Roadies, known also as backstage crew and sound or lighting technicians, play an essential part in staging live music concerts, festivals and events. Usually highly skilled technical specialists, they set up all the equipment that artists and performers need, including the sound and lighting equipment, musical instruments and special effects. During performances, the crew is on hand to respond to any technical and equipment issues that arise, before packing away and securing equipment when the show finishes.
The size of the backstage crew will depend on the standing of the band/artist and the scale of a performance and venue. Some work alone doing varied tasks, whilst others perform very specialist crew duties. Responsibilities could include:
Roadies may also be given specific duties, such as making travel arrangements, organising catering and refreshments for backstage crew and artists, and co-ordinating backstage passes.
The role involves working alongside many different people, including:
- Sound engineers
- Stage, lighting and sound designers
- Health and safety specialists
- Security personnel
- Artists, performers and their management teams
Working as a roadie, can be very physically demanding and pressured, as sets must be put up and dismantled quickly and safely within set times.
Roadies need a flexible attitude to working hours. On tour they work long hours, often finishing in the early hours of the morning. Weekend work is normal. It is usual to work seven consecutive days perhaps for several weeks when on tour, and the job often involves travelling long distances between venues. However, there are rest days between gigs, and there can be long breaks between tours.
Most roadies work on short-term contracts, typically lasting around three months.
Venues they might work in include indoor and outdoor concert arenas, clubs, theatres, sports arenas and stately homes or parks. Touring would involve travelling around the whole of the UK, possibly overseas. The job often requires staying away from home for long periods, sometimes sleeping in the tour bus.
Heavy lifting, bending, climbing, and working in cramped, noisy conditions is typical. Some may be required to work at heights.
An unskilled roadie may earn the equivalent of around £12,500 a year. Those with specialist technical skills may earn £30,000, or more.
Rates of pay often depend on skills and experience and they may receive living allowances on top of income. The Roadcrew Provident Syndicate is a branch of the GMB trade union, established to help protect the working rights of self-employed roadies.
Most roadies are self-employed. Because of licensing laws, entrants need to be at least 18 years old.
Getting some practical backstage work experience, even at local theatre productions, can be a great way to network and gain contacts. Individual artists and bands, tour managers, equipment hire companies and large venues may hire local crew for one-off gigs or tours. More local crew opportunities exist in London and large towns and cities where there are more live entertainment venues. Music promoters usually recruit touring crews. Touring roadies will usually be offered a contract for a set duration and will accompany the artist or band on tour in the UK and overseas.
There is always strong competition for vacancies. Working on short-term contracts means that many roadies are likely to face periods of unemployment.
Jobs are very rarely advertised. Occasionally music magazines such as NME will advertise for crew in the 'Musicians wanted' section. Approaching music venues and agents could be another route in. Above all, word of mouth, personal recommendations and reputation help secure work.
There are no set entry qualifications for roadies. It may be an advantage to have some experience in electronics, sound production, music technology or lighting. Taking a theatre course in stage management, stage lighting and sound engineering may also help roadies who want to specialise. Although not essential for entry, they certainly make candidates more employable.
Alternatively, the creative apprenticeship in technical theatre or music (live events and promotion) focuses on introducing people to working backstage in theatre or live music events settings.
Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.
Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.
There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The Production Services Association (PSA) operates a Safety Passport scheme for the technical event production sector involving a one-day course that deals with issues including manual handling, workplace transport and general backstage hazards in this sector. Taking a first aid certificate is also advisable.
Crew travelling overseas need a passport. It can be useful to speak a second language. A full driving licence is helpful and a large goods vehicle (LGV) licence or passenger service vehicle (PSV) licence an advantage for roadies wanting to drive tour buses and lorries.
Roadies mostly learn on the job alongside experienced crew. This practical training may be complemented by short training courses and technical qualifications in areas such as:
- Video work
- Operating a fork lift truck or cherry-picker
- Health and safety working at heights.
The National Skills Academy for Creative & Cultural Skills has been recently set up to ensure people working in the sector have both the skills required for entry and continuing professional development (CPD). Focusing on offstage skills and qualifications, it is working closely with many organisations to develop a recognised training framework, including membership organisations, such as:
Oil Drilling Roustabouts and Roughnecks work as part of a small team on offshore oil or gas drilling rigs or production platforms. Roustabouts do unskilled manual labouring jobs on rigs and platforms, and Roughneck is a promotion from roustabout.
Roustabouts do basic tasks to help keep the rig and platform working efficiently and Roughnecks do practical tasks involved in the drilling operation, under the supervision of the driller.
A roadie should be:
Experienced roadies may progress to supervising small teams. Some may become road crew or tour managers, or use their music skills and contacts to move into band management and promotional work.
Taking further qualifications, such as the Edexcel BTEC Level 5 Professional Diplomas in light and sound: technical theatre management, live sound and stage sound, may aid progression.
With further technical skills, roadies might move into lighting or sound roles in other fields, including theatre, film or television.
Association of British Theatre Technicians,
55 Farringdon Road, London EC1M 3JB
Tel: 020 7242 9200
Broadcasting Entertainment Cinematograph
and Theatre Union (BECTU),
373-377 Clapham Road, London SW9 9BT
Tel: 020 7346 0900
National Skills Academy for Creative & Cultural Skills,
Lafone House, The Leathermarket,
Weston Street, London SE1 3HN
Tel: 020 7015 1840
Production Services Association (PSA),
PO Box 2709, Bath BA1 3YS
Tel: 01225 332668
Professional Lighting and Sound Association (PLASA),
Redoubt House, 1 Edward Road,
Eastbourne BN23 8AS
Tel: 01323 524120
Additional resources for job seekers and those already in a job.