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So You Want to be a Roadie

By BadDoggie in Culture
Wed Oct 29, 2003 at 09:21:47 PM EST
Tags: Culture (all tags)

There are worse things than getting paid to travel around the world listening to music and getting laid every night. As it turns out, not only is being a musician unlikely to get you this, being a roadie ain't gonna do it either, no matter who you're out on tour with.

That's not to say that the work's not interesting: it certainly can be. There can be easy sex, but there's rarely time for it. And there's certainly travel. Lots of travel. In buses. And no Frequent Bus miles.

So if sex, drugs, music, partying and hanging out with famous bands is why you want to be a roadie, your career has the life expectancy of a blind frog with two broken legs crawling across the LA Freeway during rush hour. If you don't mind travel and a lot of hard work that everyone loves to hear you talk about, read on.

What's a roadie?
Technically, anyone who is on the travelling crew for a stage production can be called a roadie, but it generally refers to stagehands and technicians for musical acts. "Roadie" isn't a job; it refers to a person who does one or more of a collection of diverse jobs, from stage techs to the instrument techs, to lighting and sound engineers and riggers.

Getting started:
Most roadies get their start either by working with a small band which grows or, more likely, they join a theatre group, work for small venues and concert halls or for the companies which provide production equipment.

Theatre group:
Here's a chance to learn all about stages and lighting, and possibly sound. While usually volunteer work, it gives you the chance to learn from others who are happy to teach you. You'll do crap work at first, like sweeping and hauling cable, but you'll learn, usually from people rather eager to teach you.

Production companies:
You can usually find them in the Yellow Pages under "Theatrical Supplies". It doesn't hurt to call and ask if they're hiring. People leave all the time and they have to train someone else. There may be job ads in the local newspapers or music stores -- the kind which sell instruments, not CDs. Again, you'll do crappy work at first, and most of your outside jobs will be "industrials", such as talent shows and promotions in shopping malls.

Small venues:
You generally get in at the ground level, getting a job more or less as a laborer hauling heavy cases and equipment racks from the truck to the stage and then back a few hours later. Any place with a capacity over 250 will need laborers to work for the incoming bands. The pay is crap and the work is hard, but you learn the basics.

Equipment suppliers:
Every city has lighting, sound and staging equipment companies. Again, you try to get the job and have to be prepared to do a lot of crap work at first. After some time, you'll go out to local venues as an assistant, where you'll do lots more crappy work at first. Dragging 300 feet of 0000 ("four-aught") copper cable weighing a pound a foot through a muddy field in the rain sucks. Voice of experience.

It's through this that you learn about the equipment used, the terminology, and how it all comes together. You also prove yourself. Sometimes the Tour Manager (TM) of the group or larger company you're supporting will notice and either give you a card or make you an offer on the spot. It happens.

Forget lights and stage! I want to be the sound man!
Being a sound man is like being a goalie. Do your job perfectly and everyone else gets the credit; screw up once and take all of the blame.

The primary way into sound is working for a local venue such as a bar that has live music. How you get the first jobs and learn the sound board and rack is a good question. If you're interested in the work, you go to shows, hang out at the sound board and watch what the sound man is doing. You befriend bands and help them in a studio or home studio. You go to a large music store, examine the boards and rack equipment and find out what all the knobs do.

There's not much difference between a 12-channel, 24-channel or 48-channel mixing board. Each main column has the same controls. It's a Beowulf cluster of inputs with limited controls. The larger boards have two to eight additional sliders in a submix section, where you group the outputs of the individual channels before sending out the final stereo mix, two more faders.

So you got a gig with a big band
If you're interested in the work, stay away from the band. Fanboys are neither appreciated nor tolerated. No matter how scummy you look and how crappy the job, you're expected to be professional, and that comes down to three rules:

  1. Do the work you've been assigned
  2. Don't ever stand around; help someone else or ask for more work.
  3. Don't fuck with the talent.
Following rules one and two can lead to advancement. Violating rule three guarantees you'll be looking for work elsewhere and paying for your own ticket to get back there.

People in the business know each other. If you get a bad rep with one company, consider a new field of work because it's unlikely that anyone at that level or higher will ever take you on again.

If someone in the band starts talking to you, be polite but brief. If he asks you to do something, go straight to your boss or tour manager and tell him. Maybe you should do it, maybe you shouldn't. The talent have huge egos, fed by their producers, but they have no authority.

Obligatory Anecdote
I almost lost my job because Donnie Wahlberg wanted to talk to me about motorcycles and wanted to buy mine out from under me. I was on the New Kids tour (laugh if you want -- it was a cushy job and you needed experience and personal recommendations to get it). We were in Indianapolis for two days on and two days off. I lived in Cincinnati, our next stop, and after most of my work was done I got the OK to take a few hours off. I got a ride home, picked up my 1973 BMW R70 and rode back to Indy. Some guy in the arena area on a rice-burning crotch rocket pulled up and started talking bikes with me. At some point I said he looked familiar. I asked if he was one of the New Kids. He rolled his eyes and said, "Yeah".

"Which one?"

"I'm Donnie."

"Cool. My name's BadDoggie. Nice to meet you. So anyway, the crankshaft..."

And we chatted some more. He seemed rather glad to just to talk to someone about motorcycles and other unimportant crap. After a while, he went off, I pulled up to the doors and went back in to finish up some work on the lighting. I was talking to my boss when the New Kids' Tour Manager came by, pointed at me and screamed, "This fucker is fired! Now! I want him the fuck out of here now! He was bothering the talent!"

As he was yelling, Donnie and a couple others were walking by and I called out his name. Donnie came over, addressed me by name and I asked him to tell his TM that he talked to me. Donnie stood up for me (Thanks, Donnie!) and started chewing out his TM, saying he could talk to who he wanted and if the TM had any real power, should make me give him my bike.

I was saved, but I still caught a lot of grief from my boss, who told me what I already knew: stay away from the talent! Far, far away. Had Donnie not walked by in the hall, that could well have been the end of my time, and it was my next tour that was the great one1.

