Guests & Interviews

The Life of a Roadie- A Behind the Scenes Look at Life on the Road

flightcases       Setting up

There are two things that I’ve always wanted to do with my life, one of them was to make my living as a professional singer and stage performer and the other was to learn the art of sound production…. so I did. I went and got my degree in Recording Arts and also attended trade school for the art of recording and mixing. One thing I’ve never, ever wanted to do however, is live life on the road rolling road cases in and out of trucks and wrapping cables every night. Although, you can’t have a successful career in the live audio production business without “doing your time” busting hump, rolling road cases, wrapping cables and working long hours. I have always been fascinated in finding out what makes that life so attractive to other people. I have many friends in the live production business and I decided to interview my friend Austin Schroeder.

Austin and I go back several years where we worked together at a sound production company in the heart of Amish country Pennsylvania. I remember him being tall and young with a head of wild hair. His license plate said Iowa and he drove a battered and abused car. He had the typical bad boy rocker look, you know, the type of guy you are afraid to take home and meet your Mom. My job at the production company was to book production work, write contracts and take care of travel for the production guys. Austin worked on the production side and I watched him more than once get used and abused and worked to the point of exhaustion. All to get severely underpaid for his efforts; but he kept coming to work and pushed through because that’s how he rolls. Six years later he is still pushing on and has taken on full time traveling production work. I asked Austin if I could pick his brain and this is what he had to say….


First of all, I hate the term “roadie.” When I think of a roadie, I think of a dirty, out of touch with society, carnival worker type of person. I’m a tour manager, production manager, or audio engineer. I’m educated, responsible, and take showers every day!

How long have you been living life as a roadie (or rather… a tour manager, production manager, or audio engineer?)
“It’s been a good 6 years.”

Why did you choose this profession?
“I always knew I wanted to be involved with music in some shape or form. And I didn’t want to spend my life sitting behind a desk, being bored out of my mind.”

What is your background and where did you get your start?
“I started out playing music in bands and working in recording studios, and decided that I needed something more than that.. which led me to the world of live concert production.”

Who are some of the biggest named artists you’ve worked for?
“Cee Lo, Christina Aguilera, Dawes, Train, Queens of the Stone Age, Sara Bareilles, Blues Traveler, Hanson, JoJo, U2, Donavon Frankenreiter the list goes on….”

Have you ever been star struck?
“Honestly, it’s never really phased me. I look at “stars” as just normal people. Which is exactly what they are! Being around it all the time and getting to know these people gives you an overhead perspective.”

Have you had any “oh shit” moments? Like… “Oh Shit— Why is Bono is giving me crazy eyes? What’d I do wrong?” or “Oh shit… Sheryl Crow just threw a bottle at my head cuz’ she hates her monitor mix”
“Haha, I have those moments every day! That’s sort of what keeps me enticed, and keeps me on my toes. Doing live sound is a constant barrage of things going wrong and having to fix them as quickly as possible. Its intense, stressful, and I love it.

What is a typical show day? What do you do after a show is over? Do you go party or go back to a dingy hotel room and drink Jack Daniels and pass out?
“There’s a pretty wide spectrum of a “typical day.” The type of tour I’m doing and the budget that is involved plays a pretty big part in how the day pans out. Usually load in will happen early morning/mid afternoon. Then a sound check will happen to make sure all the gear is working and everything is dialed in and tuned for the show. After the show and after load out happens, where everything gets packed up into the truck or trailer or whatever we have… I’m usually so exhausted from the long day that I’ll go find someplace to chill and relax and take it easy. People’s perception of party life out on the road is usually pretty skewed. It’s a job, just like any other job. We have a lot of responsibilities and things that we have to make sure happen smoothly and efficiently. If we’re drinking jack and partying down all the time it makes it a lot harder to do a good job, and in MY eyes makes you look unprofessional.”

What are your co-workers like? Do you get along?
“I’ve worked with every kind of person you can imagine. Most people that tour are pretty down to earth and easy to get along with. But don’t get me wrong, there a lot out there who AREN’T..

Are you in a relationship? If so, how is it working out with you on the road?
“Currently, no. The first few years I started touring I was in a relationship, and believe me, its tough… it takes a lot of trust, patience, and perseverance.”

What is the hardest thing about your job? The easiest?
“The hardest thing, or the thing that frustrates me the most.. Is having to rely on other people at venues or anywhere really, to help your day go seamless and stress-free. You get let down a lot, and that’s just part of the game. Taking a crappy situation and making it a great one! The easiest part is looking like a bad ass while you’re doing it. ;)”

Do you have any tips for travel? How do you keep from getting sick? Do you have any travel secrets?
“I’ll usually have a stash of some sort of multi-vitamin or drink mix. Emergen-C is a great one. I drink one of those every day. I make sure to try my best to get good sleep, even if it means finding a hideout to take a little nap during the day. And eat healthy! Its so easy to go after the greasy fried bar foods and late night after show fast food stops. You have to resist the urge! Lots of fruits, veggies, and water. I also recently started getting into yoga and doing stretches as often as I can to stay limber. Your body really starts to feel it after sleeping in a bunk on a bus for a few weeks.”

