BY KEN “POOCH” VAN DRUTEN
I meet a lot of roadies these days who are young, willing, and hard working. This is unusual amongst the younger generation of workers in the “real” world, and it makes my heart happy to know that there ARE those who still believe in what they do for a living, and who will work hard to do it.
BUT – It seems that there are a lot of younger kids getting higher end jobs on major tours, like FOH Engineer, or Lighting Designer, or Stage Manager, without EARNING it.
When I started in this industry, you had to work for years as a kid that did the hard jobs. The heavy lifting, the running of cables thru the vomit and the piss, the 18=hour work day. Then, after years, maybe, just maybe, you might get to mix an opening act for a song or two.
Then after a few more years of perfecting your job as a system engineer, you MIGHT be in the right place at the right time, and you MIGHT get a chance to mix a national touring act on tour, IF you have enough people snowed that you can actually do the job.
Meanwhile on the inside, you are scared shitless because you know this is your one and only chance, and you have NO idea what you are doing. Seems impossible, doesn’t it? Yet there are those of us who did it. And there are those of us who earned the respect of our peers, BY doing it.
Now there seems to be a trend of instant operators. Instant millionaires for lack of a better parallel comparison. Kids that have never been on tour before working as the stage manager (for example) for a 12-truck tour. How does this happen? How is it possible that a 22-year-old child, who has never been outside the US, much less to Belarus, is suddenly in charge of 40 roadies and 100 stage hands?
Am I questioning his ability to do the job? NO. But what I am questioning is the “seasoning” that happens to experienced roadie alumni, and the intuition that comes with years of doing a job.
For example: The live sound school industry churns hundreds of kids into this industry every year. They are highly-trained and knowledgeable about the specific skill of “running” a console. What they don’t—and can’t—teach is what to do when you have a problem with this gear. It is inevitable that gear will fail. It is how you handle it, and how you FIX it, that makes you a star.
The problem is that the powers that be, (band management) hire cheap labor, rolling the dice that there will not BE problems. This is flawed thinking. The probability of equipment failure on a 18 month tour is 100 percent. Gear WILL fail. In my 25+ years, I have NEVER been on a tour that did not have one type of equipment failure or another.
I once read a Forbes article on hiring the perfect employee, and I think it applies to our industry as well. It’s called the seven “C’s” – the art to hiring and finding great employees.
1. Competent: This is still the first factor to consider. Does the potential employee have the necessary skills, experiences and education to successfully complete the tasks you need performed?
2. Capable: Will this person complete not only the easy tasks but will he or she also find ways to deliver on the functions that require more effort and creativity? For me, being capable means the employee has potential for growth and the ability and willingness to take on more responsibility.
3. Compatible: Can this person get along with colleagues, and more importantly, can he or she get along with existing and potential clients and partners? A critical component to also remember is the person’s willingness and ability to be harmonious with you, his or her boss. If the new employee can’t, there will be problems.
4. Commitment: Is the candidate serious about working for the long term? Or is he or she just passing through, always looking for something better? A history of past jobs and time spent at each provides clear insight on the matter.
5. Character: Does the person have values that align with yours? Are they honest; do they tell the truth and keep promises? Are they above reproach? Are they selfless and a team player?
6. Culture: Every business has a culture or a way that people behave and interact with each other. Culture is based on certain values, expectations, policies and procedures that influence the behavior of a leader and employees. Workers who don’t reflect a company’s culture tend to be disruptive and difficult.
7. Compensation: As the employer, be sure the person hired agrees to a market-based compensation package and is satisfied with what is offered. If not, an employee may feel unappreciated and thereby under perform. Be careful about granting stock in the company; if not handled well, it will create future challenges.
How many of the kids that you see in this industry meet these requirements? Not many. The tough ones are Compatible, Character, and Culture. These require some years of working in this industry and gaining the respect from others on the team.
So should an employer hire ALL seasoned employees? Of course not. No employer can afford to do this. It’s why the fifth guy (stage patcher) on the sound team doesn’t make as much as the FOH engineer. There is plenty of room for new blood on tour. But the instant lighting designer at age 22 is NOT the best choice as an employer. I don’t care HOW talented he is, he does NOT have the respect of those that work with him, and eventually is going to find himself in a position where his young reaction to an issue, and a problem in the workplace, will reveal his age and inexperience.
SO employers – I beg you – hire the experienced in leadership roles. We will know what to do when your shit breaks. We are talented and wise beyond our years. We know how to lead your younger employees, and the extra money it takes to retain our services will pay for itself over, and over, and over, again.
As for the rest of you younger cats… Keep doing what you are doing. Work your ass off. Earn the respect of others by showing respect. Your day will come to be in charge, just not when you are 20 years old.
Unser the heading of “Great Minds Think Alike” or something like that. Pooch and the Rev. wrote about very similar stuff this time around. Check out the Rev.’s take–from more of a musician’s perspective. HERE.