredible camp. But you know, they were talking to me, like I should know what was up because I should and they were like, We need lamps for the dressing rooms. We need this. We need you to hang the tapestries like we need you to, you know, just giving me a laundry list of things. So it was like Yeah, yeah, like, okay, all right. So I didn't want to look stupid. So I walked out of there and I was like, Girl, I need a girl like I need someone that can help me. And I see this woman Lindsay and I was a girl and Lindsay is now the one I am officially I guess I'm not officiating, I'm witnessing and St. Louis but Lindsay showed me where the lamps were she worked with catering now she actually she is an entertainment attorney and fishes dressing room person and opening up a another like music rehearsal space in the Midwest, but she'll be there in house counsel to anyways, I like to brag on her and all of them. But they just took a shining to me. I don't know we just connected and I made friends with the production coordinator and the tour accountant and they started hiring me for beta field and New Jersey and I would like go out and share hotel rooms with random strangers and it just kind of worked my way up which I mean I was no stranger to Doing that, like in the yachting community, I once had someone call me. And they were like, We can't tell you anything about this. But we need you to fly out to a private island. And it's royalty. And, you know, like, are you we can't tell you anything, you gotta take the job, or you're going to be a bartender. And I was like, you know, but everyone thought it was going to be human trafficked. It turned out I was on this incredible island in the way that works in the Bahamas for several months. It was great. So you just say yes to the adventure. And so basically, like when I started working with Phish, they kept getting me gigs with Neil Young and with different lambda productions, who was a part of Firefly and then it just kept going, like, Oh, I was then the production coordinator for the first Okeechobee music festival. And then I was literally all Stephanie Yeager, you're the woman I love you. She has launched my career. She's a vicious tour accountant and one of my best friends and just kept getting hired with Neil Young. And then I was his production coordinator and farm girl, I would go on stage before every show, and I would sow seeds, and I would water fake plants. I was a part of the production, as well as running the production with that my production manager is so it, it's just been a whirlwind of referrals. And, you know, people that I became friends with, I mean, two of them, one of them now has a tour travel company. And I met her when I was with Rihanna and I was the runner. She's like, I love you. Can you do all the shows in the northeast, so I did. And I moved to LA in 2014-15. And she was like, We need someone to help with show rehearsals. So who am I to say no to that? And they were both the tour managers for it. So I was then the runner for the stones and also advancing Neil Young's tour. And I became friends with so many people in that party that it sprouted to me going to London and hanging out and like going to their birthday parties and being the studio coordinator and chyzyk in London, where it was just like me, and Don was the coolest man on earth. And his engineer and the bands, and hanging out and just being their glorified errand girl, which is fabulous. And I did that in LA in 2019. Before I moved and 2017 I was kind of off the road for a little bit and just working locally in LA because, you know, I wanted to have a more of a grounded existence for a minute. And I was at my friend Rameez house who was the one with the top travel company. And she was like, you know, Imagine Dragons need a new production coordinator. And I have a feeling that you and the production manager will be peas in a pod, like I just feel it. And her and I have always had this connection where I mean, immediately, she was like, I love you. Let's be friends. And we've maintained our friendship and our working relationship. You know, ever since the first day we met, she was with Rihanna. And it turns out me and Matt, Miley, the production manager are peas in a pod. And we've gone around the world with Imagine Dragons and Janet Jackson. And you know, I, I then started picking up gigs for another friend, I met with Nas and between that I kind of came to a close last year. I mean, obviously the pandemic played a big part in the touring hiatus.
You know, it's interesting, you know, the production industry is such a people business, you know, from speaking with Kevin Lyman, the founder of Warped Tour speaking with other producers in the indie film world, it is so people oriented, who you know, working together building trust, and then executing these really complex productions together. I'm curious, you know, I will dig into your transition into production and live event insurance in a minute. But, you know, as you were building this deep competency of how live events work, specifically music events, were there any key experiences or roles that you took on while working in live music events that really you felt got you totally up to speed with your head around how these types of events happen and what it takes to make them successful.
