Touring Road Crew Jobs - Who Does What?

Touring road crew jobs – who does what?

At any venue on any given show day you, you will  meet two types of roadie crew people: house/local crew and touring/visiting crew. Touring crew are what most people think of as ‘roadies’, but tour crew will often work as house or local crew. Confused? Then read on…

House/Local Crew

The main person working on a show from the house/venue crew will be the audio technician. This person is employed to set up, run, and maintain the venue’s sound system for visiting acts. If you are playing in a tiny pub or bar, if you carry your own PA, or if you create un-amplified music, then you will probably not meet the venue’s audio technician (a.k.a. the “house sound guy”). If, on the other hand, you create music that needs to be amplified—in other words, pretty much any contemporary music—then the house engineer will help you when you arrive to perform your show. Do not assume I am only talking about small-capacity (150 to 700 people) venues with in-house sound equipment here. If you perform or work on a stage at an outdoor festival, then you will be working with the house guys. Their house is a tent, but they are still there to supply sound services to the incoming acts, regardless of whether you have/are your own engineer.

The house audio tech is there to place microphones and monitor wedges that will amplify the bands instruments and enable the musicians to hear themselves onstage. He or she then will mix the band’s sound for you unless you are the band’s engineer. Bear in mind the house guy also has to do the same for all the other bands on the bill that night, which hopefully will only total two acts, but usually means four or five bands on “local band” or talent nights.

The other people you will find yourself working within the venue are the local crew, AKA stage hands or humpers. These people are employed by the venue and/or the promoter specifically to assist the touring or visiting crew with load in and load out the PA, lights (if applicable), and the musicians equipment – speaker cabinets, amplifiers, drums, keyboards and stands; known as the ‘backline’. (On larger shows the stage hands will be employed to load in all the set, staging, lights, PA, wardrobe, catering, and production equipment. A typical large theatre/arena-type show will involve about 20 to 40 local hands for each the load in and load out.)

If you are working as an opening act on a large show, you might not see the local hands because their work will have been done by the time you arrive for sound check. It is common practice, however, to retain two to four local crew members to help load in the opening band’s equipment and then to assist with changing over the support band’s equipment during the show. This will probably be your first contact with the local crew if you are working for an opening act. The local crew will appear side-stage as the band you work for finish their performance, and then they will help take your equipment offstage in preparation for the next band coming onstage.

Many venues in the US are union regulated, and you are therefore not allowed to load/unload your own equipment. The unloading, loading, and carrying of all the visiting production equipment has to be done by a workforce designated by the local union.

Other vital members of the local crew are the runners. The equivalent of “gofers” (as in “go for this, go for that”) from the film world, runners are local people with access to transportation who can therefore go on errands for the band’s production personnel.

The runner will make himself or herself known to the arriving production during load in. Bear in mind that the job of the runner is to go on errands/shopping trips for the act; the runner will put up a blank shopping list in the production office or dressing room, along with his or her mobile number.

If you need something during the day, such as musical equipment spares, photocopying, batteries, or laundry, you either phone the runner or write your request on the list, along with your name. The runner will then go and purchase whatever is necessary, having been given a cash float by the tour/production manager or tour accountant.

After your band has performed, the local crew will help you get your gear offstage to make way for the next band. They will also help you load out the gear and pack the van/car/bus. Remember, they have nothing to do with the other acts and are paid as part of running the show. These guys were probably there at 8:00 in the morning and will work at the venue until 2:00 the next morning; they still have to have to tear down PA and lights and pack big smelly trucks. My advice for dealing with stage hands is to be bloody nice to them! Always make sure you ply local crews with band T-shirts, water, and whatever else they might like.

Touring/Visiting Crew

There is a massive list of people who accompany a band on tour. No-one is more important than anyone else but here are a few job descriptions of the main roles you may aspire to.

Tour Manager

The tour manager is (usually) a freelancer, paid for by the band, to help with the advance planning of the tour and then to travel on-the-road with the band. The tour manager’s job on-the-road varies enormously depending on the type and success level of the act for which she is working.

The tour manager of the headline act is the primary contact for any opening band and its crew. If you are working for an opening band either as a one-off or as part of a tour, you should take the time to introduce yourself to the TM of the headline act (preferably before the first day of the tour) and supply her with all relevant information. This should consist of:

  • The number of people in your touring/show entourage. (Do not forget your drivers)
  • The role of each person in your touring entourage.
  • A contact number for you/your tour manager.
  • The type of vehicle(s) for you and your gear.
  • An input list, stage plan, and any special production equipment you may be bringing for the show, such as backdrops, banners, lasers, and so on.

On arrival at the first show, make time to briefly introduce yourself and then get the hell out of the way. If you are part of a tour, there will be plenty of time for socialising later.

