Recently a young person asked me about my work, and as I explained some of the various aspects, it triggered something in my brain.
I realized that I had actually just barely scratched the surface in terms of telling him about the wide range of responsibilities that many of us have.
For example, we’re regularly involved with sales before the show (and often during and after). From simply speaking to clients about their needs, to putting bids together, to being able to sell ourselves (and our company), it’s a vital skill set.
Many of us are also involved in marketing - advertising our services (in a variety of formal and informal ways) to help attract new clients.
A big buzzword today is logistics, which covers transportation, inventory, warehousing, material handling and more. Production folks have always been logistics experts, but we simply call it “moving gear” - pulling the equipment for shows, loading trucks and trailers, driving them to events, pushing cases and carts into venues, getting it all set up… and then we reverse the process after the show.
While at a show, we’re the kings and queens of multi-tasking, depending on the size, scope and number of sound crew. It often starts with management duties by interfacing with the local union and/or in-house crew.
Once the local hands know their jobs, the crew may split up into various specialty areas. One person may become an electrician, hooking up the power distribution, while another might be a rigger and supervise the flying of certain components, and yet another will likely serve as a system technician, tweaking and tuning the system.
Still others are front-of-house and monitor mixers, setting up their respective areas and operating fairly complex equipment on the fly. On larger events, someone might serve as a dedicated stage patch technician to handle routing the various and numerous inputs in the system. Of course, every member of the sound crew usually performs some general stage hand duties, doing things like pulling cables and wrapping them up.
Note that I assigned some of the above duties to several individuals, but the reality for many of us is that we’re singly or as a very small team responsible for the majority of them. Sometimes we also might be called upon as a wireless technician and/or comm technician, setting up and optimizing these specialized systems. With digital consoles, digital snakes and remote control now the norm on many shows, we also might serve as an IT specialist in taking care of the computers and networked systems.
We may have some disc jockey duties in our job description, playing music cues and other tracks. Audio editing of those tracks was probably performed by a member of the sound crew. With a board microphone close at hand, we may also be tasked to be an announcer. And because the recording of live events is increasingly common, we might need to squeeze in some time as a recording engineer.
Those of us on tour sometimes add production manager duties. Work with a new act, and you might also take a producer role, helping that artist “find their own sound.” On the corporate audio side, there are stage manager and technical director responsibilities.
And depending on the day, we might pencil in security guard, therapist and referee on the ol’ resume, helping promote peace and harmony among artists, crew, and even audience members. This is all starting to make me tired, and there’s even more to add to the list – lighting, staging and backline roles, for example.
It boils down to this: we’re customer service specialists, fielding every question imaginable and doing our level best to help in solving everyone’s problems. We may not know it all, but we sure do know a lot.
Senior contributing editor Craig Leerman is the owner of Tech Works, a production company based in Las Vegas.