I completely forgot that I also ran a venue and it was Justino. So that helped be a runner from Live Nation. I always knew I wanted to advance. So I spent a lot of time with the production coordinators, the local production management, asking questions and just like being as available to, to kind of be an earshot to what was going on and how they were settling the tours and the way that they needed to advance the dressing rooms, and just all of those little detail as you kind of listen for and ask questions. And when I was at a casino called Rebel, which is now under new management, and something else, but that was in Atlantic City, I had just a crash course and learning about hotels, I saw their contracts, I dealt with seeking their contracts, you know, and seeing our deal, and basically axing everything out that wasn't involved, sending it to our legal department, becoming friends with them, our accounting department, and literally I was working hand in hand with housekeeping, security, transportation, I mean, everyone that made that hotel function was in my on my team. So it gave me an incredible insight to it. And also I was able to go into the hotel systems and update the rooms when people would call me last minute, but he'd be incredible insight to all of the levels of, you know, competencies that you have to have and working with their VIP programs, their management, their chore management, their agents, the agents, assistants, I mean, it gave me the most incredible education and rock'n'roll in music and touring. So that was very helpful. And I was great at Excel. It taught me a lot about organization because I had to be at venues, and there were always programming and shows going on. So whether it was a full time Cirque du Soleil production, or, you know, Go Go dancers in the bar that I had to maintain, or Alan Jackson playing, or Reba McIntyre, it was just such an incredibly diverse learning situation
related to learning. Over the course of your career in events, were there any interesting challenges that popped up in the various events that were produced and any lessons that you learned from them along the way?
I mean, I was at an EDM festival as a VIP manager. And I mean, there was a weather or disaster in which I watched buses just crash down hills in Atlanta. I mean, they couldn't get traction, they couldn't get people out of there. It was such a nail biting moment of, you know, the VIP program had the owner have to fly in with my sister, actually, we had to send all of our crew just home and be like, I can't help you. I can't bus you out of here. I can't save you. It's basically like, Please stick together as a buddy system and get out. I mean, honey, I feel terrible. Even sharing that story. It was horrible. When you are just helpless. It's like a disaster. And I want to be the person to manage the expectations and make people feel comforted and save the day. But sometimes you're just as helpless as they are. You know, and the best advice you can give someone is follow the crowd please get out like save yourself. That's horrible. But you know, I mean, some other hardships I mean, that are that are not as dire but you know, being a production coordinator for a first year festival where there were no hotels around the property and our vendors that were building, the stages weren't getting priority so they were and hotels an hour and a half away from the property and also sharing rooms with pullout couches. And these people didn't sign up for something that wasn't in their contract that's not comfortable, that's not accommodating. And so I essentially took over the hotel person's job as the production coordinator for the festival and managed it, got on the phone with the travel agencies that we were working with, and just worked hand in hand to fix the situation. And all of them were so much happier, and so much more productive. And, you know, I also ended up getting hired by our crew company because they were like, well, I redid their spreadsheets, it was like, you can't send this to me. Like this, there's, I can't work like this. And they were like, we respect that you want to come to work for us. So it's all just kind of being kind, but not afraid to be assertive and helpful. That seemed to get me pretty far.
That's great. You know, I asked the question, because I think these types of challenges that you've seen firsthand everything from, like a total loss as a result of inclement weather, to just improper organization that needs to be handled by switching out who's leading the operation? Like, those are really interesting lessons that only being on the ground and seeing firsthand what it takes to make a live event successful. Can you really understand and grasp it? And I really appreciate you sharing those types of experiences, because I think it leads very nicely into asking you, you know, how the transition from live event production in the music industry, to the insurance industry specifically for live events? You know, what motivated you to do that? And, and how did your background in these live events prepare you for your current role as an insurance professional?