Audio Crew

You may be working in a venue with in-house sound and lights (100 to 1,000 capacities). You may be working on a show where the promoter or headline act has bought in its own (rented) PA system. (Venues greater than 2,000 capacity rarely have an in-house sound system.) Either way, the band may have its own crew, or there will certainly be the house crew or the system crew. (The supplier will send along technicians when supplying a PA system for the tour or event. Because they work for the supplier, they are the “system crew.”)

You probably won’t have much to do with the headline or other artist’s own audio crew but, as mentioned, you will work with the house/system crew. Local crew will help you get your gear onstage, and the house/system crew will place microphones and monitor wedges. Hopefully you will have provided them with an input list well in advance. (An input list is a list of all the instruments you use, what microphones or DI boxes you need, plus other specific audio information. The house/system crew will also mix your monitor/stage sound and your FOH sound for you unless you are the engineer or your band has an engineer.

Backline Crew

These are the boys and girls who tend to the personal instruments, amplifiers, and effects of the band musicians themselves When working for an opening act you will often find that by the time you arrive the headliners backline crew will often have filled the stage with the band’s gear, plus toolboxes, “guitar worlds,” (areas at the side of the stage that the backline crew use to set up, tune and maintain guitars and basses) and production cases. You will have to negotiate what space you can have to set up your gear with them.

Again, if you have spoken to the TM and/or backline crews of all the bands on the bill in advance, you may be able to negotiate sharing equipment and stage space.

Always be prepared to change your setup to fit in with their existing production. For example, if the headline act’s keyboard rig is stage left, then all the DI boxes, monitor wedges, and so on will be there at stage left. Providing outputs, power, and monitors for you is going to be time consuming if your keyboard stage setup is stage right. And time is one thing you are really short of if you want to get all your gear onstage and obtain a decent sound check. To save this time and technical hassle for the house/system crew, you should consider changing your setup to stage left. Then you can simply set up your rig in front of the existing keyboard setup; the house/system crew will only have to extend a few cables and move a monitor speaker. Voila! Everyone is happy, and you are set up and able to sound check in minutes. Make sense, doesn’t it?

Lighting Crew

The lighting crew is split into two types in the same way as the audio crew—there are people who work directly for the band, and then there are house/system crew who work in the venue or tour with the rented lighting rig.

A large tour (700-person capacities and upward) will often carry its own lighting equipment. This will supplement or replace the existing house lighting system. The headline act will be renting this system, and the promoter will be contributing to this cost as per his contracted agreement to “supply PA and lights to the artist’s specifications.” The headline act and crew has arranged, designed, trucked, and set up this system. Because the show will contain special effects and set pieces, the opening acts will probably not be given access to the full range of lights in the system.

The common practice for support bands is to light them using the generic PAR-type lights, which will be controlled by one of the touring system crew. On a large tour with a touring rig, opening acts will probably be asked to pay for one of the system crew to operate the lights for them during their show. Because the system crew will not know the material and will only have some general lamps to work with, the opening band will not going to get much of a show. I would therefore argue against this charge and simply and politely ask for a static “wash” for the whole of your set. (A ‘wash’ is a mix of colours from the lights that will simply illuminate the stage i.e. the lights will wash over you.)

Video Crew

The use of video content on screens has become a staple of touring productions. The technology involved in creating and reproducing video content has evolved from delicate, heavy, complicated and expensive equipment into inexpensive packages designed for touring. The distinction between lighting and video is also blurring – video screens can be used as lighting sources and modern fixtures such a PixelLine LED strips can have video content shown through them.

Caterers

Okay, you can lose your patience with the headliner’s backline people or insult the tour manager. There is one set of people, however, whom you should approach on your knees and hail as gods—the caterers!

On a large-scale show (700-capacity and upward), it is common practice to bring in people to cook hot, highly nutritious meals for the bands, the touring crew, and (occasionally) the local crew. This catering crew either tours with the act or is locally sourced for each venue. In both cases, the catering crew starts work extremely early and finishes late. Caterers have to bring in ovens, gas bottles, fridges, flatware, ice machines—everything. They cook three main meals a day, as well as provide running buffets for up to 250 people a day, depending on the size of the production. And the food is always amazing, considering the environment it is prepared in. Many of the world’s venues are not very good for producing music shows, let alone cooking.

This page is an extract from my book,  Roadie,Inc. Second Edition: How to Gain and Keep a Career in the Live Music Business Obviously the book contains a lot more information and you can find out more about it on Amazon. You can also read the whole book, instantly, on Kindle.

 

26 thoughts on “Touring road crew jobs – who does what?

