Job as a roadie

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Rodney York is a roadie for touring musical groups. He helps to set up and pack away all the musical instruments and sound equipment after a gig. Some groups only need one roadie while others, putting on a complex show, may employ hundreds to undertake specialist work using sophisticated and complex technical equipment.

What does your job as a roadie involve?

My job is to set up all the production equipment for a touring band. This can include organising any display material that is used on stage. For small groups, I will be responsible for driving, loading and unloading the bus or van we use to get to the venue, setting up and maintaining sound equipment, lighting and stage design, rigging up electrical wires and setting up video, computers and other media.

Sometimes, I also have to tune and maintain the instruments and look after the catering arrangements for the band.

What equipment do you use?

Mainly fork-lift trucks and cherry pickers, which are the hydraulic lifting mechanisms for installing lights on mobile towers and scaffolding. These may be telescopic up to a height of 25 metres. I also use normal electricians' hand tools for wiring.

Who are your clients?

I am self-employed and work with any band or group who require my services. I have worked with some well-known groups such as Texas and Simple Minds, and others who are on their way up. Much of the work is at summer festivals and concerts around the UK.

How did you get into this job as a roadie?

I was working as a motor mechanic and had a friend with a band who suddenly got a record deal. They needed a roadie urgently and offered me the job. I took it and have done the job ever since. It is good because I am using my mechanical and engineering training but in different areas.

What constitutes a typical day for you?

It is very hectic on the road. I start at 7am inspecting the tour vehicle before starting to load the catering, lights and sound systems. I drive to the venue, set up all the equipment, do the show and then dismantle and reload the van after the show. I use the tour bus to sleep and rest before moving on to the next town and venue to start all over again. It is very strenuous work.

What about training?

Apart from various mechanics courses I took when working at the garage, I had to take driving tests to obtain Large Goods Vehicles (LGV) and Passenger Carrying Vehicles (PCV) licences. I have done short courses in sound work and audio console operating as well as health and safety, specifically on manual handling.

What hours do you work?

They can vary greatly. On tour, it is a mix of long and short days, depending on the itinerary. Long days may be from 6am until 3am the next morning. However, the short and rest days compensate to average things out. Also, I don't work between the tours.

What are the pros and cons of the job?

I like the travelling, meeting different musicians and seeing other parts of the world. It is also very well paid when you become known and have a good reputation for efficiency. The main disadvantage is being away from home for three or four months at a time.

What skills and qualities are needed?

You must have a serious interest in technology and electronics, and an interest in music. You must be physically fit, able to work calmly under pressure and get on with a wide range of people. You must also be able to understand the needs of performers. Driving ability and appropriate licences are essential.

Rodney's steps to becoming a roadie

  • GCSEs.
  • NVQ Level 2 in Vehicle Maintenance.
  • LGV/PSV licences.
  • Joined a touring band.

Rodney's tips

  • Be sure that you will be comfortable working away from home for long periods of time.
  • Be prepared to work long hours and do any kind of job.
  • Ensure that you are computer literate.

Roadie related jobs

  • Stage manager
  • Lighting technician
  • Theatre sound engineer
  • Sound engineer

Salary of a roadie

  • Income depends on the degree of technical skill and volume of work undertaken.
  • Many roadies work freelance on contracts for each tour.
  • Unskilled roadies can earn around £12,000 a year, rising to £20,000 and more with audio or electrical skills.
  • Those with technical skills and experience can command at least £30,000.
  • Roadies may also receiveliving allowances.

Getting in

  • Roadies' employers include pop and rock bands at all levels of fame and fortune.
  • The work is almost always short-term – typically a roadie might be taken on for a three-month tour, with no guarantee of further employment at the end of it.
  • There will be more chance of employment if you have obtained some electrical or sound engineering background or qualification. There are many suitable courses available at local colleges and range from NVQ/SVQ Level 2 and BTEC/SQA awards to college diplomas.

Modified: 16 June 2013

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