By Martin “Shrek” Frey

Yup, that’s me calling a show at an early age. Well not really, but somehow it doesn’t seem all that long ago…

I remember my first gig though.

I got my start in the biz in the very early 80’s. I was humping PA for a local music store. The stores’ owners had invested in a rather sizable Peavey Project One system. Our main clientele were bluegrass festivals and the odd country music bar gig or concert. 

At first, humping those massive bass bins and mid horns that looked like rocket engines and wiring the stage were among my duties. Before long, I was allowed to sit behind the coveted “sound board” (as it was often referred to at the time). How I marveled at all of the sliders and knobs and lights. LED’s were still somewhat of a new-fangled addition to audio consoles. VU meters were still cool.

Soon I was actually mixing live music on a regular basis with some rather decent gear! At first however, proper gain structure, use of EQ and certain other skills were largely a mystery to me, to be honest. I instinctively knew what sounded good though. People cheered and applauded at shows so I must have been doing something right. Yah, there was the occasional squeak or howl, but never for more than a second. Or two. Or maybe three…

In those days with bluegrass music, electronic instruments and direct boxes were somewhat of a no-no and still frowned upon. All microphones only! All SM58’s for vocals and SM57’s for instruments. This is how and where I learned that 160Hz is the resonant frequency of an acoustic guitar! Even though I didn’t really understand how or why at the time… This was however excellent training for my ears.

Skip ahead two years. I was on the road with an R&B band that had recently moved to town.  Those were the days when you would spend 1-2 weeks playing every night in the same venue. Two years after that, I had my first house gig with that same band. Not long after, I landed a house gig at a well-known dinner/show nightclub where I virtually lived for three straight years. 

The first three months of that house gig, I came in early every single day to clean, refurbish and reorganize the entire rig from front to back.  It really needed it badly from years of neglect. (Oh how some things never seem to change) I learned an awful lot during that time and was so fortunate to have been able to work with many great bands and musicians. 

During that three-year period, I recall only ever subbing out once or twice. The first time was to work as a Local 58 stagehand (casual labor) for both load-in and load-out of Pink Floyd’s Delicate Sound Of Thunder 1988 stadium world tour. The second time was the following spring. Louie and I (a busboy at the club) had bought tickets to see Floyd on the return leg of that same tour. There was never any doubt in my mind that both this job and lifestyle were my destiny.

Club Bluenote circa 1987

Skip ahead now roughly 30 years…

The times they have a’ changed. Boy oh boy…

One thing that hasn’t changed at all is being the “newbie” on any job or gig. 

I remember my first gig. 

I was full of piss and vinegar, was entirely indestructible and was completely willing to do whatever it took to get the job done. Failure was never an option. 

In reality though, in the beginning, I knew virtually nothing directly useful to the job at hand. All I had were my own smarts, good instincts, a good attitude, a willingness to both listen and learn and the drive to succeed and move forward. And I asked a lot of questions. 

Those personal assets proved to become not only the cornerstones of my career but the winning combination to both an exceptionally satisfying and successful lifestyle. Mostly.  Well maybe with a hiccup or two along the way… Nobody’s perfect. I give full credit and thanks to both of my parents for those gifts.

I know that I was extremely lucky to have been taught, guided, looked after, embarrassed, made fun of, educated and mentored by many, many both kind–hearted and empathetic industry professionals across all of those years. I’m grateful to each and every one of them to this day. In fact, nothing’s really changed that much.  I’m still learning. And yes, I still make the occasional mistake(s). Nobody’s perfect. I learned early on that there are no stupid questions.

Remember your first gig? We all started somewhere. You were probably much like I was, wide-eyed, star-struck and ready to rock the world! Soon thereafter you likely became hooked. This lifestyle can be that way.

It’s inevitable however that we will one day be succeeded by yet another crop of the next generation’s offering of technicians, roadies, engineers and yes, even newbies. 

Our industry needs more mentors!

If you’ve been doing this for good while, it’s easy to spot potential. Talent. Pay it forward. Take a talented newbie under your wing. Show them the right way to do things, whatever they are. Teach them how to work safely, efficiently, effectively, and how to become a valuable and successful asset to any production. Show them that there are truly no stupid questions. 

Become a mentor and watch over them. Offer them both guidance and advise. Let ‘em in on your ‘bag ‘o tricks’. Share your experiences, good and bad. It’s a gift that can’t be bought and it will last a lifetime.

In fact, it will last for generations. It’s experience.

I remember my first gig.


Wanna tell us about YOUR first gig. Email The Rev. with the gory details and get your very own SPL blog entry…