Do you want to do this for the rest of your life?
“Absolutely not. I come across a lot of the old crusty guys that have been touring for 20 or 30+ years and every single one of them seems to be miserable. Living on the road takes a big toll on your body and soul and I see its effect on people all the time. I’m definitely in the infancy of my career, but I’ve already started thinking about the future and what I can do once I start to feel a little crusty.”

Anything else you’d like to add about the “secret life of a roadie” that I haven’t asked…..
“Don’t give the sound person any “suggestions” during the show! They don’t care!” (I’ve heard this one before! Reference my last blog A Golden Ears Perspective: What Your Sound Engineer REALLY Thinks)

This is certainly not a job for the weak or weary, the person who likes the comforts of home or consistency. This type of job takes a strong will, a strong mind and you must have a passion for it. Quite frankly, just the thought of having his job gives me slight anxiety… I’ll stick to the stage or being cooped up mixing behind a computer at home. Got get em’ Austin.

*Photos courtesy of Austin Schroeder

A “Golden Ears” Perspective – What Your Sound Engineer REALLY Thinks…

Sound Engineer

 

Okay, okay, before I even start, this article pertains to the real sound heroes of the world. We are not talking about amateurs, or the ones who “think” they’re professional sound guys or gals because they can throw up a couple of subs, sticks and tops and get a band ready to rock. This also does not pertain to the guys (or gals) who run the church band on Sunday mornings as a hobby. We are talking about the “golden ears” of the industry, those responsible for taking that terrible room or that piercing vocal and making it sound like butter. I’m talking about the engineers that are sought out by so many artists for their incredible sense of sound. To make this extra clear, this interview also pertains to the artists who make use of professional sound services on a regular basis and or those who don’t make regular use of their own front of house engineer.

Many of us on the stage have had varied experiences with sound companies or the people running the rig. Some experiences leave you basking in the glory of “ooh’s and ahh’s” because it was pure unadulterated sweetness. Others have left you praying someone would just get it over with already and knock you out with a beer bottle. When festival season rolls around we all hope and pray that when we arrive to plug in and do our “thing”, that the folks REALLY running the show REALLY care about how you sound. Let’s face it, the sound guy (or gal) can make you or break you. If you’re simply a shitty band… well, you’re shitty and there is only so much someone can do about your bass player who can’t seem to play in the pocket, or the vocalist who is consistently flat. I have decided to ask a real “golden ear” about their career and some issues artists deal with consistently and how he would handle certain situations from his perspective. He’s requested to stay anonymous but has toured with artists like Blues Traveler & Nelly Furtado and has worked the corporate circuit for top CEO’s who entrust him for sound perfection. His experience has been broad and has proclaimed to have been in every type of sound “situation” you can think of. Here is what we discussed…

How long have you been a pro sound engineer? “20 years”

How long has it taken you to get to the point you a felt truly confident about what you do? “Immediately—I knew right away that I was good at what I did. I have never questioned myself.”

As a professional, what is the first thing you do when you walk into a venue? “Honestly? Find the food— or I log onto Yelp to find the nearest food joint. In all seriousness, I look at the gear—more importantly, I find the house tech. I will know how brutal my day will be right away. If this guy is an idiot, I’ll be doing everything myself and relieving him of his duties for the duration of the evening.”

Do you care about the performers on the stage and how they sound? “100%— Essentially what I am doing in a nutshell is making everything louder. However, if the source isn’t a home run then I can’t hit a grand slam.”

What about the sound is most important to you? “Vocalists love me. Getting a vocal to sound like a vocal is the most important. The audience doesn’t go home humming the kick drum.”

What is your favorite thing about your profession? “I love to mix.. I love sound… I’m very passionate about it. Whether mixing a band for 30 drunken wedding guests or whether I’m mixing Nelly Furtado as an opener for U2 in front of 100,000 people, I had an immediate passion for this.”

What is your least favorite thing about your profession? “Human beings are terrible. Travel and the human beings… both terrible.”

What is the most difficult thing about your profession? “Relationships— This profession has more to do with people and how they perceive you. It’s people based success and you become successful through the relationships you build—- I also got lucky early on. There are a lot of engineers I could mix under the table that are a lot more successful than me, it’s all in who you know.”

What do you find frustrating about working with artists? “Artists needs to feel heard— if they feel heard, then they feel like they are being taken care of and they have a better performance. Many artists try to tell me how they like things to be done… and I listen. When I get off stage though, I do what I want and make them sound great. Often times they bring personal matters onto the stage with them, and those things can majorly affect their performances. Sometimes they will take it out on me, but I don’t take it personally.”

How do you deal with a horrible sound guy as an artist? “Well, that’s a PROBLEM, If the sound guy is under qualified then too bad for you. They may listen to a request if you’re a pretty chick and you get out your…. I mean, bat your eyelashes at them.”

“There are two groups of engineers out there. One group thinks it’s about THEMSELVES and the other group thinks it’s about the PERFORMER. Even though I have a huge ego… it’s not about MY ego, it’s about the PERFORMERS ego and making them feel and sound good. That has been the key to my success. The sound engineer needs to ALWAYS be there for the artist, not the other way around.”

So there you have it folks, from a self-proclaimed egotistical, very honest, and successful sound engineer. Your sound engineer should always put you first and listen to your needs. Bottom line is that their job is to make you sound AWESOME! If you simply have no choice but to work with someone unqualified… well, better luck next time!