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Musicians

The Roadie

Yeah, yeah, Jackson Browne gave tribute to the roadie in his song year ago. Of course, that was for the roadies that work the big shows. What about the ones that work for bands playing small dives and house concerts? Don’t they deserve some respect?

I guess that it depends. In all of my years as a musician, I’ve also done my time as a roadie for various bands. I’ve also seen thousands of shows over the years, and have always observed how the roadies operate. Recently, I went to see a touring acoustic band at a small venue, and the supposed “roadie” seemed like he was just there for the ride. The band was setting up their own equipment, and this hipster was just standing there with his hands in his pockets. Maybe he helped carry in some stuff beforehand, and maybe he helped set up the merch table, but it was the band selling stuff afterwards.

Why would a band have someone like this tag along? Is he a good driver? Is he a good luck charm? Hmmm …

Now I have also seen on many occasions small-time roadies who have gone above and beyond. Carrying equipment, tuning guitars, setting up amps and drums, getting towels and water, running the soundboard AND running the merch table all at the same time! However, I have also seen many musicians take someone like that for granted, and become deer in the headlights when Saint Roadie is not there any more.

Bands can learn a lot by being their own roadies. Respect for the worker bee is obvious, but here I will talk more about the technical side. For any project with two or more members, one person should have the basic knowledge of musical instrument maintenance. If you are touring solo, that means YOU! So take time to learn a few things about your acoustic guitar besides neat-o alternate tunings.

First off, take a look at your instrument and see what parts of it are solid versus those parts that are moving. If we are talking a guitar or other stringed instrument, this includes strings, tuning gears, bridge pins, volume/tone controls, whammy bars, string saddles and more. These are parts that can and will wear out over time. Strings break and corrode only after a few gigs. The same goes for any electronic equipments such as amps, effects, and cords/wireless transmitters. Take a look at what could easily fall under Murphy’s Law and be prepared. Know how to repair or at least temporarily fix during a gig.

There are many useful books out there on guitar maintenance. One recommendation is Guitar Setup & Maintenance by Chad Johnson (Hal Leonard Publishing ISBN 978-1-4584-1824-1). The book is smaller so that it can fit in your gig bag (if you don’t have a gig bag for accessories, GET ONE!). This information can also be used on other stringed instruments, and I am sure there are reference books on banjo, mandolin, fiddle, synthesizer, and amplifier maintenance as well that you can find with a quick internet search. There are also a bunch of YouTube vids that show some basics on maintenance of musical instruments.

But there are a few things to purchase right away:

  • Guitar tuner (this is a gimme)
  • Screwdrivers (both straight and phillips), for strap buttons and case hinges
  • Set of jeweler’s screwdrivers, for pickguard and gear tuner screws
  • Set of allen wrenches, both standard and metric (if you don’t have the ones that usually come with the guitar)
  • Needle-nose pliers, for grabbing, loosening, tightening stuff like jacks
  • Wire cutter, if you don’t have a cutter on the pliers
  • String winder (this is obvious, but I still know people who don’t have one)
  • Small flashlight (ever lose a bridge pin on a dark stage?)
  • Duct tape (on the eighth day, God created duct tape!)
  • Extra set of strings
  • Extra guitar and mic cord (if used)

Keep these in your newly purchased gig bag and always keep it with the guitar case. Most importantly, learn how to use them!

If there is one rule that stands out among the others, it is this: Learn to change your own strings! I have actually seen a few performers who broke strings and asked someone in the audience to help out. In addition, learn how to change strings fast (if you aren’t smart enough to have a back-up instrument). Nothing says “amateur loser musician” more than someone taking 10-15 minutes to change a string. NOTE: If you are part of the warm-up act, and you have a mishap like a broken string, the time that you take to fix the problem is on YOUR clock. If you have a 10-song/40-minute set, and it takes you five or more minutes to change the string, then YOU have to cut out one of your songs. The audience (minus your parents) is there for the headliner, and they do not need to put up with your garbage. At least they will respect you for your courtesy.

Chew on it and comment.

By Matt Merta/Mitch Matthews

Musician and writer (both song and print) for over 30 years. Primarily interested in roots music (Americana, bluegrass, blues, folk). Current contributing writer for Fiddler Magazine, previous work with Metro Times (Detroit), Ann Arbor Paper and Real Detroit Weekly, as well as other various music and military publications. As songwriter, won the 2015 Chris Austin Songwriting Contest (Bluegrass Category, "Something About A Train," co-written with Dawn Kenney and David Morris) as well as having work performed on NPR and nominated for numerous Detroit Music Awards.

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