Roadies: Unlikely Survivors in the Music Business

The Wall Street Journal

By

NEIL SHAH

Updated March 19, 2015

The shakeout that is rattling the music business is turning up some unlikely survivors: roadies, the black-clad backstage grunts of live shows.

“I know musicians who play on the road who make less money than the tech guys I know,” says Jimmy Davis, the stage manager for country singer Hank Williams Jr.

Record sales also continue to slump. Last year, 257 million albums were sold, across CDs, digital albums, vinyl records and cassettes, down almost 60% from 1994, according to Nielsen Music.

That makes bands increasingly reliant on live performances to make money, spurring demand for stage hands, instrument techs, sound mixers, lighting specialists and tour managers. The physical labor needed to erect elaborate, high-tech stages has spared most roadies. Their jobs can’t be moved to China or be done by a robot—at least not yet.

Some of my closest friends over the past five years have not been the artists I work with, but the incredible individuals that get them from point A to point B and ensure that when shit hits the fan, their bands are covered. The crew a band takes on tour can be so vital not only to the live show, but the energy to keep going in the middle of nowhere. The community between band crew is so excellent as well.

But once a roadie gains a foothold in the industry and establishes a network, one gig often leads to another. Moving up to bigger tours from smaller ones is commonplace, concert workers say. And roadies routinely refer friends to potential employers when they can’t take gigs themselves.

I wish more of the music industry was like this.

Shout out to Holt, Chuck, Lang, JJR, and all the others.


--