  1. Hi Andy, I began 10 years ago as local crew and put my hand to all aspects of the job, from backline setup, audio tech and a little sound engineering to stage/scaff climbing and follow spot op. I eventually made local crew boss and have looked after the Pyramid stage at Glastonbury and the main stage at V festival. During this time I built up a small network of stage managers and other contacts with the aim of getting some tour work. After 4 years of trying and asking I eventually got a 12 week tour as a set carp for Muse through the stage manager recommending me to the PM. Now this tour is over and I need to look for my next gig. I continue to email, facebook etc with my existing network with the hope that something else arises but since I now have tour experience can you suggest any PM contacts and would it be worth sending my CV to them?
    thanks
    Des

  2. Hi andy,
    Great site and great read. Im almost finished a commercial music degree and at the end of 2012 was on the road with an Academy sized band. They said had they a fulltime position available, theyd of kept me on but sadly dont.

    Can I send you my information and CV over for possible future use?

    Thanks!

  3. Phil – it is tough out there to find touring work and if you had contacts working as local crew then perhaps you could re-kindle those relationships. Use your Facebook and email to gently let people know you are looking for touring work. How did you leave things with PRG – any freelancers or touring people there you should keep up with?
    You can email me a CV – please send to mail(at)tourconceptsREMOVETHISBITdotcom.

    Velibor – I’m based in the UK, so cannot really comment on the US rental companies. However, lighting and general staging companies seem to be doing well over here in the UK and so I am sure they are looking for talent. You will have to be persistent though – I just read a story of an audio tech from Finland who drove to England and parked outside the company until they gave him a job! So, I imagine there is going to be an element of starting from scratch. However, your rigging qualifications and experience of big shows should stand you in good stead.

    You can find a list of lighting, video, staging and rigging companies at:

    http://www.showcase-music.com

    Don’t just blindly send of CV’s though. Spend some time looking at the online version of trade magazines such as Total Production International ( http://www.tpimagazine.com/) , Lighting and Sound International, ( http://www.lsionline.co.uk/) and Pro Sound News (http://www.psneurope.com/) to see which companies are actively supplying to large tours and events. These are the companies that are busy, and these are the companies that may be hiring!

  4. Hello Andy.

    I have a similar problem to Phill’s here. I’ve been in music industry for last 10 years. Started off like a stagehand and than working my way up to light tech and rigger. I’ve worked as a freelancer for most of those years, but last 3 years I’ve been working for couple of local rental companies. So long, I’ve worked on many shows across Croatia and nearby countries, shows like Beyonce, Iron Maiden, Metallica, jamiroquai, Shakira, Rihanna, U2 and many many more.
    In Croatia, there is no official school or course for this kind of job/industry and rigging is not an official occupation approved by our government, therefore we work as “workers on hight” and “electrical/antenna systems workers”, although couple of us (including me) have any kind of certificate for rigging by foreign lecturers like Mr. Rinus Bakker from Rhino Rigs, Netherlands.
    The problem is that many of us are looking to get outta here a get a job over in EU or in the US.
    Now, my question is – do you have any possible advice on getting a job in rental companies across the US like – how hard it is to get a job, even if that possibly means to start all over from scratch and if you could possibly give me any info or a list of such companies that are hiring..?

    Thank You very much in advance.

    Best regards,

    Velibor Čakić

  5. Hi Andy

    I have been working in the industry for 10 years specialising in moving lights. I have recently left PRG Lighting due to the fact that they did not want to send any of their warehouse staff on gigs. I felt wasted and bored in the warehouse and also lost alot of contacts I had as local crew. I have hit a wall regarding finding work on tours. any ideas?
    Would you like a CV?

    Regards

    Phill

  6. Hello there Andy,
    My name is Cristina, and i live in Brazil. I have worked with small bands here, and now i work in a marketing department of a instruments import.
    I wish carry on with bands, as tour manager or producer, but working out of my country!
    Any clue on how i can started with that?

    Thankyou.

  7. I’m finding that there is not a lot of information out there for people who are interested in the “behind-the-scenes” aspects of bands, concerts, etc. I’m eighteen years old and have been desperately searching for some more in-depth details about these job positions. Thank you so much for developing this website, it was a great help!

  8. Hmm. Interesting site. I’ve been a roadie for 20+ years, and I certainly have no objection to the term. Regarding getting started, I find that most crew members get their start not through bands, but by working for a touring vendor – a sound, lighting, staging, video, laser, trucking, catering, or similar company, usually working in the shop for a while to learn the equipment. Then, if their temperament is deem suitable, and an opening comes up, they get a shot at a tour. The contacts made on that tour sometimes then lead to others.

  9. Hi Andy

    I’ve been working as a lighting camerman for nearly 8 years now gradualy perfecting my skills. I’m now wanting to join the live tour circuit filming the bands & arrtists & looking for a way in, can you offer any help.

    Best wishes

    Scott

  10. I am interested in eventually doing work as a tour coordinator. I have certification in Travel, Tourism, and Hospitality. Have not done a lot of work yet in the industry. I was wondering what other skills I may need and things I can do to help get a career in that started?

