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Mar 06, 2024

It’s not only rock and roll, but I like it

Rock-it Cargo may be seen by envious competitors as the glamour boys of the freight industry but it’s much more about hard work than hanging out with the stars.

Working for the world’s leading events freight forwarder is many things – exciting, satisfying, demanding, at times frustrating – but very rarely is it glamorous, says Rock-it Cargo London managing director, Chris Palmer.

“No, we don’t get to hang out with the bands,” he says. “Occasionally, we might get to pass them backstage, but that’s about it.”

In any case, Rock-it staff are too busy to be hobnobbing with rock gods and goddesses. It’s a uniquely demanding sector of the industry.

However, a passion for showbiz in all its forms is a pre-requisite for Rock-it staff. Indeed, it was Chris Palmer’s musical ambitions that got him into the business in the first place, 20 years ago.

“I just wanted to do something to do with music. I’d been in bands and I knew I didn’t want to do a nine-to-five job, so I applied on the internet for anything to do with it.”

Palmer’s enthusiasm for the music business shone through and it was that which landed him his first job – with a different company – in an industry that he has worked in ever since.

Eventually, he moved to Rock-it Cargo, to a business development role and in time became managing director at the forwarder’s office in London, its biggest outside the Los Angeles headquarters.

Enthusiasm is what has spurred him to cope with the often unpredictable world of live events forwarding and this is a quality that he looks for in new Rock-it recruits, saying: “We can teach staff how to move freight, but a passion for live events is really what we’re looking for in any potential employee.”

Paperwork underpins operations

Passion is vital, but there is also paperwork. In fact, the ATA carnet international customs document is often Rock-it’s first contact with young, aspiring bands.

“Very often, we will have our first conversation with a band’s management when they are about to go on their first tour of Europe. We explain to them what a carnet is and we work with the client and the Chamber of Commerce to make sure the process goes smoothly for all parties involved.”

Indeed, Palmer says one of the most satisfying aspects of the job is that “we get to work with new bands, before they become well known”.

Most new bands operate on tight budgets, so the need for ATA Carnets can have a serious effect on the economics of touring in Europe for many aspiring musicians. Help a band get on its touring feet in its early days and people will remember you when they hit the big time, is the thinking.

There is a lot of logistics in live events, and Rock-it arranges moves by all modes of transport and across all inhabited continents, including arranging ocean and seafreight.

Palmer explains: “At Rock-it London, we operate our own screening onsite with our own X-ray and ETD machines. We have been working with all of the major airlines and ocean carriers for 45 years now, so we have a very strong relationship with them all, based on the amount of cargo we give them – which gives us superior buying power over our competitors and allows us to price work very competitively – hence being awarded the Pulp tour.”

Palmer explains: “In Autumn 2023, Pulp asked us to price a tour for them. Their management believed that they were paying too much for their freight and we were awarded the tour as we were able to save them a very significant amount of money, whilst using our own Rock-it Cargo offices for Mexico and all of South America, which no other live events forwarder can claim.”

The Pulp tour was extremely successful. “We delivered on time and on budget and management were extremely happy with the service that they received throughout.”

Greening operations

The issue of climate change, and what can be done to reduce the damage caused by carbon emissions is a tricky subject for anyone in the business of moving live productions around the globe and Rock-it Cargo works closely with its clients to minimise the impact on the environment.

“We’ve been having conversations both internally and with our customers for quite some time now about the steps we can take,” says Palmer. “There are some things we can action right now such as the brand new Electric Car scheme which has just been launched at Rock-it London to allow employees to have EVs (electric vehicles) with free charging available on site, in order to encourage less polluting vehicles, and then there are things that we can plan for the near future, such as having an HVO (green diesel) tank installed onsite so that we can use sustainable fuel in our fleet of vehicles. Rock-it Cargo is again ahead of the competition here.”

Rock-it’s clients are also rightly demanding high standards from suppliers, asking to see ESG (environmental and social governance) plans and ISO accreditations, all of which Rock-it can supply on request.

“The process of achieving ISO14001 is a complex but worthwhile undertaking, and now that we have this, we are forging forwards with further accreditations to make sure that we hold ourselves accountable for doing all we can to minimise our carbon emissions.”

The landscape has also changed with regards to the gender makeup of the live touring industry.

“When I first started working in this industry in the early 2000s, the number of women working as production managers or on touring crew was a million miles away from where it is today – thankfully – and this was mirrored in the world of cargo too.

“When I was asked to take over the reins at Rock-it London in 2020 (only three and a half years ago) we had maybe five or six women, all in either accounting roles, or documentation or reception.

“Today we have three times that number, across all roles from operations to sales – and the workplace vibe is completely different to the old regime where it was fairly ‘testosterone heavy’ to say the least! It is a far happier office and is far more reflective of society as a whole.”

Over the street and around the world

While Rock-it Cargo is known to many in the industry as a freight-forwarding and logistics company for bands and international music tours, it provides logistics solutions, whether that be across town, or across the globe, for any sectors.

It offers time-critical air, ocean, and surface freight forwarding and logistics not only for live entertainment and music touring, but also sports, motorsports, broadcast, performing arts, tradeshow and corporate events.

Rock-it Cargo is part of Global Critical Logistics Company (GCL), the holding company for a family of brands including Dietl, Cosdel, CargoLive, Dynamic International, and CARS. They work with customers in fine arts, classic and high-end automobiles, film, television and industrial projects.

Headquartered in Los Angeles, GCL has offices in North America, Europe, the Middle East, Asia Pacific, Australia, and Central and South America, augmented by a network of long-term partner agents specialising in critical logistics.

GCL companies have served thousands of customers annually for over 40 years with bespoke logistics solutions for the most demanding transportation requirements across every continent.

GCL is backed by ATL Partners, a private equity firm based in New York, US.

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