Roadies and jobs in a typical large venue:
When I did stadium concerts, we generally had the following on each team2 (the memory's a bit rusty, so this isn't exact):

Steel dogs: 55
Specialised riggers: 12
Truss spotlight operators: 6
House spotlight operators: 6
Sound: 3 (Front of house + assistant and monitors)
Lighting: 2 (Director and Assistant [LD and ALD])
Lasers: 1
Screens, scrims, SFX: 3
Pyrotechnics: 1
Stagehands: 8
Instrument techs: 6
Road, tour, general management: 6
Local help: 60-150
This isn't everything, but it's close enough.

Steel dogs:
How do you think the stage with those 100-foot towers got into the stadium? These are built out of scaffolding steel in one of two methods:

  1. A crew of about 10 move around a lot and slowly get it built.
  2. A crew of 50-60 take positions and get a tower done in a day.
The second method is more common. There'll be one man on each vertical and every two or three levels will have a passer supplying four to nine verticals. All wear climbing belts but the guys on the points have nothing to tie off to once the level is finished off and it's time to put on another vert. The verts, transoms and horizontal pipes are all about 2m long. They're heavy and unwieldy.

After the towers are up, "head steel" (big I-beam girders) has to be put on and chained down to a crossmember near the bottom to stabilise the structure. This is done by very experienced riggers who have no place to grab on or to tie off while hopping around 30-40m (100-120ft) in the air.

Steel work is hard work and the people doing it are called dogs for more than one reason. They're not just looked down upon by many; if you're in the pack (so to speak) and are seen as a shirker, you'll learn many facets of "miserable" before you're fired and your pay is docked. Travel is usually in chartered buses: not tour buses like bands get. Think "Greyhound". You're too tired to notice when it's a travel night anyway. Hotels are the cheap ones and it's two to a room.

    Experience: preferred for point, required for top; beginners accepted
    Requirements: Strength and stamina, bonus points for balance.
    Pay: Not the worst, but not great for 16-hour-days or more
    Chick factor (CF): 1.3 (you're on tour, the guys around you are probably scummier and uglier, and the band doesn't even arrive for two days. CF=1.4 if you're wearing the tour laminate [the plastic-covered pass]). However, CF becomes 2-3 if you have a couple nights in the same stadium because then you're probably off for a day. And you have a laminate.

A special group who generally recognise "their own" pretty easily, riggers are the ones in the climbing belts who aren't necessarily up there with the steel dogs. They're absolutely necessary for smaller venues, since lighting -- and often sound -- has to hang from the ceiling. There are only so many embedded hooks in the ceiling or non-structural, load-bearing girders available from which the the riggers can hang the chain motors used to hold up the lighting truss and speaker stacks.

Rigging takes a lot of experience and it's not only quite dangerous, it's a job with extremely high responsibility. One incorrectly hung "basket" or incorrectly specified (or worn) cable and the entire truss can come down, like when the truss collapsed on the Christina Aguilera/Justin Timberlake Truss show in Atlantic City in August, 2003, although this may have been due to a stress failure in the truss segments. Rigging requires good spatial sense and some practical geometrical skills. Riggers often work for the venue itself, with one or two travelling lower to middle class with the really large tours and doubling as higher responsibility stage hands.

    Experience: required
    Requirements: balance, specialised knowledge
    Pay: Good. Specialisation has its benefits.
    Travel: 50-seat buses.
    Chick factor: 1.4 (you're on tour, the guys around you are probably scummier and uglier.) CF=1.5 if you're clean and wearing the tour laminate. CF=.01 if you've picked up an animal name as your nickname.

Stagehands include the "humpers" (people who get to push or carry heavy things from point A to point B), set and stage builders, carpenters, truck packers/unpackers and all of the general work. They're some of the first to the venue in the morning to unpack the trucks and they're the last ones working.

Most stagehands are hired locally for single venues, even on the smaller tours. They work for the venue and do what they're told. This is where most non-technical roadies get their start -- the best are often asked to come along if someone needs to be replaced. This is how I got on a KISS tour.

They get some food, water/juice/soda and go home at 2a.m. Usually.

Truck packers are especially important. They've done their time humping equipment and are responsible for the proper loading and unloading of the truck(s). When a tour goes out, consideration is given to how much space will be needed, and there is always a way to maximise the space usage, cramming twice as much equipment in as one would be able if it was done haphazardly. They travel with the tour and may ride with the truck driver. When the trucks are empty, they'll often work on stage set-up.

    Experience: entry-level to very experienced
    Requirements: Stamina, Strength, Ability to follow orders
    Pay: A little better than in fast food, but you're there for the experience, and you may also get a T-shirt out of it.
    Chick factor: 1.1-3.0 -- Often close contact. The local crew can sometimes manage to get a hanger-on who wasn't able to get backstage. The travelers have learned where and when. Leaving the venue grounds with her (unless you're in town and off the next day) is a Bad IdeaTM. Looking good helps, but if you're not sweaty and dirty, you've probably been shirking and will soon be going home permanently.

Instrument techs:
If you can build a guitar with your bare hands in an unlit room in half an hour out of raw materials, you might be able to consider becoming an instrument tech. Generally, guitarists (all types) and drummers in larger bands have techs whose sole purposes is to keep the instruments working throughout the show. It may sound simple, but it's incredibly important not to interrupt the flow of a show. Try to replace a string and re-tune the guitar in 30 seconds. When the guitar is in someone else's hands. And plugged in.

The techs must always have the next guitar tuned and ready for the player, and have to get it plugged in and set without popping the amps.

Techs travel in style when the concert's big enough. On large tours often in the same 4-person sleeper bus as the instrument player, with whom they work closely. For smaller bands, they may double as stagehands and travel in the truck or van with the equipment.