Well, it's my first real go at sales, and I'm not good at hearing no. So I think you have to have a lot of, you have to have thick skin and be able to really overcome that work. Because as a production coordinator, you don't accept no, you know, there is always a solution. So I think, I mean, obviously, we discussed my dogs, and I needed some stability in my life. Honestly, you know, after COVID and not having any, the foundation of being like this is you know, my parents actually told me to get a hypoallergenic dog. We will watch it while you go on the road. They fell in love with that hypoallergenic dog and got his half brother, I got the grandmother, she ended up with my parents. And then Romeo still needed a best friend. So I have a family of four dogs now. And I can't leave them with my parents and I can't leave them as so. I am a homebound mother of two canines, and very proud of it. But I guess I'm evading the question. You know, I needed some stability. Touring, honestly, is a 24 hour job where it was starting to affect my mental health and my physical health. I was getting pretty sick. And I needed to stabilize and have something that was always a constant in my world. But I still needed to be in the entertainment space. That was very important to me. So my company has a growing entertainment division. And my boss was just like, my mom worked for the company at the time. He was captivated when he saw the tickets. I could get him for a show. And I wanted to know if I wanted to work in insurance. So I did. It was something that is so far removed from anything that I'm used to. And it's also good to keep learning because there's a cap you know, we're when you're on the road, you could only go so far and like you're not getting retirement funds matched. You're not getting health insurance. No one is really there to look out for your long term career. And this offered me more stability 401k Health insurance, something stimulate my brain, you know,
Nichole, it's really incredible to hear from you about those challenges that you faced at festivals on the road. And, you know, really seeing firsthand how difficult it can be to produce a great live event. You know, you've transitioned from being on the road and running these really large productions into providing an insurance service to these productions. I'm really curious, you know, how has your background and live events prepared you for your current role as an insurance professional for live events.
I feel like I can empathize with the tours, I actually just had a situation this weekend where I sold the festival, a cancellation policy, you know, based on their weather, and the festival is out in a farm. And, you know, they updated me, pretty much the day that they were loading in saying we've been rained out all week, our rigs are getting stuck in the mud. We have flooring coming from Atlanta, we don't have the labor to actually put the flooring together, we may need to call it you know, at least the first day and it was like, the second I hear that I'm on the phone with them being like, Okay, what, you know, here's the insurance adjusters information. Let's start brainstorming ideas on what we can do to bring in labor. And to, you know, maybe bus people in what kind of rest areas parking lots, what can we do to help mitigate this? And hopefully salvage the festival? Like, do you have combos with the digging wheel so that you can bring things to the stage? It's like, no one wants that for their clients. I mean, no one wants that as a fan to have to cancel your big weekend plans. I mean, like, that's something you talk about for months, how excited you are to go and see your favorite artists. So it's like, I think that my understanding, can you know, I've already been on the phone with our risk management team, from my company, being like, what can we do to help them? You know, we can't technically look at their contracts and give them legal advice, but we can say, hos responsibilities, certainly what's, you know, their indemnification so that we can help them, you know, make suggestions on their contracts and point them in the direction of a council and like, you know, maybe reword things so that they're less liable. And also look at their contracts and go on the grounds and meet and say, This is what we suggest as risk management to do for next year, you know, this is how we can start preventing things and, you know, maybe load in earlier or, you know, just kind of brainstorm a little bit about the situation. And I think I understand, you know, from a touring and festival background, the amount of time it takes to really put together an event and how long people are on the grounds for multistage festivals. You know, I mean, it takes a village.
