Wednesday, August 25, 2010

How To Become A Roadie


Have you always dreamed of going on tour with your favorite band? Would you like to be involved in helping to set the stage, tune the instruments, or offer backstage passes to the really hot girls? Well, if you’re prepared to work your ass off, be away from family and friends for months at a time, and forget the name of the city that you are currently in, then being a roadie might be the right profession for you.

What does being a roadie mean? Does it mean that you lug around heavy stage equipment, hit on hot groupies, and then breakdown the stage and load it into the truck once the band is done? Well, that’s one particular section of roadies. There are other road hands that handle everything from lighting, to sound, to managing the entire stage and where the band will stand during their performance. Being a roadie is definitely not your typical 9 to 5 job, which is what makes it so appealing for many people.

The first thing that has to be made clear is that the life of a roadie is not a glamorous one. Karl Kuenning clearly communicates this in his book Roadie – A True Story (At Least The Parts I Remember), a great read for those wanting to get into the technical side of the business. Kuenning tells it like it is from his personal experience and the book is an eye opener about the true roadie experience.

If you are really serious about pursuing this life for a living, there are some great sites you can visit to find work. Roadie Jobs (http://www.roadiejobs.com/) is one such site. Other job sites (like Career Builder, Indeed, and Simply Hired) have roadie jobs listed, but you have to be a little more specific. When you search, you will need to type in guitar tech, or stage manager. Typing in roadie may not yield many results.

Not every assignment is going to be a glorious one, and that is something to keep in mind. You may want to work for Kiss, Buckcherry, or The Rolling Stones, but the only available gig may be for Justin Bieber. What do you do then? If you have thrust yourself into the position of a full time road hand, then you need to take the job, even if you can’t stand Justin Bieber. In other words, you need to put your personal biases aside at times and take the gig.

Pressure is another big aspect of the job. Roadies are always up against the clock. The show must go on, and in most instances, the show must go on time. As a roadie, you will be given specific tasks that need to be completed in a timely manner. If you are not well organized and able to multitask, this may not be the best profession for you.

Exceptional communication skills and teamwork are also required to make it in this business. There are several people that a roadie has to interact with on a daily basis in order to put the show together. One wrong communication could cost the entire team a lot of time and in the concert industry, time is the most valuable commodity.

At the risk of sounding age-biased, this profession is not for older people. The constant life on the road, heavy lifting, awkward sleeping schedule, and time away from the family may be a huge factor for them. This is a business that it’s best to break into when you are young. The pressure and crazy lifestyle can wear a person down very quickly.

Yes, but how do I break in? How do I actually get a gig as a roadie? Well, like any other job, experience matters. Concerts are a business just like anything else and businesses are always looking for experience first. And how can you gain valuable experience without having a roadie job? Volunteering is the most effective way. Check your local community theater to see if they need any help. You may start off by sweeping floors, but it’s a great way to break into the industry. Once you learn the ropes, you can move up from there. Starting out is not glamorous, but it’s a way to gain experience.

If there is a local band in the area, ask to go on the road with them. In most cases, it will be pro bono, or for very minimum wages, but again, experience is being gained. Local acts are barely making money to pay the band members and most bands don’t have roadies because they can’t afford to pay them. If you approach a local band and agree to help for nothing, the likelihood of them saying no is slim to none. After a year of helping out locally, you will most likely have enough experience to begin your search for a paid gig.

Roadies Have A Union? It appears that everyone these days has a union, and that includes the roadies. IATSE The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, is the union for all stage hands, which boiled down to its basic elements, is exactly what a roadie is. You don’t need to be a member of the union to get a gig in the industry, but as with most things union related, membership does have its rewards. You can visit the IATSE website to learn more about becoming a member. (http://www.iatse-intl.org/home.html).

Like anything else in life, it’s important to remember that you will only get as far as you take yourself. Yes, sometimes you need the right contacts and you need to talk to the right people, but remember, these people are not seeking you out. You need to seek them out. With the right amount of dedication, passion, and desire, becoming a road hand could be in your future. If you’re serious about choosing this career, then search for employment relentlessly. Tell everyone you know, check the internet ads, and volunteer to help the locals. The more you get your name out there, the more people will know you, and perhaps one day you will land the ultimate gig with Kiss. Stranger things have happened.

Comments are open, feel free to post some.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

I've wanted to be a roadie for a long time. To me it's the perfect job. I have instrument repair under my belt and I want to work as a bass and/or guitar technician for a big band. Is there a person i contact for an application process? Is there a direct way of getting the job?s the perfect job. I have instrument repair under my belt and I want to work as a bass and/or guitar technician for a big band. Is there a person i contact for an application process? Is there a direct way of getting the job?

Anonymous said...