    Experience: Very experienced, usually personal friend of band member
    Requirements: Skills and expertise with the instrument
    Pay: Usually good.
    Chick factor: 3.0-4.0 -- Direct access to the musicians, rarely get dirty, free soon after the show. Well, not quite free, but they can get trusted stagehands to do a lot of the crappier work.

Truss and house spots:
Truss spots are disappearing as the Vari*Lamps and similar, fully-controlled remote spotlights are becoming more common. These are guys who sit in the lighting truss above the stage itself with a safety belt holding them in their chairs. They hit the performers with a spotlight from above and behind, giving that extra highlighting and halo effect to the performers. They double as low-end stagehands.

House spotlights (HMIs, Sooper Troopers) are run by more experienced stagehands and often led by one of the travelling stagehands. While the LD or ALD tell various spotlights what to do and where to go, they normally talk back only through the "leader" to keep chatter down on the intercom system. A little skill with carbon arc lamps is only rarely required; almost every spotlight now uses sealed-beam lamps.

    Experience: Not much.
    Requirements: Can you follow directions exactly for two hours?
    Pay: Same as stagehand, but better work.
    Chick factor: 2.0-3.0 -- Often directly in the audience, although very busy after show. You have no passes to hand out and probably only have a single-show worker's badge yourself.

Sound Engineers and Lighting Directors:
Experience required, and lots of it. Sound experience comes from working with any band who'll let you. Lighting experience is usually had from working in theatres. There's a lot of specialised knowledge in these roles and a lot of hard work, and there are equal rewards.

    Experience: Very experienced.
    Requirements: Much skill and experience
    Pay: Very good for larger bands.
    Chick factor: 3.0-5.0 -- Normally clean and have direct access to the audience, although busy after show. Can usually get one-night passes from the TM.

Pyrotechnics, Lasers, other specialised roles:
Same as with Sound and Lighting.

That's most of the jobs and the majority of the work. It's a job for the young: the long hours and humping heavy packs and racks ain't for 50-year-olds. The majority of over-35s in the business are specialists, and most of them are single.

The jobs have their ups and downs. You travel, but usually in a bus. The pay's not bad, but you work hard and long for it. You can meet some interesting people, but they usually live in a village 40 miles outside of God's country. You'll hear bad shows and eat awful food -- deli tray again. You'll get stupid-drunk on a night off as everyone congregates in a small-town bar with the intent of drinking the place dry (and sometimes succeeding). You'll constantly be exhausted.

And as soon as you're home, you'll have stories to tell for years that everyone seems to want to hear again and again, no detail too small. And not just the ones about sex. You also might sign on for another tour.

* * * * *

There are a couple good books I came across while editing this story:

Roadie: A True Story (at least the parts I remember) by Karl Kuenning, who I think I remember working with. Lots of excerpts on the site free for reading. I strongly recommend A Day in the Life.

Rocky Harrison's Rock the Roadie. I never worked with him.

And a general resource, Roadie.net, also from Karl.

Disclaimer: This article has been written from memory, for which roadies are not necessarily renowned. It's been more than 10 years since I was on tour and two since I touched a mixing board.

1 The "great one" being a very famous, prestigious, multi-continent stadium tour from whence I moved from steel dog to top-level stagehand and from Greyhound to tour bus (4 people per, with fridge, shower and video games.

2 For stadium tours which play at least two different cities a week, there are at least two stage and three steel teams.


Voxel dot net
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o Salt of the earth. (I'm in a band) 19%
o Scum of the earth. (Coiuldn't get backstage) 7%
o Scummy. (Wanted sex for a pass) 17%
o Money! (I own a bar.) 9%
o I don't remember. (I'm a roadie) 24%
o I hate the music industry in all forms! 21%

Votes: 41
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o truss collapsed
o Roadie: A True Story (at least the parts I remember)
o A Day in the Life
o Rock the Roadie
o Roadie.net
o Also by BadDoggie

Display: Sort:
So You Want to be a Roadie | 82 comments (45 topical, 37 editorial, 1 hidden)
Roadies? (1.00 / 21) (#6)
by rmg on Wed Oct 29, 2003 at 01:23:32 PM EST

Weren't those the guys responsible for that fire last year in Rhode Island? You know, the one at the Great White concert that killed like 70 people. It seems to me that such folk don't deserve the praise of this article. If anything, they deserve our censure for their gross negligence and incompetence.

_____ intellectual tiddlywinks

Not quite (2.81 / 16) (#10)
by BadDoggie on Wed Oct 29, 2003 at 01:39:46 PM EST

It was pyrotechnics which started the fire, but the real problem was that The Station's stage manager, Paul Vanner, had warned his bosses about bands using pyrotechnics before the Great White show. The club had recently installed cheap polyurethane foam, which burns easily. It's unclear whether the owners, Michael and Jeffrey Derderian, knew they were purchasing highly flammable material.

Nothing was ever said about this foam insulation during fire inspections. To make things worse, because it was a small wooden structure built before 1976, it wasn't required to have a sprinkler system.

The blame for the US' fourth-worst nightclub fire is being spread far and wide. Great White's guitarist, Ty Longley, also died in the fire. Pyrotechnics started it, but it was waiting to happen.

Oh yeah... IHBT.


"E pur se muove." -- Galileo Galilei
"Nevertheless, it moves."
[ Parent ]

Trolled? (1.70 / 10) (#13)
by rmg on Wed Oct 29, 2003 at 02:15:00 PM EST

Nay, you have carried the day with an informative comment delivered coolly and rationally. You should be very proud.

_____ intellectual tiddlywinks
[ Parent ]

It was 100 dead. (2.28 / 7) (#11)
by misfit13b on Wed Oct 29, 2003 at 01:45:21 PM EST

But perhaps they deserve our appreciation for the fact that tragedies like that don't happen more often.

As far as the The Station goes, it had inadequate exits, flammable soundproofing and no sprinkler system. The nightclub's owners deny they gave the rock band permission to use the fireworks. (I doubt Fire Marshall in his right mind would have approved them.) However, Jack Russell (Great White) insists the use of pyrotechnics was approved. Is that the roadies fault? I dunno...

