The Road Crew
The term “roadie” is slang that is often used to describe touring personnel, and for many people it conjures images of a rag-tag bunch of drug using, hard drinking road pirates, dressed from head to toe in nothing but black. While this most assuredly existed at one point in time, this notion is something that now belongs to a by-gone era. Every once in a while you’ll encounter someone who stood next to a speaker stack for a tad too long, but I digress…
Behind every successful concert tour there is a highly skilled road crew working behind the scenes to make sure the show goes off without a hitch. They are the support network that helps to deliver that amazing performance by your favorite artist. These are the people who get into the venue first thing in the morning, and are the last ones to leave, long after the last note has rung out. Who are these people? What exactly do they do?
Below I’ve outlined some of the more common roles you would find on a typical tour. This is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of what roles you might find on a tour. With the increase in size and scale of the operation, you will typically find more specialized roles. On smaller tours you may find some of the roles doubling up to save money. Regardless, these are the people who work together on a day to day basis to make sure the artist and fans alike have the best possible experience.
The tour manager oversees all departments and is responsible for the health and day-to-day function of a tour. The position is logistics heavy, and involves long hours. The tour manager handles transportation, hotels, press, hospitality, backstage, security, settlement, guest list, and most importantly, the needs of the artist. This is not a comprehensive list, as there is a minutia of daily tasks that inevitably arise. On smaller tours, you will find a TM wearing multiple hats. On a larger tour, certain tasks will be delegated with oversight.
A good production manager is indispensable. They are the ones who oversees all of the technical aspects of a performance. Sound, lights, staging, rigging, backline, power requirements, you name it. They work with local crew, alongside touring crew to build the show each and every day in a variety of environments. Attention to detail is paramount in this role, as the smallest oversight can lead to the derailment of the performance.
Front of House
The front of house engineer is in control of the mix that is coming out of the speakers that face the audience. If you’ve ever attended a show, what you are hearing is being controlled by the FOH. They have a deep knowledge of acoustics, electronics, microphones, and what works well in different situations. Different rooms have different acoustic properties, and watching a touring FOH engineer navigate the nuances of a difficult room is quite remarkable. By knowing the songs of the artist they are working for they are able to enhance the songs by highlighting key parts. You will more often than not find them located towards the back of the room, in front of the glowing soundboard.
Located on the side of the stage is the monitor engineer, or MON for short. They are the one who is in control of the mix that the band hears on stage. Sometimes they are mixing wedges, other times they are mixing in ear monitors, or sometimes they are mixing a combination of both. If the band can’t hear themselves on stage, understandably this is going to impact the performance in a negative way. When you can tell that a band is really enjoying themselves on stage, they likely have a great monitor mix.
The lighting designer is in charge of all things visual relating to the performance. They will consult with the artist and management prior to the start of the tour and design a light show that compliments and enhances the artist’s live show. On a daily basis they work with local crew to set up the tour’s lighting rig, supplementing what is already available in house. Once completed they will focus the lights and make sure there is appropriate coverage on the stage. They are typically stationed alongside the front of house engineer, at the back of the room. Click here to see an example of a professional lighting designer’s work.
Backline refers to all of the gear on stage. This could include instruments, amplifiers, drums, pedal boards, synthesizers, etc. The backline tech’s role is to set up, maintain, and tear down the backline on a day to day basis. On a smaller tour, you might have one backline tech setting up all of the gear on stage. On larger tours, these roles become more specialized and you might have a guitar tech, drum tech, keyboard tech, etc. They will help to line check, and prepare all of the gear for the band’s soundcheck. During soundcheck trouble spots are realized and fixed. During the performance they will watch the stage, handle instrument changes, and fix any issues that arise on the fly.
The merchandiser sets up the artist’s store on a day to day basis. This position involves foreseeing inventory needs, discussing product designs with the artist, ordering stock, setting up the store, interacting with fans, settling merchandise rates with the promoter, hiring and managing local sellers, and counting out at the end of the night with a fervor. They deal with cash and credit transactions and are very much the face of the tour, as they are the ones who are interacting with fans on a very personal level.
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There are a number of touring roles not covered here. Bus drivers, personal assistants, massage therapists, carpenters, personal security, catering, etc.. Also integral to the daily operation of a tour (but not covered here) are managers, day-to-day managers, booking agents, business managers, publicists, radio reps, label folks, the list goes on and on.