FEATURE: THE DARK SIDE OF THE AMPS – The Unlit Spotlight of the Roadie/Tech

Listening to a few of my pals that have consciously made the decision that music was going to be their life, their full-time occupation, where they can make an okay living out of it, it’s made me think how difficult that must be today.  Some of the guys I know who do it work multiple jobs over long hours, from being a retail instrument sales person to repairing stuff at these shops, to doing sound a lights for a club, to taking on some road work as a roadie for a band.  But, what I can say, although it seems they’re working night and day, the fun they’re having makes it all worth it in the end; it’s one of those jobs that doesn’t feel like work because you love doing it so much.

Now, this isn’t the kind of work for everyone.  The second you decide you want a regular life with a family and a stable home environment, you might as well give up the idea of working in music full-time.  Hey, if you can be one of the

George Benson guitar setup
George Benson guitar setup

lucky ones who gets to be on the lighted side of the stage playing tunes for a living, and you can do it successfully, then maybe you can have a family.  Many of the full-time musicians I know have families, and they work really hard at it, but it’s those musicians that never find that break or find the world behind the amps much more appealing, that settle for a destiny of marriage to their work.  Again, it’s not for everyone, but if you know how to fix gear, quickly, and you’ve got the gumption to live in vans, buses, or airports, being a roadie/tech just be the life for you.  Heck, I’ve heard it can be a bit of a party, and although it ain’t what it used to be, you can still get paid better than most shitty jobs to do it.  And, the chance to see the world and get paid for it never hurts either.  Alas, the days of the huge mega tours may be in the rear view mirror.

In all of this, I have been lumping roadie and tech as one job.  Perhaps at one point in time, when record labels still gave bands tour support (piles of cash to make it all awesome), bands could afford to bring out a guitar tech whose sole purpose what to make sure the guitar player’s gear was technically sound for the performance; basically a private technical aide for the guitarist.  Well, those were the gravy days, and that shit just doesn’t exist anymore.  In an interview with George Benson’s guitar tech John Mooy, he states that cutbacks

Scott Appleton: Guitar Tech for Def Leppard
Scott Appleton: Guitar Tech for Def Leppard

on tour budgets have drastically culled the support worker numbers, and techs need to be able to tech across all instruments, as well as lug t-shirts and other tour-related business around.  The numbers of roadies on tours has been cut by two-thirds, as have salaries.  Now guys that were living the high life working solely on guitar-related business are now having to do back-breaking loading work on top of their regular duties, and have to do it a fraction of the money.  On our podcast this week, Dan speaks with Derik Evil of True Rivals, who occasionally does supplemental work as a roadie for some mid-level acts, and he tells us that the pay structure is scaled based on the level of pay the band is making.  But remember, for a lot of these guys, it’s the love of the work and the being involved in music production every day that keeps them coming back; the money seems somewhat secondary to a lot of these

Josh Mockerman: Tim McGraw's guitar tech
Josh Mockerman: Tim McGraw’s guitar tech

folks.  Derek and Dan had a good chuckle over the idea that once you join the band you stop getting paid, but as long as you simply work for the band, you can make a pretty decent living.  That shit is hilarious and another testament to how much musicians love what they do.  Derik also mentioned that even though you might get paid okay, as soon as you hand that guitar over to the guy paying you to do so, there’ll always be part of you that wants it back so you can go out there and feel the rush of the show; even if it means you’re broke doing it.

If you have the chance, and the back to handle it, figure out how you can get in on a load-in/load-out crew for a stadium show.  If you fit the right psyche and personality for it, you might find you’re true calling over there on the dark side of the amps. – FATS