That's really interesting. I'm curious if you can speak to the role of insurance in the live event industry, you know, like you just mentioned, like inclement weather, but are there other reasons or other things that you believe are especially important for the live events and music industry from an insurance perspective? Like what other types of coverages should live event producers be thinking about? Up
until recently, you used to be able to do communicable diseases when Zika virus was a thing and COVID and then people started taking that out of their policies, which now that's more available, and you can start adding it in with less of an expense. Active shooter, unfortunately, it's heartbreaking to have to say that but, you know, there are venues that have had it for years and it's a huge expense until something happens. And you need it. You know, I mean, cancellation for artists. Let's see, non appearance, it's something that they want to have as well as the promoter because, you know, it's if they get sick sick or if a family member gets sick, they're going to need to be able to say, like, I'm covered, if I can't show up, festivals want their artists to have it, because they don't want to be liable for that, you know, like you need, the People's certificates of insurance be like, Alright, cool. Like you've got general liability, you have inland marine to protect your equipment, you have workers comp in case something happens to you like, you need to cover yourself and even artists that have, you know, are putting out music as much as you, you know, copyright your stuff, someone can still take you to court, and you need to have errors and omissions to protect your catalog and and also so that you have money for those lawsuits because they can bankrupt people. Absolutely. I think
that leads me to another question. I'm really curious to ask you, which is like, when a loss occurs, so a talent doesn't show up, or a lawsuit occurs? Like, what are the common types of claims that you've seen? And how much do they cost? Because thing for a lot of folks, you know, in the industry, that's what everyone wants to know, like, hey, how much is this going to cost me if I don't buy insurance, and what types of claims kind of emerge pretty commonly in the the live event sort of space, you have
some artists that notoriously will get on a flight, and they don't like the airplane, so they'll get off of it, and they won't show up. So you do need cancellation and non appearance. So it all really depends on what the contract says, as far as who's liable. But, um, I mean, the claims, for seeing errors and omissions, it really depends on how much your business makes. So for a $3 million policy, one of my clients just paid 8000, which seemed expensive to him, however, he has $3 million, if he gets sued, which you know, that could ruin them and completely destroy everything they've worked so hard for. So you know, if you're a large-scale touring artist, it can be several 100,000 for your non appearance and cancellation. But, you know, if you're starting artists, you can also get a shoe $1,000 general liability policy that covers, you know, a million. So it really depends on the scale of your production and your tour and what you need. And some people only do the bare minimum, which is totally fine. As long as you have something to protect you.
I would imagine that, you know, at a live event, you have all kinds of vendors and entities all interacting together. So you've got like the artists organization, the stage vendors, the light vendors, the sound vendors, vendors all over the place, individuals all over the place. And in the event of something terrible happening, and a lawsuit occurring, I would imagine that everyone would be named. So then it just makes sense, I would imagine for everyone to have, at the very least a general liability policy. And then I'm guessing as well as to your point like, Okay, well now you have potentially 1000s or 10s of 1000s of fans who want their money back for a nonappearance or like the flows of liability seem really interesting. So you mentioned a couple of the types of coverages so there's like workers comp, General Liability errors and omissions. Or are there other types of coverages very, very specifically to live events that you kind of focus on and what are they? It
can be hired in a non-owned auto, I mean, your cargo policies. Sometimes people go into different countries and have to have certain coverages because they have to have armed cars follow the trucks around, you know, so they don't get heisted.
I mean, what's interesting, though, okay, well, this is a good point, right? Like every event sounds incredibly different, like the diversity of types of events and risks that emerge are like, very varied. And on one hand, like, because you've been on productions for a majority of your career, like you just know, the types of commonalities that occur in terms of of losses, but can you talk to me a call about the role of effective communication and collaboration between, you know, your event producers and then your insurance team just for mitigating risks, like, do you use a checklist to use like a different sort of like process for understanding the types of potential losses that could emerge and then kind of write a policy against that?
