Backstage Goddess, Ingrid Berger Talks Rock in Rio And Aerosmith’s Lucky “Pet”

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Ingrid Berger is one of the biggest producers of live music in Brazil, and internationally. Berger has been responsible for the backstage production of several major concerts including Iron Maiden and Justin Bieber. With over 30 years of experience, she has been behind the curtains managing VIP areas, catering. You can find her backstage at festivals like Free Jazz and Rock in Rio, (Lisbon, Madrid, Las Vegas, and Rio de Janeiro) to name a few. Berger took her first steps in the industry in her thirties and has been making waves ever since. We at Plugger Mag can only imagine how unbelievably crazy it must have been working with such high-profile artists and exquisite demands.

Rock in Rio 2021 was rescheduled for next year in Rio de Janeiro and Lisbon. Berger has been sharing her knowledge and guidance for the past seven years in Brazil and Portugal. Her short courses last from three to four days.

Rock in Rio is a music festival that first took place in 1985 in Rio de Janeiro. It was such a success that it has continued for another 20 editions. From all the countries that have had Rock in Rio (Rio, Madrid, Las Vegas, and Lisbon), what are the key differences?

Ingrid Berger: There’s a lot of differences. The U.S. team is very professional and we only needed a few people to do the job. It was a four day learning experience. In the U.S. it was hard at first because it was a new festival in a new country, but the people I worked with were very professional. The technical side and logistics were fairly smooth; if you tell the artists to arrive at 7 o’clock, they will be there at 7 o’clock. For me

Lisbon is so much easier, it’s like home. Everything is nearby and Lisbon is small compared to the U.S. In Lisbon we already have our workforce and partners so everything is in place and easy to work.

In contrast, Madrid was a big challenge. It was located very far away from the city (40 km from Madrid), in a hot and dry area. It was not a success. Actually – it was a major failure. We have had three editions in Spain, but the Spanish don’t get the concept of the festival. Most Spanish attendees want to go to the concert and then go home; they don’t want to go with their family and spend the whole day. We had seven years of work there, but we finally canceled the event because it just didn’t work.

The Spanish didn’t understand our festival. It was hard to explain why it was Rock in Rio, and not Rock in Madrid. You know – Ivete Sangalo (Brazil’s sweetheart singer) told me a story that she was walking on the streets of Madrid and nobody would recognize her. She’d go “Hola, I am Ivete Sangalo” and they were like “Y qué?” She was not famous in Spain and she got a bit upset. In Brazil, everyone buys tickets before knowing who is playing, but it is very difficult to work there. Many Brazilians do not speak English so this became a barrier because we always have many foreigners. Logistics is bigger as the city is big so it demands a lot of hours from us. In Brazil, we have much more work than in Lisbon, or, any other place.

Are there any future possibilities to extend Rock in Rio to other locations?

Ingrid Berger: Absolutely. We had many things underway, unfortunately as a result of COVID-19 we had to put a lot on hold. We had plans to expand the festival to Argentina and São Paulo while we were negotiating in Chile and Germany. We were sure about Germany – I even talked to the local promoters there when I was visiting the location, but now with the pandemic…

What is the impact COVID-19 is causing on live concerts?

Ingrid Berger: The impact is massive. If we look at numbers, it’s incredible how many people depend on the show for business. Think about everyone who is involved behind the scene in roadies, catering, lighting, trucks, generators – not only artists. For a live concert, you need eighty people to work while in live streams you have fifteen people. The IT technicals and the recording side are doing great nowadays. Everything is virtual but the physical side of live music is still critical.

I don’t think we will recover, it won’t be the same. Now, many people are doing very distinctive things – becoming Uber drivers, working in restaurants, or selling hamburgers. They have abandoned the industry and we don’t know if they will be back. Loads of people went broke, I guess it will be difficult to recover. By the way, I saw a live stream stating that if we have the same number of concerts as we had before, we will probably lack a workforce. It will be difficult to find capable people once it gets back to normal. If we have too many events, we would need specialized workers to do all the tours once things are normal again. According to LiveNation, they used to do festivals from 25 to 30 big tours every year. There are 40 tours booked for 2022.

We never know, I hope we are able to get back to work; I have realized the more we learn the more chances we have. It’s always good to study languages, learn about digital marketing. If you don’t understand that, you are completely out of the market, even if you work with events. Learning is never too much. We cannot miss out on this chance. 

How are you holding on during these difficult times, considering the Coronavirus has forced Rock in Rio to be postponed again?

Ingrid Berger: In the beginning, I was a bit paranoid, like everyone, I guess. It was hard, but now I read a lot, I am studying, I watch live streams and I am very busy with my granddaughter. I am a grandmother now! I am at a very good point in my life.

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Have you ever faced difficulties for being a woman in this industry?