I went to the motley crue and kiss concert just the other day and I have to say it was just as fun watching them set up and tear down... I help a local band in my town I just need.to know more and better things because I would love to be a roadie. Even if its running pyro, lights, or equipment technician or even security detail. A roadie is a job I would be more than willing to do.

hellbound13@live.com said...

I've been with a mobile entertainment company for a couple years setting up lighting and sound equipment. How do i move from that to something like on tour with the Mayhem Festival ?

ECP said...

I am a curent roadie. At the moment I am doing a Broadway Tour, but I have worn the belt of a Rock and Roll Dimmer Tech before.

Like the article says, the life is not always glamorous. I have the opportunity to be FOH and be one of the few faces the public actually sees running a show, so that is nice but there are 10x more crew working backstage making all the show systems work.

Getting into the business involved me getting my 4 year BFA in Lighting. Did I have to get this? No. Did it help? Heck yes. Everyone on my current tour crew has a BFA in some sort of technical theater.

Talk to as many people as your can, get your IATSE Road Card, and don't ever burn bridges.

Anonymous said...

I have been a roadie for about 6 years now and one thing that wasn't mentioned heavily in this article is knowing people. Do not burn bridges, keep those you hate closer because they could be the ones getting you your next tour. Always listen to those older or higher up and do not dispute it. This is an industry where your career can be ended with one screwup such as a mix stand in the wrong place and Aerosmith runs into it. It is a large industry but a small one when your name has been marked for bad work.

Anonymous said...

there's the obvious stuff, like get union behind you to begin with etc etc.
rest?

1) start as tech for big acts? sorry, forget it. you're not going to, plain and simple. the big players are not going to have anything to do with you on mission critical level. start with something entrylevel, and be awesome. after people start remembering you for being awesome, you now have something to start doing bigger things. you started on local venue, or the case-mule for a local production company? well, people now know you, look for end tier venues or festivals and continue being awesome, even more so if you can.

2) get experience. sure, you might have knowledge of how to do a fast soundcheck or set up the gear for the players. neat. but do you know how to handle yourself when EVERYTHING goes wrong? if you can survive that through your professional approach, your reputation goes through the roof, so to speak.

it's not joke. scenario: changeover. you're the tech for a small band. they rarely have spare guitars. they asked you to help, and you said yes. its gig day and it's 10 minutes to the beginning of your slot. the guitar of the lead guitarist goes completely to shit. what do you do?

you need to be known to be able to handle scenarios like this.

3) Education makes sense. if you don't have a band-history, see if there's a school near you. BFA's, anything on theater or anything applicable really.

4) you are only as good as your name is. your first step is to be remembered. be awesome, and you will. screw up hard, and you will have to work exponentially harded to salvage your name. loose your name, and you don't work.

the fundamental reality is this:
times are hard for touring bands. they're not doing so well. if they hire a complete fuckup (pardon my french), their tour might actually be history. big acts can replace people, but smaller guys? you might do permanent damage to their reputation.

they're scared as hell for that. you need to be known to be someone they can and SHOULD trust.

source: me.
exp: 291 gigs, backliner and the number one for the production manager for three 30k+ level festivals (started 2012), freelance monitor guy and a stagemanager from.. well, started this year really. i don't tour, but am in contact with those who do.

one hears things.

Stuart Woody said...

I currently work at a theater, I am a box office manager there, but I have been wanting to be a roadie for a while now. Could volunteer experience there help me land even an entry level job as a roadie somewhere?

Anonymous said...

I work as an extra for the IATSE local in my area but what should be mentioned about that is if you're not willing to travel to a bigger market, there's really only IASTE jobs in cities with populations of about a quarter million people or more. It's good experience but each chapter works differently and the smalls ones like ours ( about 150 local members ) do not do any paid training or apprenticeship programs. Some basic skills and a willingness to hit the ground running help a lot along with knowing someone in the union can help a lot. That's how I got in as an extra but like I said, membership for our small union means you have to work 200 hours as an extra stagehand ( starting out you might not get a lot of gigs, took me 2 years to get my hours ) and I still have to pay an application fee, get interviewed and then voted on by every member in my local chapter. I don't know if I'll join but it did inspire me and help me decide to go to school for electrical engineering when before I had no idea what I wanted to do. Doubt i'd want to go on the road either. I like working locally with the roadies that come through town and have had friends do tours but i don't think it's for me. Just working locally in a medium sized market i've worked on Broadway Shows that come through and concerts for some of the biggest names in music all while earning $20/hr at a minimum. Also, locals get free T-shirts from the bands sometimes when it's a big show. The shirts will have the band and/or tour name on em and will be grouped into colors so when there's a big crew of a 100 or more the roadies know for example that red-shirts are truck-loaders or that blue-shirts are electricians and grey-shirts are audio ect...it's a logistical thing cause road crews and techs don't have time to remember a 100 different names every night and then you keep the shirt and can sell it on Ebay LOL!