Life has moments that change everything. A chance encounter, an opportunity taken, a door opened, and suddenly life pivots and nothing is ever the same again.
An evening in 1988 was such a moment for me. As a very excited 12-year-old I went to my first gig, and as luck would have it I sat behind the front of house engineer. As the lights went down and it dawned on me what he was doing, my world shifted on its axis – this was a job? From that moment on, my mind was made up: I was going to be a live sound engineer and nothing and no one was going to stop me.
Not long after, I stumbled upon a late-night showing of This Is Spinal Tap on the tiny old black and white TV in my bedroom. I couldn’t quite figure it out – was this for real? Perplexed but fascinated, it fueled my desire to be in the live music industry. By the time I discovered the 1990 Bon Jovi documentary “Access All Areas” and saw a load-in for the first time – all those flight cases, all those trucks, sound check, so cool! – I was pretty much on fire with eagerness to be a part of this mad, magical rock ‘n’ roll circus.
I still think it’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen, watching a huge load-in take shape, the difference for the last 25 years is that my dreams came true and I’ve been a part of it. I adore being part of a tribe of roaming renegades living outside of conventional society. If that sounds romantic, well, the past year has shown me just how passionately in love I still am with working in live music.
For me, it’s all about the energy.
I’m constantly awed by how music has the power to shift, even completely transform, the way we feel. Those vibrations of air… to get poetic about it, music is the energy of our universe in ecstatic motion.
The energy of the live performance – the audience united with the band in that timeless moment – still makes my heart swell and soar. And being involved in an experience that brings joy to so many people is an enormous privilege; even if someone is in a really tough life situation, being part of something that has the power to elevate them out of that and be transported for a few hours is spectacular.
As my career progressed and I gained know-how in the different areas of live sound, I chose to specialize in mixing monitors – or maybe it chose me. I was reasonable at mixing out front, but I felt an affinity for monitors in a deeper way, and that’s where I’ve made my home for the last two-plus decades.
I enjoy being of service to the band so that they can relax and forget about the sound and enjoy themselves. I like being at the hub of things, and I really enjoy the process of building a trusting relationship with artists and musicians, learning their language and gradually getting to the stage where I can anticipate their needs. I find it interesting to observe the interplay between band members and I don’t mind tricky customers as long as there’s mutual respect and appreciation of the fact that we’re all working towards the same goal.
I have fun with the juggling aspect of mixing monitors – I thrive on the intense focus that it requires and I love that I can literally feel my brain connections expanding on particularly demanding gigs!
Of course, there are ups and downs.
We now know all too well how precarious our touring livelihood is, dependent as we are on large gatherings and travel. It’s a way of life, so much more than a job, and that can lead to huge disorientation and struggle when we can’t do it.
The blurring of who we are and what we do is a feeling familiar to most roadcrew – when you live and breathe this way of life for the majority of the time, it’s easy to feel like you are your job, and that obviously causes grief and suffering, even despair, when it’s taken away.
Life on the road can be stressful on the human body. I live pretty healthily, but long hours and travel take their toll, and although I rarely feel stressed out mentally, my nervous system is still keeping score and I’ll often succumb to some kind of chest infection after a few months of touring.
And of course, it can make home relationships difficult, because most people simply don’t live like this and don’t really understand what we do. All you can do is be upfront about the kind of life you live, and the people who want to stick around, will. To me there are only a very few downsides, and it’s all so completely and utterly worth it.
Part Of The Magic
I get to do all the things that teenage me dreamed about. I still get a thrill seeing the trucks and buses lined up waiting to load in. I love to travel and see the world, and I like the challenges that my work presents. I like my life being in chunks – I’m either away and working or at home and not (I’ve found the blending of home life with making a living one of the hardest things to navigate in the last year).
I love the life-long, low-maintenance friendships that form; I might not see someone for years, and we just pick right up where we left off. Oh, and I really like catering – how do you figure out what to cook for dinner every night at home?
Most of all, I’m passionate about being a part of the magic that ignites when the lights go down, the crowd go insane, and the band walk out on stage and launch into a huge hit. To me, it’s so much more than only rock ‘n’ roll – it’s the energy of the universe in ecstatic motion.