[ Parent ]
From my experience... (2.87 / 8) (#25)
by SwampGas on Wed Oct 29, 2003 at 04:13:10 PM EST

The Donnie incident happens to EVERYONE.  Even people not with the band.

We had George Clinton at the club.  Their manager/sound man told me to turn on the house lights.  Club owner told me not to.  So I didn't.  He then stormed off away from the board during the show.  5 mins later he comes back and pots down everything (turns the sound off).  Show kept going even without house sound.  This pissed him off even more so he went to the breaker box in the booth and started turning off breakers which crippled the light show.  Show kept going on without light.

Rest of the stories are pretty much the same...ego, arrogant, know-it-all, all-powerful band people try to do something stupid and then get sore when you tell them it's stupid.

The nicest people to work with were N'Sync (even the talent was nice) and Tonic.

Is it accurate to refer to N'Sync as 'talent'? nt (2.16 / 6) (#44)
by Stick on Wed Oct 29, 2003 at 09:50:46 PM EST

Stick, thine posts bring light to mine eyes, tingles to my loins. Yea, each moment I sit, my monitor before me, waiting, yearning, needing your prose to make the moment complete. - Joh3n
[ Parent ]
Of course it is (2.00 / 4) (#53)
by ph317 on Thu Oct 30, 2003 at 08:20:37 AM EST

They're very talented at sucking money from the wallets of parents of teenage girls who are too clueless to care about real talent.

[ Parent ]
"Real talent"? (1.33 / 6) (#54)
by tkatchev on Thu Oct 30, 2003 at 08:27:17 AM EST

Like what, the crappy talentless pop music that you like?

Or perhaps you are a fan of "classical music" -- the crappy insipid pop music that has the advantage of being hundreds of years old?

   -- Signed, Lev Andropoff, cosmonaut.
[ Parent ]

heh (none / 3) (#55)
by Battle Troll on Thu Oct 30, 2003 at 08:54:53 AM EST

the crappy insipid pop music that has the advantage of being hundreds of years old?

True of Tchaikovsky, but not of the serious work of Mozart, Bach, or Beethoven.
Skarphedinn was carrying the axe with which he had killed Thrainn Sigfusson and which he called 'Battle Troll.'
Njal's Saga, ca 1280 AD
[ Parent ]

I don't agree. (none / 3) (#57)
by tkatchev on Thu Oct 30, 2003 at 09:49:52 AM EST

All music is pop music.

That is the whole point, no?

   -- Signed, Lev Andropoff, cosmonaut.
[ Parent ]

well - (2.25 / 4) (#58)
by Battle Troll on Thu Oct 30, 2003 at 11:06:08 AM EST

A significant amount of the serious work of the above-mentioned three composers was for private or semi-private performance.

Eg, Beethoven's late string quartets were performed in public in Beethoven's lifetime, but were by no means popular; Bach's 'Well-Tempered Clavier' was a pedagogical work intended to teach model composition, and Bach's Goldberg variations were written for an audience of one (a rich merchant who wanted something to put him to bed.)
Skarphedinn was carrying the axe with which he had killed Thrainn Sigfusson and which he called 'Battle Troll.'
Njal's Saga, ca 1280 AD
[ Parent ]

I think what I'm trying to say (1.50 / 4) (#61)
by tkatchev on Thu Oct 30, 2003 at 11:40:50 AM EST

is that music, unlike, say, literature or even visual arts, is a medium that is supposed to be wholly directed towards being popular and easily digestible. Good music, music that fullfils its artistic purpose, is music that is immediately liked by any person on the street.

That is my opinion, in any case.

   -- Signed, Lev Andropoff, cosmonaut.
[ Parent ]

beh (2.40 / 5) (#62)
by Battle Troll on Thu Oct 30, 2003 at 11:55:52 AM EST

Good music, music that fullfils its artistic purpose, is music that is immediately liked by any person on the street.

That's quite simplistic. As a professional musician, I've seen time and again this phenomenon where someone's tastes change completely over a few years of serious study.

If music that fulfills its artistic mission is music that is immediately liked by any person on the street, then most of Beethoven failed in its artistic mission, because it was controversial (some examples of classical composers who were not controversial in their time: Joachim Raff, Salieri, Telemann, Lully.) On the other hand, people who study music a lot tend to incline toward more 'refined' classical music - for instance, professional classical musicians usually like the late Beethoven sonatas and quartets (op. 109 onward,) Bach's Musical Offering, or Schoenberg's Transfigured Night more than they like Lully operas or Salieri. Lully and Salieri, so successful in their own day, have little to say to us today, but Couperin, Bach, Beethoven, they continue to appeal to highly sophisticated tastes.

Now, dedicating your life to 'refined tastes' is just as inane in classical music as it is in wine or prose. But there's nothing wrong with taste in itself, merely in its abuse.
Skarphedinn was carrying the axe with which he had killed Thrainn Sigfusson and which he called 'Battle Troll.'
Njal's Saga, ca 1280 AD
[ Parent ]

No, no. (none / 2) (#64)
by tkatchev on Thu Oct 30, 2003 at 01:24:46 PM EST

What I mean is that music, unlike books, doesn't carry any message.

It is merely a collection of noises designed to be pleasing to the ear, nothing more.