Yeah, I mean, we look at loss run history, you know, any situations that have ever occurred of their festival, what could happen if it's outdoor indoor, the capacity, the promoter backgrounds, you know, this was particularly interesting, the festival I just did, it's their third year, but the first year that they've had cancellation insurance. So sometimes those can be a little bit more challenging because you, they have no loss run history, underwriters look at the weather history. You know, I mean, if it's on the beach, like, it's definitely going to be higher risk, then there's something indoors at an arena, it depends on the scale, but certainly knowing the layout, their evacuation process, their parking, the general security, you know, what's in their contracts, just to kind of get a full picture of what we're looking at in our, our risk, you know, to claim ratio,
super helpful and incredibly interesting. You know, it's really cool that you've had, you know, these really in depth experiences, both, you know, onsets at production festivals at studios, and that you've made this transition over into the insurance world. You know, I want to pivot a little bit just because you have so much experience with live events. You know, what advice would you give to someone entering the live event industry,
don't talk badly about other people. And be kind, inquisitive, know when to leave someone, you know, to walk away from a situation, trust your instincts. Say yes to gigs, you know, like, be your own biggest advocate, find the promoter rep at a venue, tell them you want to start out as a runner, you want to do catering, you want to be a VIP person, go to conferences, you know, I mean, I still go to them, just because I want to have my finger on the pulse like I do. Live production Summit, Pollstar, my company sponsors, women of Pollstar, and we are currently, you know, in talks of doing more events with them, but try to be involved, even if it's volunteering at first, you know, it's like, you're not going to make a ton of money initially. And the hours are intense. But if you love what you're doing, you're gonna find so much joy in it, and try and take all of those experiences and ask people to get their email and stay in touch with them, and how they got their start. And people will promote you, you know, they'll want you around. If they like your company, they want to be around people that are fun, and self starters. And ridiculous, you know, like, don't always take yourself so seriously, either be able to laugh at something, because it is hard, you know, and just be able to learn from a mistake and apologize and take accountability. You know, I'll just do your best.
That's amazing. I have some more questions, actually. Which is, which is great. You know, I'm curious. How important is it for event professionals to understand insurance and risk management in their line of work?
Very, you know, I mean, you, we're all different quadrants, you know, we have security, we have lighting, audio, rigging, and all of those people work to keep their employees safe, and the band and the audience is as safe as possible. So getting together at conferences is so valuable because we can all feed off of each other's knowledge and say like, wow, you know, I've never thought of that I've never taken into consideration like, why don't we set up phone calls that we're always working together to make it as cohesive and tight knit like we're all on the same team, you know, working together to create this like, fabulous utopia for people. You know, it's the heartbeat of something. And understanding risk management and insurance is everything. because no one is going to come to your event, no one will play your event. If they suspect that it's a disaster walking in that you don't have dressing rooms, you don't have catering you don't have, you know, the right security. I mean, there are some companies that can pick out your stalker from a mile away, you know, to understand that is key to getting the right agents to bring their artists, you know, no artists is going to fly across the country to the world even to be unsafe, because they trust their agents, they trust their management, they trust their production, to only put them in situations that will keep them healthy, successful.
super interesting. You know, Nichole, I'm curious, do you have any thoughts on the future of live events? And the role of insurance in the industry? I'm curious, like, Are there any emerging trends or developments you've noticed?
Oh, camera, and this, you have this? I, myself, am just stepping into this enormous role of an insurance producer. So going to, you know, I mean, I go to conferences all the time, that right now, in May, I'm going to one about cancellation and contingency, so it's like, there's always something happening. What was I just at the Relics Music Conference, which, you know, that's agents, isn't a JamBand focused conference, but, you know, learning about kids tours. And, I mean, that's not so much insurance, but it is because they're, you know, younger people involved, and the trends in entertainment and VIP, and, you know, your proximity to artists to fans, and, I mean, now, the people are doing like holograms, as the artists, you're taking pictures with them, rather than getting up close and personal, because of COVID. You know, it's keeping them safe, so that they can continue to not cancel their shows, and not have to do all these makeup dates, which took up a significant amount of last year's programming for a lot of Acts. I think, you know, as far as trends, I'm still learning. But I can tell you, I can help you know, I can be there to tell you what regurgitate the things I just learned from cyber, oh, my god, I just went to a Cyber Conference last week in Atlanta. And I met all kinds of hackers I learned about the dark web. But I learned about huge risks that that can present to people and like, the amount of planning it must go into a Ticketmaster or Live Nation, you know, with their security systems in place, and the amount of cyber security you must have to buy, because someone can take over and hold you hostage, like or create worms, where all of your your guests that are buying tickets are also getting ransomware on their computers. It's up. I mean, it's just like, enormous amount of responsibility, all of these companies have to keep people safe. So I think cyber is an absolute must and an ever growing trend.
