for Concert Technicians and Events Crew
*ATTENTION ALL CURRENT ROADIEJOBS MEMBERS*
Depending on the size of a live concert tour, many "roadies", also known as "techs" or "Concert Technicians" are employed behind the scenes to produce a successful show. Have you ever gone to a concert and wondered, "how do they get this whole stage set up, and torn down in one day?"
Typically, a live concert production arrives at the venue between 7 am and 12 noon and is ready for showtime at 7 pm. After the show, the entire production is loaded back into trucks and is headed off to another city by 2 am for another load-in the next morning. This incredible feat is made possible by the hard work of several small "roadie" crews that travel with the tour, with the help of larger local crews. Touring roadies are broken down into categories and can include production, audio, lighting, rigging, video, pyrotechnics and backline. Here we will discuss what backline techs do, and how people end up doing this job.
A backline technician is someone who travels with a band and sets up their guitars, drums, keyboards, and any other instruments or band gear being used. They are responsible for keeping everything in tune and working properly. At the end of the show, the backline techs pack up the band gear and load the trailer or truck.
When you see a large concert in an arena or stadium you must realize that in most cases the band you are seeing started out touring in small clubs and theaters. Large touring acts will have huge crews traveling with them on multiple tour buses, and semi-trailer trucks filled with sound and lights. Keep in mind they probably started out in one van pulling a small trailer with only their instruments and band gear. And their first crew members were probably a couple of inexperienced backline techs.
So in order to figure out how one becomes a backline tech, let's break it right down and start at the beginning. Just like anything else in life, getting into this industry means starting at the bottom and working your way up. Let's first discuss what skills you need. This is where you are going to begin, and this is what you are going to need to know.
A big misconception is that a backline tech must be a really good drummer or guitar player etc. This is simply not true. Being a good musician is definitely a huge asset, but it is not as crucial as you might think. That being said, you must have a fundamental understanding of these instruments. If you have never picked up a guitar, played the piano, or sat behind a drum kit, you have some work to do before even considering this line of work. If you are serious, I would recommend taking some guitar, drum and piano lessons in your spare time. Learn how to tune a guitar and play the basic chords. Learn how to play a drum beat and tune a drum. Learn how to play some scales on a piano. You don't have to become a pro, just learn the basics. 4-8 weeks of half-hour lessons can be done in your spare time. I have seen techs on large-scale tours who have very little playing ability. This hasn't stopped them, so why should it stop you?
The next thing you are going to need to do is to become educated on the maintenance of these instruments and gear. For this, I would suggest contacting local musical instrument repair shops and asking if you could volunteer. Find out who the guitar and amp repair technicians are and try to meet them. Explain to them that you are interested in becoming a touring backline tech and would like to learn some basic skills of guitar setups, guitar repairs, amp repairs, and drum repairs etc. Ask if you could come in for a couple of hours and watch them work. Maybe offer to sweep the floors, or clean up the shop in exchange for lessons on instrument repairs. As long as you are courteous and show interest in their profession you might be surprised how eager these people will be to help you. You might even get a part-time job and get paid to learn. You still don't "need" to be a professional musical instrument repair person, but the more you know, the better you will do. If you live in a larger city there might be backline companies that rent gear out to local venues for events. This would be a great place to volunteer and gain a better understanding of backline gear.
Once you have acquired some of the basic skills mentioned above you will be ready to start looking for some hands-on experience. Living in a large city is going to make this part easier, but this can be done in smaller urban areas as well. Don't think you have to live in New York or Los Angeles in order to get into the music industry. Successful bands come from all over the map and the goal here is only to get experience. Once you become experienced, it doesn't matter where you live.
If you are so inclined, use Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter and let everyone know you are looking to "volunteer" as a guitar technician, drum technician or a general backline technician for a local club and theater shows. If you a super ambitious, post flyers with your contact information at local band rehearsal studios, music stores, recording studios, coffee shops, anywhere you think musicians might hang out. You can even put out ads on roadiejobs, craigslist, or backpage.com.