   -- Signed, Lev Andropoff, cosmonaut.
[ Parent ]

two points: (2.83 / 6) (#67)
by Battle Troll on Thu Oct 30, 2003 at 03:48:36 PM EST

It is merely a collection of noises designed to be pleasing to the ear
  • A half-truth. Engaging the ear is different from pleasing the ear. It's the difference between a fine wine tasting good and potato chips tasting good - wine is an acquired taste, full of snobbery, ridiculously overpriced, etc., but there's something there that draws your attention in a different way than a bag of Fritos. Children will generally eat as many potato chips as they can because the fat and salt push their buttons, but some adults find potato chips disgusting.
  • Classical music started out as liturgical vocal music (like Byzantine chant, Gregorian chant was originally nothing other than a technique for projecting the text in a church or chapel.) Although it migrated primarily to instruments by the XIXth century, and although it became almost completely abstracted away from vocal music, there remains a connection between music and speech. I don't mean that music tells a story, literally; it's more like listening to someone speaking purely with inflection and no words. Still, you can usually discern moods and feel your emotions being led in various directions with various degrees of skill.
    Skarphedinn was carrying the axe with which he had killed Thrainn Sigfusson and which he called 'Battle Troll.'
    Njal's Saga, ca 1280 AD
    [ Parent ]
  • wow (1.80 / 5) (#31)
    by eyespots on Wed Oct 29, 2003 at 05:43:46 PM EST

    When I saw the title of the story, I thought it was going to be about road cycling vs. mountain biking.

    I need to get out more often (or less often).

    Manno, move it up ... (1.00 / 8) (#35)
    by mami on Wed Oct 29, 2003 at 06:28:20 PM EST

    now we have a good article and you still are a sitting like a lame duck in the edit queue. Why?

    Move up, I want to +1FP it. Don't make me me look like a K5 addict, who wastes time just to vote up your story.

    Do you have an idea how I can politely kick your behind to get you going, so that I can be a good K5-citizen, do my voting and go home?

    +1 FP -- brings back memories. (2.71 / 7) (#42)
    by ender81b on Wed Oct 29, 2003 at 09:28:52 PM EST

    Very nicely written article that brought back some memories.

    I was 16 and my brother was a head bouncer at the local rock club. So jackyll was in town playing the show (19 over unfortuantely) so me and my bud decided to hang out in the lot and just listen to em, the bouncers wouldn't care obviously.

    Turns out 3 bouncers didn't show up for the show (something involving drugs and police) and so they needed emergency replacements... Yeah! Drafted to be a bouncer at 16 for a rock concert was definately the highlight of that summer. Got to expierence the whole, don't fuck with talent and the ever so much fun of moving huge expensive equipmentup a little ramp into a semi. That shit is *hard* work. As a bonus somehow my brother mangaged to swing us both signed pieces of a chair jakyll had cut up on stage as payment for the work.

    good times, good times.

    Good stuff +1FP (1.28 / 7) (#43)
    by bovineaquarium on Wed Oct 29, 2003 at 09:29:35 PM EST

    You have some whinging, pansy-boy nerd bemoaning Christmas and how his life is ruined, and that gets FP?

    This is the sort of stuff that should be up front. Entertaining, interesting and well written.

    +1FP from me.
    ----------------------------- Vir sapit qui pauca loquitur

    Ah, live sound, how my ulcers praise thee (3.00 / 10) (#45)
    by Jed Smith on Wed Oct 29, 2003 at 10:20:09 PM EST

    There's not much difference between a 12-channel, 24-channel or 48-channel mixing board. Each main column has the same controls. It's a Beowulf cluster of inputs with limited controls. The larger boards have two to eight additional sliders in a submix section, where you group the outputs of the individual channels before sending out the final stereo mix, two more faders.
    There is a lot of difference between a twelve and forty-eight input desk. Not only is the required experience to run it well greatly elevated, new sound techs think they can handle it all by themselves. Which they can't.

    Also, the groups of which you speak are frowned upon and makes mixing a thing of procedure rather than creativity. The only time I ever use a group is for drums, and even then I'm constantly adjusting the level of each microphone.
    Being a sound man is like being a goalie. Do your job perfectly and everyone else gets the credit; screw up once and take all of the blame.
    This I whole-heartedly agree with, but the sound tech gets credit a lot more than you think, at least in my experience.

    Another way to get into sound, which is the route I took, is to work in radio. Radio introduces you to the concept of a fader, the air chain, and general audio ideas. Although I must admit, EQs have a lot more octaves when you get out in the sound reinforcement arena.

    My recommendation to future audio guys is to keep at it. Don't ever give up. If you fuck up a show and the whole crowd is staring, unmute the main mic so the performer can apologize and get their eyes off you, then throw a fit. (Don't throw a fit while everybody's watching. It's bad. It gets you fired. I would know.) You will get bad advice, you will get good advice, it all depends on who you talk to -- if you're reading this, you're already good at discerning the good from the bad since you use K5.

    Exploit corporate events! K-Mart was a very fun client for me, and it looks good on the résumé. Some readers may immediately say -- what can you mix at K-Mart? (I mixed a corporate show for the employees with a speech by K-Mart's president and a concert following, with a dump to webcast on the Internet.) Mix everything you can. Just mix. When you're using your computer, play with the faders in Volume Control. Mix all the time, and you'll get a feel for it. It's great fun, and I'd recommend it to everyone if you like fast-paced work.

    The high that mixing a show produces can rarely be reproduced. When the crowd is moving and the only reason they can hear it is because of you, you feel pretty good about yourself. Honest.

    K5 is dead. Steve Ballmer made the most insightful comment on a story. -- jw32767
    Oh Lord, please don't let me be misunderstood (3.00 / 9) (#47)
    by BadDoggie on Thu Oct 30, 2003 at 02:48:18 AM EST

    I didn't think I wrote, "If you can slide a dozen faders on that Radio Shack 12-track, you're ready for the big-time on a 60-input Neve." What I wrote is that the controls are similar. The skill required is much higher, but once you understand gains, cuts, pans, subs and parametrics, you're pretty much set.

    It's a little like flying. I'm licensed for single and multi-engine aircraft. I can fly some pretty impressive-looking machines. But I'm not an acrobatic flyer and I also don't fly heavy iron, but I could. I'm not ready to fly acrobatics any more than the 12-track kid is ready for the Monsters of Rock tour. But the basic principles behind flying, as with sound, are enough that if the pilots die on my trans-Atlantic trip, I can keep the plane in the air, point it in the right direction and land it, probably in one piece. Sure, there are a lot more blinky-lights and twisty-knobs, but here are my faders and there are my EQ controls and this part look an awful lot like the route to the subs, so it's not that much different.

