DIY 101: Becoming a Top Notch Roadie
So, you want to go on tour, but you don’t play an instrument and no one will let you sing in their band. You have a few options; throw down a small chunk of change on a cheap bass and start teaching yourself, or talk your way into roadie-ing for your friends band and do such an awesome job that they beg you to come back out with them again.
If you can get in a van, option two is actually a lot easier than it sounds. Most dudes who roadie for typical hardcore bands think that means they are the traveling mosh crew, who occasionally helps sell merch. If you can show your worth, not only will that band want you to come out with them again, but other bands will take note and try to take you out with them. I’ve seen a few HC kids kill it as roadies for part time touring HC bands and work their way up to touring with bigger HC bands that tour more often and I have friends who have even eventually ended up with full time, paying jobs touring year-round with bands like Rancid, Pennywise, Bad Religion and the Go-Go’s.
Load in/Load out: The second you get to a venue, find the promoter, or someone from the club and ask them where you should stage the gear. Then, when the band is ready, make sure you are helping them bring gear in. Nothing will make a band question faster why they even brought you along, than them loading in gear while you are out getting a burger or chatting up girls. Make sure you’re ready and helping when it’s time to load out as well.
Sell merch: for most entry-level roadies, selling merch will be priority #1. That means setting up the merch table. That means being there when kids want to buy stuff. That means keeping the merch area from being a complete mess. It’s always best to be slower with buyers and keeping stuff organized than trying to sell fast and letting the area become a disaster where you can’t find a specific shirt size in a specific design. Two quick tips for merch-slangers:
- #1 – When kids give you more than the exact amount, it’s a good idea to leave their cash on the table in front of you until you hand them their change. That way there’s no confusion over how much money they gave you.
- #2 – it’s okay to put out a tip jar at the merch table. You probably won’t get much in the way of tips when touring with younger bands, but anything can help when you’re out on the road starving. If the band you are touring with asks you to cut them in on your tip jar, that’s BS. Call them on it.
Most importantly, if you are trusted to keep the band’s money on you, keep a death grip on it at all times! Don’t let it out of your sight. I’d bet the most common places bands lose their money box/pouch is leaving it at a restaurant table or in a restroom. Losing the band money is the number one thing that can ruin a roadie’s reputation.
Mosh Crew: I know I joked earlier about worthless roadies being basically a “traveling mosh crew,” but in all honesty, it’s great to have someone you can count on to be the pit-starter each night. This is especially true for younger bands… the types of bands you will likely tour with as an entry-level roadie. So when the band that brought you out on tour starts playing, MOST bands will be stoked if you put a little sign on the merch table during their set that says “In the pit! Back soon!” If there’s a band on the show that you really like and you really want to stage dive for, don’t just abandon the merch table. Let the band you’re touring with know. Most bands will be totally cool with you pitting for a band you love, as long as they know you’re not just ditching the table.
Driving: I loved driving. I drove as much as I could. But even the biggest driver needs a break. Always be willing and ready to take over at the wheel. If you’re sitting shotgun, stay awake to support the driver. If you can parallel park a van with a trailer, that’s a huge score.
Intermediate Roadie skills
Change strings: One of the easiest things a roadie can do to set themselves apart is offer to change guitar strings. Most bands change their strings somewhere between every 2-5 shows. I personally kind of like changing my strings… it’s almost therapeutic… but I know most people hate doing this every few shows. You don’t know how to change strings? Doesn’t matter! Ask the band if you can help and ask them to show you how they like their strings set up. Everyone has different little ways of stringing and stretching anyways, so ask them to show you how they like it done and then be available to change them up when it’s time.
Drum/guitar tech: If you’re not stuck behind a merch table, help the band set up their gear. That means loading stuff up to the stage and help them set it up. Ask them first though, some people may like the routine of setting everything up themselves. Start with the drummer, he has way more odds and ends to set up than anyone else. During their set, watch out for technical difficulties. With kids running across the stage to dive and climbing all over the singer, gear gets displaced. Stuff gets unplugged. Some things to watch out for:
- Kick drum sliding out (away from the drummer): find something heavy to put in front of it. Or just sit in front of the drum set and hold the bass in.
- Lost drum stick: most drummers will have spare sticks nearby, but every now and then they forget to stock backups or they will lose a few in one song. If you see the drummer playing along with one stick in hand, with a lost look on their face, be a hero and grab the thrown stick and give it back to them.
- Cymbals tipping over (either falling completely or bending at the joints and tipping into the drum set): the drummer can’t play drums and fix this at the same time. Jump up to re-stand a fallen cymbal stand, or tighten up the joint that is bending out of position.
- Guitar or bass cables coming unplugged: Plug em back in! This is especially common for guitar players that have tuners on the ground. Sometimes a pedal merely got stepped on by an oblivious stage diver.
- Broken strings: If they have a backup guitar, help them swap the guitar out. If they need to change the string, help them grab the strings and tuner. Or just be there to hold their guitar up while they rummage through their gear bag to find strings.
- Something breaks (could be a guitar, an amp head, a drum head, a bass drum kick pedal): try to track down someone from another band playing and see if they are willing to let them borrow gear to finish the set)
Tour manager: Once you’ve built up some trust with the band and show your worth in other areas, they may ask you to act as the tour manager. This is something you can proactively seek out; tell them you’d like to do it. Once you’ve earned their trust, many bands will be happy to let you deal with some of the trickier tasks. Being a tour manager can mean many different things to many different bands, but I think the main thing it boils down to is settling out payment with the promoter at the end of the night. Hardcore isn’t about money, but stagedives and sing-alongs don’t fill the gas tank, so most bands are more than happy to let someone else deal with getting paid.
Sound technician: If you have sound board skills, this is a huge asset for bigger bands. Try to get some work in with mid-level bands and you can work your way up pretty fast.
Be fun: everyone wants to have fun on tour. If you have a personality and/or like to get into shenanigans, bands will like to have you around on a personal level. Be smart about this though, don’t cause any more shenanigans than the band is willing to get into. Don’t be the guy that causes the band to be the topic of a drama-filled B9 board thread.
Know when the band needs space: Sometimes things can get intense on the road. There are times when a band needs to have a “band meeting.” Know when they need their space and when to make yourself (temporarily) scarce. But don’t go too far that they have to come find you when it’s time to leave.
Be able to give it and take it: Again, touring with 5-7 dudes in one van for a month can be pretty intense. Most bands like to joke with eachother and give eachother grief to keep things light. If someone jokingly calls you out for something, it’s okay to dish it back, but don’t get too sensitive. If you really have an issue with something someone says, talk to them later in person about it. Otherwise, roll with the punches!
Van spot and food protocol: Some band members have their favorite spots in the van. Most will alternate the really prime van sleeping spots. You should expect to be rotated into those (depending often on driving shifts), but make sure you aren’t hogging the prime spots. The same principle applies to sleeping spots at night and also to drinks and food at shows. When there’s snacks and/or food backstage, go ahead and grab some, but don’t eat more than your share.
Most bands have established unwritten rules, so find out what those are and don’t break them!
But the first step is to tell all your friends in bands that you are interested in hitting the road with them. Let them know you’d be stoked to come along and help out. You likely won’t be invited if they don’t know you’re interested.
The above is by no means a complete guide. If anyone else has any tips they’d like to add, holler out in the comments.