CORONAVIRUS/COVID-19 UPDATE JUNE 2020: The live music business is going through changes at the moment. I’m leaving this site up as a legacy resource and the content does not reflect the current situation.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.)
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.
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.
You should now have an understanding of the two types of touring roadie crew working on any concert or music festival you go to. This page is an extract from my book, ‘5 Steps to a Roadie Job – How to get Working On-The-Road With Touring Bands’. 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 .