    Frowned upon? From whence do you get this knowledge? For all industrials and most of the packaged shows (almost all of the bland pop), mixing is a thing of procedure. The boards often have flying faders (the slide controls are programmed in advance and move automatically but can be overridden by hand). Drums are grouped. The live and direct inputs from guitars are grouped. Background vocals are grouped. Individual control is still done on single inputs, but groups make the live mix.

    And you need that control, even on a packaged show, because if something goes wrong (tape breaks, lights die due to a dead generator, costume change takes too long and band has to vamp), you need to be ready. Something always goes wrong, not each night, but certainly on each tour. It takes a trained ear and a lot of experience to deal with feedback. It takes experience to be able to go off the set list.

    Mixing's fun for them what likes it, but I stand by my goalie analogy. The audience shouldn't know you exist, and if you do it right, they won't. Except for a couple other techs in the audience who'll come up to you and mention that you need to tweak 1.2K or that hot girl standing by the booth who's dressed to be undressed.

    I really gotta wonder why you'd ever have the main mic muted...


    "E pur se muove." -- Galileo Galilei
    "Nevertheless, it moves."
    [ Parent ]

    Wasn't coming after you at all (none / 2) (#72)
    by Jed Smith on Sun Nov 02, 2003 at 01:08:26 AM EST

    The original title to my comment was "You humped steel, didn't you" but I changed it to give you at least a little credit.

    I question your defensiveness.
    K5 is dead. Steve Ballmer made the most insightful comment on a story. -- jw32767
    [ Parent ]
    So, what can we learn from this article? (1.87 / 8) (#46)
    by mami on Wed Oct 29, 2003 at 10:27:46 PM EST

    The number of comments are inversely related to the quality of the story.

    Aren't you disturbed? This is revolutionary.

    Sweet sounds of harmony on K5 ... nobody has to say anything and seems to be happy about it. :-)

    Is BadDoggie a goalie or did he just shoot an Elfmeter?

    I wish (2.83 / 6) (#48)
    by BadDoggie on Thu Oct 30, 2003 at 02:57:43 AM EST

    I don't think it's that so much an inverse proportion as it is a lack of controversy. And unless you have a teenaged daughter, there's not much controversial about roadies and their work. This got voted up for a few reasons, but discussion value wasn't one of them. At best, there'll be a bunch of war stories and anecdotes here, maybe some questions about details, but I don't think weÄll see even 200 comments. Thanks for your vote of confidence, nonetheless.

    Not disturbed. See above.

    A few potential comments ended up being discussed on #kuro5hin and #husi last night, but this led to a better article.

    And yes, I play goalie. And "Elfmeter" is just "penalty kick" or "direct kick" in English. And blocking 11-meter shots sucks.


    "E pur se muove." -- Galileo Galilei
    "Nevertheless, it moves."
    [ Parent ]

    Music Roadie vs Writer's Roadie (3.00 / 9) (#50)
    by HermanMcGuigan on Thu Oct 30, 2003 at 04:30:48 AM EST

    One thing people who want to be Roadies might also want to consider is being a writer's Roadie. Basically, what a writer's Roadie does is travel around with the writer when he/she is on tour, organizing PA/Sound equipment for speaking arrangements and publicity stunts, checking the venue out, making bookings, etc. You, as a writer's Roadie, are more than just a Roadie, you are the writer's life-line. It's not as glamourous as being a music Roadie, but there are several benefits:

    1. Money. It pays a lot more than being a music Roadie, in fact, there is just no comparison.

    2. Security. Although it's not a completely secure job, writers tend to keep their Roadies around a lot longer than typical music Roadies, and there aren't that many people vying for the job.

    3. Rented truck. You will typically get a rented truck, no buses/public transport neccessary.

    4. Besides liasing with the writer and the writer's editor/publishers, you won't be working with large groups of people and you'll generally have more time to relax than you would being a music Roadie.

    Bothering "the talent" isn't usually as much of an issue, either. Common sense always works (when the writer wants to be left alone, give him/her space), but generally, writers don't have a problem with chatting to, or even having the occasional drink with, their Roadies.

    Just some food for thought.

    good article (none / 2) (#56)
    by nico on Thu Oct 30, 2003 at 09:21:15 AM EST

    I happened into the music scene by accident...several years landed me a quick job at the fox theatre in boulder after my car broke down, 9 months later my production manager is telling me a band wants to talk to me, 3 days later I spent the next 3 years on the road as a LD. great times, and definitely *hard* work !

    [ Parent ]
    most I ever did. (2.50 / 6) (#59)
    by unstable on Thu Oct 30, 2003 at 11:12:16 AM EST

    I was sound man for some high school concerts. not much, but it was fun, I only was running the mics but I think it was harder because I had to try and keep up with the musicians cranking their own amps up (because louder is better, right?)

    its amazing, you quickly get a feel for each singer and what levels they need and what parts of the song they tend to get a bit louder and what parts they need a bit more volume. In between sets I knew were the levels needed to be by memory... (this from someone that can't remember half the presidents of the USA) and I would be ready to adjust things before it was needed.

    I only stayed at that school one year before moving to a vo-tech school... that was the only thing in that school that I missed.

    Reverend Unstable
    all praise the almighty Bob
    and be filled with slack

    Good story... (1.00 / 4) (#60)
    by dhk on Thu Oct 30, 2003 at 11:23:29 AM EST

    well written, funny and informtive.

    A clear FP
    - please forgive my bad english, I'm not a native speaker

    rush hour? (1.50 / 4) (#63)
    by chimera on Thu Oct 30, 2003 at 12:43:03 PM EST

    free form comment, OT too, but...

    isn't the thing about any freeway during rush hour that they don't move at all since all vehicles are queued up nicely in each others plastic/metal bottoms? so wouldn't that frog have a pretty big chance toa long and prosperous life?

    maybe Californians have solved that little problem once and for all with this new gubrnr type.

    good story though.