That's super interesting. You know, there's no, there's no doubt to anyone listening that the intersection of technology, network technologies into every industry, including live events, are becoming just so intertwined that you need some sort of precautions, insurance and protocol for managing those types of risks. It's super interesting. It's almost hard to fathom, but it makes sense. You know, Nichole, I'm curious in your experience, both as a producer, and now as an insurance professional, are there key factors that contribute to a successful event from both a production standpoint and in terms of risk management?
Yeah, I mean, you know, it's Sard set, your stages, your barricade, On the credentials that you're providing for onstage, the staff, the artists, the artists compounds, the security that protects the backstage areas to the outside and the ticketing. And also, you know, things like making sure your artist is not inciting the riot that they see something and say something because they can very easily stop a show and say like, even a lot of people will do it if they see a dangerous pit, and be like, Stop, like, pick that guy up, you have to have a lot of people want to see your plans, your festival plans. The backstage security, hopefully, it's a reputable vendor, or promoter that has you know, that they've done these festivals before. You're not just hopping on the bandwagon of an unknown source because they may not have as much experience you know, hiring the right security vendors, the right EMTs you have to have medics, you have to have, you know, so much thought put into Where are you going to take this person if they are dehydrated or hyperventilate or have a drug overdose?
You know, Nichole, I'm, I'm so thankful that we've had the time to get to talk to each other about event production, as well as the risks that occur in production and how insurance professionals such as yourself can help producers in the live events industry kind of manage and thoughtfully operate their productions. You know, I'm curious if you have any final thoughts or words of wisdom for our listeners, particularly those who are aspiring event producers or considering a career in the live event industry?
Hire strong team I mean, there's no shame in hiring someone to be your counsel your your what's the word I'm looking for consulted you know, you will even hire a consultant that has experience with contracts and vendors and knows their way around, you know, hiring the right fruit to put together the staging and work with reputable agents, you know, go directly to the source, go to the agents go to the management. You can get the routing from them. You can see the artists availability, you can also see what artists are within your budget. You know, you definitely need to plan on your artist's budget and how much you can spare for your staff, your insurance you don't leave out insurance, you know whether you need general liability you need inland marine for you need to get certificates of insurance from your vendors. Do not let an artist play without them. It is detrimental to you if something happens. Yeah, I mean, collect all of the information that you can God Get your shit together, you know.
Nichole, thanks so much. Where can our listeners find out more about you and your work and how they can get in touch with you if they have any questions or want to discuss insurance for their live events?
Okay, well, my information is email@example.com. Which is a mouthful, but I work for Higginbotham insurance. We are a large independent insurance brokerage. We have an incredible entertainment program as well as trucking, cargo shipping, general liability, small health insurance, retirement, but you can call me 678-904-2596 and I'm based in Nashville, and my main offices in Atlanta, so I'm there pretty often if you ever want to meet, and I frequent Texas quite a bit, and to LA.
That's awesome, Nichole. Well, I hope our listeners get in touch and that if they have any questions about the risks that they need to avoid on their productions and the types of insurances that they can buy, if those risks do unfortunately happen. I know that they'll be in good hands chatting with you. Thanks so much for being On Production. Thanks, Cameron.
Live event insurance can be a complicated and confusing subject. What does it do? Why do you need it? What does it cover? To get answers, Wrapbook spoke to live insurance sales person Nichole Jensen.