Ingrid Berger: Sometimes it’s hard to lead or be in a men’s team. I’ve always traveled and we’ve had very few women; about 50 men and only two women. I have always been respected; I have never been abused or prejudiced because I am a woman, or blonde, or whatever. I’ve always been the oldest. Thank god nowadays women are dominating more. Today we have more women than men in the events. It was hard to start my career, but after that everything went well. They call me, the ‘Rock Auntie’.

Talking about rock, can you tell me a story about your days at Hollywood Rock festivals( 90’s iconic festival in Brazil)?

Ingrid Berger: I have worked on all the editions and I miss them very much. The artists were in Brazil. They had to be taken to Buzios, Angra dos Reis, which was great. I have many stories, but there was a time when we had money and the means to hire decorators. We were wrapping up the Aerosmith backstage decoration and I looked at it and I thought it was pretty good. The second time I looked it up, I saw this stuffed crocodile. I thought to myself, “WTH! What’s going on with these decorators; we are not in the Amazon”. So I decided to take it down because it made no sense to leave the stuffed animal there. I took it out with me and suddenly one of the decorators came after me and screamed “NO. NO! You have to keep the crocodile because it’s Aerosmith’s lucky animal.” I replied “Sorry, I thought it was a joke”.

What are you listening to now?

Ingrid Berger: I am very eclectic; Bruno Mars, for example. I like pop-rock, soft music, jazz, but I don’t like heavy metal or Beatles. I am not a fan of the Rolling Stones. I worked countless times for Paul McCartney and the Rolling Stones but I am not really a fan of this type of music.

(Camilla from Plugger Mag) Ah, that’s why you got on so well in this business. If it were me, I don’t know how I would react to working with such artists…

Ingrid Berger: No, you can’t be a fan. I was a big Eric Clapton fan and I was lucky enough to meet him years ago. I was an executive producer at the time and I picked him up at the airport – I thought I would pass out (laughs). I was a huge fan, but I have realized with high profile artists that their lives aren’t easy. They’re pretty regular people.

How does a backstage look like now, in comparison to a backstage back in the ’90s?

Ingrid Berger: It was so freaky in the 1990s, I cannot tell you what they had on backstage (laughs) but I can tell you what they have now in the 2020s. Now artists drink natural juice, eat a vegetarian diet, do yoga; only a few drink alcohol. The days of drugs, sex, and rock ‘n’ roll are over. If you compare Metallica, The Rolling Stones, or Aerosmith, they are all seniors now and well behaved. 

It was so freaky in the 1990s, I cannot tell you what they had on backstage (laughs) but I can tell you what they have now in the 2020s. Now artists drink natural juice, eat a vegetarian diet, do yoga; only a few drink alcohol. The days of drugs, sex, and rock ‘n’ roll are over.– Ingrid Berger

What advice can you give to someone who wants to be in the music business?

Ingrid Berger: Just try to get into the business and do anything. Do your job well, be a happy person even if you’re just putting on the wristbands. We remember those folks, we’ll probably remember you and call you next time. Get noticed – even if you are working at the entrance. Talk to promoters, musicians, and record companies; this is how we do it. In my classes, I see who is willing to work and I try to offer employment opportunities to my students. You cannot ask me how long you will work. It is heavy. You will stop at one time to eat, to go home, but we are not the normal work of nine to five. We work 24 hours with a smile on our faces.

Photo by Wendy Wei on Pexels.com

What are the qualities you need to work behind the scenes?

Ingrid Berger: Focus and attention. Rain or shine, the event always gets started. You have to be concentrated or you will waste your time. I always ask the wannabe runners if they know their surroundings. Shops, Starbucks, and so on. This person needs to be fast because sometimes we need this one person to buy a screw for the stage! You know – a runner is an essential key to any event. These days mobile phones make it easier.

Pay attention to what’s around you as it’s critical to being a good producer. You have to know things before we even ask you. I have always paid attention to my environment, to new supermarkets or laundry facilities around my home, or my work. Be quick and sharp. It is important to be well organized, especially in a festival like Rock in Rio. I would recommend making spreadsheets. Or, get a paper and pen, paper and pen works better. You don’t have time to open your laptop or even your cell phone. A producer won’t take a seat.

If you could give a piece of advice to yourself 20 years ago, what would you say?

Ingrid Berger:  I never thought of this 20 years ago. If you want to work in producing events, you have to know that you will not become wealthy. I think that’s the first thing to forget. Having a family is hard – my kids have traveled with me.

When I was in France, I was dating a music photographer, and we had been invited to go to The Who’s backstage. My heart lit up when I saw those lovely people, those flying helicopters, that wonderful caterer. It looked like a movie! I thought to myself “What a cool life”. I had no idea that years down the road I would organize events like this. This is one fantastic career. We create illusions. It is completely satisfying to see 100,000 people happy and singing. Eventually, the next day when it’s all over, you don’t even know what to do. Sometimes you spend months on one project and then boom – it’s finished. You wake up and see that everyone is gone. But, then we move on to another event.

Find out more about Berger and her courses on her social media channels.

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