    Good times. (2.40 / 5) (#65)
    by BJH on Thu Oct 30, 2003 at 01:40:46 PM EST

    I used to do some lighting at local theaters, a couple of concerts, the usual sort of thing.

    I eventually moved on to house spots - it's good fun, but as you say, you need to be able to follow instructions <i>precisely</i> for two or three hours (theater's a bit better because you can prepare for it - tape a cue sheet to the barrel of your Super Trooper and even if the stage manager goes off the air, you can still get through the show).

    Of course, some people may not like the idea of spending several hours on your feet with your cheek pressed up against a giant heater and some guy yelling in your ear ;)

    Roses are red, violets are blue.
    I'm schizophrenic, and so am I.
    -- Oscar Levant

    Network (2.00 / 5) (#66)
    by ConsoleCowboy on Thu Oct 30, 2003 at 01:51:08 PM EST

    I think the article does not stress the importance of social network enough. I am not a roadie, but a good friend of one. From what I can see, competence is certainly the no 1 requirement for doing a career as technician in the show business, but social network is a close second. It's not only who you are, it's also who you know that determine which gig you'll get.
    Just some thoughts... (2.00 / 4) (#69)
    by A synx on Thu Oct 30, 2003 at 05:21:17 PM EST

    Great article.  But what a terrible thing fame is: on one hand there are those whose insane worship kills that which they love the most, and on the other hand there are the stars, forced behind steel curtains to direct like the wizard from afar, expected to be perfect, untouchable, even inhuman.  I love the way the phrase "Stay away from the talent!" degrades the crew by excluding them from a value based group (they have no talent?), as if only one person mattered in the game.  And how the phrase dehumanizes the talent by referring to the star of the show impersonally, almost as though he were a thing, a fragile sculpture that Must Not Be Touched.  A cash cow, not a person.

    Pop stars are idols like any other beloved public figure.  The less human they are forced to be, the more money their myth makes. And there's always that nasty fact that the stars who make it sound almost exactly the same as the 1000 who don't, so if people realized an idol wasn't all that different from the next person they'd drop off the top ten list like a spot of hot grease on a sideways pan.  They have to preserve the illusion....

    And don't even get me started on the recording industry!  o.o


    The best description (none / 0) (#82)
    by Liv Pooleside on Fri Nov 07, 2003 at 10:38:00 AM EST

    I ever heard for the talent was "fish".

    (Courtesy of Thud)

    Not being a roadie myself, I had to ask, and it's because up there on that rectangular stage, surrounded by trusswork and basking in the multi-colored brightlights, they are just like little tropical fish swimming in a tank. And god help 'em if the heater dies...


    [ Parent ]
    A rarity in the roadie biz (none / 3) (#70)
    by m42gal on Thu Oct 30, 2003 at 05:46:27 PM EST

    Is one of the female type - I was one for a while...seemed that the "talent" sometimes could not get over the fact that there was a woman slinging lights, doing sound check, etc...fun for a while but eventually I wised up and went back to school and had a career in the film & video production industry (now I'm really wise and have a career in sales.)


    I met a girl roadie once -- on the road! (none / 1) (#73)
    by weave on Sun Nov 02, 2003 at 04:51:26 AM EST

    Ah, I was traveling across the US on my motorcycle when I met up with a girl in Alabama doing the same thing. She lived in Ontario and did sound work for bands, but mostly hired onto gigs on cruise ships and got around the world. Or at least that's what she told me. We spent a week going from Alabama out to New Mexico until I ran out of time and had to beat feet for home.

    That was the summer of 1996. An incredibly cool woman. Yeah, maybe she was bullshitting me, like she told me she did the sound for Rush one year, but she did give me her home phone number and I used to call and listen to her voice mail from time to time since she'd be gone for three months at a time. Her voice mail would tell you what ship she was working.

    I stopped calling after a while since she stopped returning calls and I'm not stupid, I can take a hint. Still, I often get the urge to place a call to ole area code 613 and see if she's still around. She probably doesn't even remember me so I don't bother.

    [ Parent ]

    613, representing. [n/t] (none / 1) (#77)
    by der on Sun Nov 02, 2003 at 01:48:42 PM EST

    [ Parent ]
    I was one (none / 2) (#75)
    by iGrrrl on Sun Nov 02, 2003 at 12:36:38 PM EST

    Then I wised up and finished the last two credits of my college degree, worked as a lab tech, and went to grad school in neuroscience.

    Since I did electrophysiology in graduate school, my roadie experience was invaluable. I could solder and handle tools. I think I built two or three Faraday cages and rigs, and repaired countless bits of equipment.

    You cannot have a reasonable conversation with someone who regards other people as toys to be played with. localroger
    remove apostrophe for email.
    [ Parent ]

    You forgot... (2.85 / 7) (#71)
    by ktakki on Thu Oct 30, 2003 at 06:48:11 PM EST

    ...the Roadies' Creed:

    If it's wet, drink it.
    If it's dry, smoke it.
    If it moves, fuck it.
    If it doesn't move...

    One of my crew from back in the day had that tattooed on his back.

    "In spite of everything, I still believe that people
    are really good at heart." - Anne Frank

    The Pyrotechnics people share some blame (none / 2) (#74)
    by lukme on Sun Nov 02, 2003 at 07:58:17 AM EST

    Quite frankly, they should have refused to set up the pyrotechnics in that specific case. Part of their job should be to consider the possibility of burning the house down. If things don't look reasonable, then the fire company should be called for an assesment. The possibilty of being fired for insubordination should be considered one of the hazards of this job.

    This may just be my chemistry background speaking. Whenever I have had to set up a reaction, I have always had to consider the possibility of an accident.

    It's awfully hard to fly with eagles when you're a turkey.
    If I ever go to hell (3.00 / 6) (#76)
    by iGrrrl on Sun Nov 02, 2003 at 12:56:43 PM EST

    I was a stagehand and roadie for about four years, working in a local arena and for a sound/light/stage company. Of course, this was back in the day when Prince's Purple Rain tour showing up with 14 trucks was considered a very big show.