Most bands who are just starting out have very little money coming in, if any. They normally set up and tear down their own gear because they don't even consider the idea of having technicians yet. Once you find a band who is going to give you a shot, show them that you are eager to help them succeed as a band. From that point forward you should make it clear that you are doing everything in your power to make sure all the gear is exactly where it needs to be, and working perfectly. (easier said than done)
In this scenario, you are most likely working for free. The good news is, at this point, you also shouldn't be expected to be perfect. You will be making mistakes, but also learning valuable lessons from each mistake. Just being in this environment should put you in a position to learn from the people around you. Hopefully, you will eventually end up working for a band that starts touring, opening for national or regional touring acts. At this point, during the day you will be setting up and meeting the other headliner techs.
Being able to wear several hats makes you very valuable to a tour with a limited budget. Getting on a tour with a limited budget is probably also your next step. You also want to get gigs with bands who perform local shows and get as much experience and exposure as possible. This type of hands networking is necessary in order to start getting paid to be a backline technician.
Once you have an offer to work your first gig, you are going to need to understand the procedure of setting up a band for a live performance.
When multiple bands are performing, the last band to perform is usually called the "headliner". The headlining act normally sets up their gear first, and does a sound check. Then, the band that plays before the headliner sets up in front. This band is referred to as the "opener". It is not uncommon to have multiple openers and depending on the size of the stage, the first band to perform sets up last, in front of each band playing after them. If the stage is too small to fit every bands' gear, some of the middle openers will have to move their gear off stage. They will move it onstage right before their performance. This is called "striking". For instance, if the second band's gear is not able to fit on the stage, it must be striked. If any gear is set up during a sound check, and then striked, it is important to mark the exact spot that piece of gear goes when it is brought back onto the stage. this is usually done with small pieces of colored tape and is called "spiking". It is rare that a headlining band will be expected strike any of their gear.
A well-run show will have what is called a "day sheet" posted in multiple locations around the venue. This day sheet will outline the load-in times of each band, the sound check times, and show times for each act. It is important to pay close attention to the day sheet and make sure you are in the right place at the right time. Always be courteous to the stage manager and try to stay out of the way as much as possible.
Most likely you will start out working for an opening act and won't get a sound check. You will have to test and tune your guitars, drums, and amps off stage and do a very fast check right before your band goes on stage. It is still a good idea to watch the headlining act do their line check and sound check to learn how this works.
Before the artists come in for a sound check, the backline technicians must perform what is called a "line check" with the audio crew. Each instrument is individually sent out to the speakers and monitors through lines. These are either microphone lines, or direct input lines also know as D.I. lines. Each line is sent to a channel on a mixing board where the audio crew will adjust levels and frequencies according to the acoustics of the room. If the band does not have any technicians they will have to do this themselves.
For those of you who have absolutely no idea how this works, there are essentially two audio systems involved with a live music performance. The large speakers hanging from each side of the stage pointing towards the audience are operated by a "front of house" engineer, often called FOH. There are also smaller speakers on the stage pointed towards each band member called "monitors" or "wedges" that are operated by a monitor engineer. Alternatively, In-ear monitors connected to belt packs can receive the audience mix wirelessly. This eliminates the need for wedges on stage and gives the artist a much more controlled and isolated mix.
While the large FOH speakers are a master mix of the entire band that the audience hears, the monitors are individually mixed according to what that artist needs to hear during the performance. The singer might want to hear his voice louder and have less bass, the bass player might want to hear more kick drum in his mix. The technician will know how each artist likes his monitors mixed. During a line check, the technicians will run through each instrument line, and work with the monitor engineer to make sure levels are correct. The technicians will also work with the FOH engineer making sure each line is getting to FOH properly. Once the line check is complete, the band can then come on stage for the final sound check to make sure they are comfortable and make any adjustments. The band will usually perform a few songs for the FOH engineer.
The most important part of being a backline technician is preparation. Make sure you have all the tools you need and always be thinking ahead! You need to be aware of how much time you have and then prioritize accordingly. Be aware that your main goal is to do everything in your power to make the artist comfortable onstage. They shouldn't have to worry about anything but performing. Always make sure the gear is working properly first. It doesn't matter if you changed strings on every guitar in the rack if the guitar amp doesn't work. It doesn't matter if you polished all the cymbals if the kick pedal is broken. Make a routine of always checking every battery, and that every jack is properly plugged in. Learn to anticipate problems. Tape cables to the floor so they don't become unplugged when they are kicked. Then move on to less important tasks depending on how much time you have. Try to understand what is most important to each artist and make sure you perform those tasks first!
Hope this helps!
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