    Thanks,
    Julia

  11. Hey Andy

    Loving the new website, very insightful. “Always make sure you ply local crews with band T-shirts, water, and whatever else they might like.” Its very true, I’m currently working at a busy receiving house theatre in Somerset as a technician/stage hand. Its always nice when visiting companies throw you a couple hand outs. I’ve also found the courtesy works both ways. Its defiantly one of the most important things, trying to get along with everyone. Especially when you maybe working a long day with each other. 19 hours in my case last week! But get to sit on my ass running sound for a play this week, so the work load evens itself out.

    Hope all is well with you.

    Dave

  12. what do you think should be a stepping stone or a good “start” for someone very interested in becoming a Tour Manager? School? Degree? Certification? I need some guidence… I have a very strong administrative/promoter background.

    You are appreciated.

    -kia

    • You should get some kind of training – a good music management degree is a good place to start. You have to build up a network at the same time – artists, musicians, turntablists etc in your home town state. You should volunteer to work for them, especually if they are playing out-of-town or out-of-state. You may have to work for little (or for nothing) – the idea is to make yourself indispensable.

  13. Hi Andy,

    I’ve been doing odd paid/volunteer positions at festivals, shows and tours but i want to take it a step further and make it full time. I’ve done work from booking shows, merchandising and ‘shadowing’ tour managers. Can you give me any advice on what step to take next? I’m looking at starting as a freelance merchandiser but don’t know where to begin to make it a full time job!

    Regards.
    Kim

    • Kim,

      You need to build up a network of bands, singers and turntablists who play out and need someone to co-ordinate their gigging activity and sell merch for them.

      These artists can be people you already know in your home town or through friends of friends. Find out when and where these people are playing gigs and shows and ‘volunteer’ to help them out – especially if they are playing shows out of town/state. Help them organise their travel, accommodations, equipment rental etc and also to sell merch for them.

      You still might have to work for little or for free initially but you are building up your all-important network. Most touring jobs come through recommendation. The bigger your network, the more likely you are to be recommended for a job.

  14. hi i really enjoy your website
    i’m 18 and i’ve been to plenty of shows, a lot used to be at local band shows
    i know that being a tour manager will be the career for me, i seem to have a lot of passion for it
    but the problem is college, i dont know what to major in if I want to become a tour manager soon
    please help.

    thanks

    • Angela,

      A music management course would be ideal to give you a grounding in concert tour management.

      I’m also writing a new book on concert tour management which should help!

  15. Just a quick question…
    If you have been in this field for 25 years why do you call the stage crew “Roadies”.
    Calling the Stage Crew roadies is down grading their profession and down playing all their hard work and effort that they do in making a production a success. If it was not for the Stage Crew your paycheck would not exist.

    • Phillip,

      I apologise if you feel I have down-graded the profession of stage crew.

      ‘Roadie’ is the term that most people, especially if they are curious about the live music business, use to describe any person who works for touring bands. This site, and my book, is aimed at those curious people. I do try to gently educate non-industry people, pointing out the many roles that make up touring and non-touring crew. Indeed the very first line of this post says “‘Roadie’ is the generic term for the technicians who work on touring concert productions.”

      I am sure people will understand the distinction once they have entered the industry. I know I certainly did!

      What does anyone else think?

  16. Hey Andy, I came across this website during my search for more info about Tour management. I really think this website is helpful.

    I’m now road manager for a few bands, and I’m looking for more info and more jobs. Can you give some more tips? Is it possible to send you my resume so that you can put me in your database?

    Cheers,
    Eelco

  17. Hello Andy , My name is Scott Harrison and i am currently studying for a Music Performance Degree at “The Factory” a campus of Plymouth university in Barnstaple. I am currently working on my first assignment on “Music Business” and was wondering if you could give me some general information on how much a tour, crew and other costs break down.

    Thanks

  18. Hi Andy,
    I came along to a Muse gig last week and as i came along with Robin Wynn Evans who had a few old friends from the music industry, we were shown to the sound pit to view the performance from there. I spoke to a lady named Zoey and she and her hubby have just recently opened up their own Tour Management company and i was asking about how she got into this line of work but i didn’t want to push as first meeting are crucial and she was working, i want to get into that line of work but it all seems to be a very tight circle of people. How would you suggest i do this??
    Kind regards,
    Leslie J Marelic

    • There is no recognised career path to becoming a concert tour manager, as you probably have found out.

      First and foremost you need to know talent. Bands, DJs, singers – local or otherwise. They are the people who are going to directly employ you. Its all about networks and referrals.

      Specifically for the job you need to know how a show ‘works’ – who does what and what your role is. Basic ability in show settlements is useful as well.

      Most of this information is in my book, The Tour Book. That is not a shameless plug – I wrote the book to give people an understanding of how the live music business works and I really hope it helps.

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