    This caught my eye:

    Can you follow directions exactly for two hours?
    I was one of the house spot ops, and usually pretty good. If I ever go to hell and have a specific punishment a la Sysyphus and his rock, it will be working the Run-DMC / Beastie Boys tour.

    It started ugly. Being the small chick, I got to wire the bass bins lined up on the floor across the front of the stage. They smelled of cooked vomit because the band would throw up on them, and then the speakers would bake in a truck on the way to the next venue.

    Then came the LD for Run-DMC. Usually an LD makes calls to a specific spot number, giving them a target, a shot, and a frame number. It sounds like this: "Spot four, home, full body, frame two. Ready. And. Go." That means me, ponting at the person the LD assigned as my usual target (say, guitar player stage left), with the iris open so that the spot lights the whole person (specified in this case because he told us before the show that if he doesn't specify, use a head-to-knees iris), in whatever color gel is in the second frame. If you pay attention, a good LD can get everything he wants out of you with a pretty standard set of calls, and plenty of warning. In the days before Veri*Lights, spots did a lot of the "special effects," figure-eighting the stage, sliding the trombone to change the iris, etc.

    Instead of this smooth professionalism, the calls during the Run-DMC segment of the show came like this: "Spot four, why the fuck aren't you home in frame two!? Not head to knees! Full body!" He called the show by yelling at us for not doing things he hadn't bothered to tell us to do.

    And then from the vantage point of 85 feet up in the catwalks we got to watch one of the Beastie Boys take a whizz on the back of a stack of speakers. During the set. Me knowing full well who was going to have to unstack those things and put them back on the truck.

    I've slogged 0000 in the mud. I've put up with tour managers taking me off electrical and putting me on props because I was a girl, and acting surprised that I had my own crescent wrench. I've climbed speaker stacks to cover them with Visqueen during rain storms. It's hard, but I know that it isn't hell.

    That show was hell.

    You cannot have a reasonable conversation with someone who regards other people as toys to be played with. localroger
    remove apostrophe for email.

    Ahhhh... Goo.. Well, Times.... (none / 3) (#78)
    by sigsegv on Mon Nov 03, 2003 at 04:21:44 PM EST

    Back in the day, before my "grown up" job, I used to do this stuff.  I sent to Syracuse University, through Event Productions and the Carrier Dome, I got hooked up with Fester Productions.  Between EP, the Dome, and Fester, I did shows from Raleigh, NC, to Saratoga and Buffalo.  Big names (Who, Stones (x2), Floyd, blah blah blah), smaller names (Sonic Youth,  Babes in Toyland, blah blah blah), to no names.  

    First big shows were a few Bon Jovis (back when they were actually big) and New Kids.  Last big show I did was Floyd's "Division Bell" tour (I think).  The last New Kids show I did was the one (as if anyone would remember) in Saratoga where one of the Kids fell through a trap door and broke his jaw.  Actually -- I heard -- it was their first time on this outdoor stage and the Kid that got injured forgot that he wasn't supposed to stand on that spot at that point in the show.

    Memories of being dubbed a "High Steel Dog from Hell" by one of the Stones' steel dogs on the Steel Wheels tour... Almost getting picked up as a steel dog during one of the Who's "final" tours (call was for 4 and I was the 3rd asked, but it got cut to 2)... Mmmmmmm, HH-66 glue... Climbing around on the stage roof in a storm, cleaning out water that's been collecting and wonding WTF I was thinking saying that I'd go up there... Dive hotels... Being tired, tired, tired... And having met some of the most interesting, fun guys (and some gals) that I've ever known.

    -sig (AKA Chowderhead)

    what a shame (none / 1) (#79)
    by inkster211 on Tue Nov 04, 2003 at 04:11:12 AM EST

    I had to just stop reading and start typing when I got to the part about "stay away from the talent". I was lucky enough to be in a great traveling band in the 70's, when roadies were roadies and men were men. I wasnt a roadie. I was "talent". We played 50's rock and roll but were unsurpassed in energy and heart. How dare you imply that a roadie is not worthy of mingling with the talent. I dont know what I'd have done without 'em as both assistants and friends. We played large college venues and clubs throughout the Southeast and Midwest. We played hard and ran harder. One 4 nighter included New Orleans, Chicago, and West Palm Beach (really) ....we drove ....3 Buick Estate station wagons and 2 trucks...19 people in all. The roadies were our brethren and our soul. They mimicked our onstage personae offstage and we loved them. They worked as hard as we did to create the mood that we set in our performance....they too were a part of the act, but they worked 24/7 and we worked 3 hrs a night. Hats off to the old school of rock and roll....and if you were there...you know precisely what I mean! Try to imagine how much fun we had......WE! I said.
    me again (none / 0) (#80)
    by inkster211 on Tue Nov 04, 2003 at 04:23:39 AM EST

    After re-reading my comment and reading many of others...damn!!!!!! Im proud!
    [ Parent ]
    agreed (none / 0) (#81)
    by I8TheWorm on Wed Nov 05, 2003 at 08:37:45 AM EST

    As a former professional bassist, I have to agree with you to a point. When you're touring, the fanbase starts looking the same, acting the same, asking all the same questions, etc... and you get a bit worn out by it. In our case, the 5 piece band with a road manager get's a little old too. I spent a lot of time talking to roadies (specifically the ones with some experience), trading tour stories, and talking about nothing in general. They're typically another insider who isn't going to act like a groupie.

    That being said, once in a while one will annoy you to death, but like any other person in any other profession, you just tell them you need some space, rather than go crying to your/their manager and get them canned.

    I have a lot of great memories from my Nashville days, and quite a few of them are about relaxing and people watching with the other professionals on our tours.

    [ Parent ]
    So You Want to be a Roadie | 82 comments (45 topical, 37 editorial, 1 hidden)
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