by Ace Baker
It’s an hour before Showtime and the Roadies are all gathered around doing what we always do around this time of day—Telling Each Other Stories. I’m talking to “Bud”, a very calm and likeable bus driver.
Bud tells me about a tour that he was on a couple of months ago. It was a decent sized tour, mostly 3000-5000 seat venues. The Headliner was an established rock band. The Opening Band was a hot new act that was just starting to climb the charts.
The Headliner was carrying all of the audio gear… P.A., monitors, soundboards, microphones. Before the tour started, the Headliner’s production manager called the Opening Band’s manager (hereafter referred to as the OPM) and introduced himself. While going thru all of the details of the schedules, merchandise, hospitality; they finally began talking about the Opening Band’s audio needs. The Opening Band was so young that they hadn’t even hired a crew yet. The Production Manager offered the Openers a very good deal: For $100/night, the Openers could use the Headliner’s Soundman (payable to the soundman himself). This gave the new musicians a first-class engineer at less than 20% of his normal price. PLUS they wouldn’t have to pay for his hotels, transportation, or per diems. A bargain by any interpretation of that word
But the OPM grumbled a bit. “hemmmmm”……”hawwwwww”……”no budget”…..”blah, blah, blah”.
“Would he do it for $40 a night?”, the OPM asked.
At first, the Production Manager was silent. Then he sighed.
“I’ll tell ya what I’ll do”, the grizzled veteran PM said. “I’ve got a few new guys on my crew who could use a bit more time behind the console. They might agree to do it for $40 a night”.
“That would be great!” exclaimed the OPM. “We would like to use those guys!”. The manager hung up the phone, beaming from the pride of chiseling down another needless expense.
The day of the first big show came. 10 minutes before the Opening Band was supposed to go on, the Production Manager slipped into the loading dock area where the bus drivers were all hanging out. “Hey!”, he asked. “Which one of you bus drivers wants to make an extra $40 a night mixing the Opening Band?”
Every single one of their hands went up.
“OK, you can each take turns”, he answered.
And with that deal struck, the Opening Band went on to spend the first three months of their Professional Touring Career being mixed by … the bus drivers.
Now, I think that we find three very good lessons in this story.
If you are a artist manager, perhaps, occasionally, it’s not the greatest idea to get the absolute lowest price on everything. Perhaps one could even say that the best price is not always the lowest price. Maybe the best deal isn’t determined by how much you pay. It’s who you get. Unless, of course, you don’t mind that you and your band are the laughing stock of the entire touring party.
Audio Engineers, let’s face it… Even with all of the knowledge of the latest gear, the yearts of experience, the subscription to Mix magazine, the newest plug-ins, the endless hours of digital programming, and your very own gold-plated SMAART system reference mic from Hell… In the end, we can easily be replaced, NOT just by another talented engineer, but unfortunately, also by the bus driver. Depressing? Yes, it can be. But not if we learn something from it. Maybe now, we can finally get over ourselves a little bit. Possibly, admit that Audio is not reeeeeally that complicated. It’s certainly not as complicated as we sometimes pretend that it is. At the end of the day, we’re really only dirty roadies. But don’t kill yourself yet… at least we don’t do lights.
…and this may be the most important lesson:
I have been driving since I was 15 years old. I’ve driven Sprinter vans all over this great country of ours. Thru ice. Rain. Fog. Snow. I like to think of myself as a pretty good driver. And yet, I would never, EVER get behind the wheel of a tour bus and dare to take it for a spin around the block. Never! Would NOT HAPPEN!!
And yet…… not ONE of those bus drivers were afraid to get up in front of a room of 5000 people and mix a band. Not one!! It was like “$40? No problem.”
Which goes to prove something that I have long suspected…
BUS DRIVERS ARE THE BIGGEST ROCKSTARS ON THE BUS!
They are the last bit of rebellion left in Rock and Roll. They are this Industry’s only remaining warriors. They are fierce, they are unforgiving, and they are braver than a sloth of bears.
Be afraid of them. Listen to them. And for God’s sake, don’t piss them off.