People from outside this industry usually ask me: “so what’s your next gig?” or “how do you find these strange jobs you get?” or “so is it always the same company that employs you?”. I usually have to explain to them that when somebody is a freelance technician, it seems that who you know is just as important as what you know. And this seems to have always been the case to one extent or another.
And so, when someone isn’t “on the road” they’re more than likely looking for their next gig. How do we normally find gigs? It’s not always easy, is it? you sometimes get a phone call or email from a friend you once toured with who is on a gig that needs somebody right away, or you get a call from an old production manager who wants to know what you’re doing “in three months time… maybe, more or less”. But it generally comes down to people you already know calling you, or putting you in touch with new contacts who are in need of somebody.
And here is where I think where you live can be as important as who you know. Because we’re in an industry where people spend more or less time in their home city, we can practically decide where we want to live. If you’re based out of the US you have the whole of North America to pick from, and if you’re European you’re not short on options either. I grew up in the south of Spain in a small town where there is no entertainment industry whatsoever. It just so happened that there was one person living in my town related to the entertainment industry who got me in touch with my first production manager when I had finished studying Music Technology, if she hadn’t been living in that small town, my whole career would’ve probably been completely different. So for the whole of my touring life, I’ve lived in Spain, and not even close to any of the two major cities that have arenas and stadium shows come through.
When a gig was over, I would have to spend plenty of time emailing people reminding them I still existed, asking people to keep their ears open for me, and even doing trips to other cities to catch up with old roadie friends who were passing by cities that were “only” 3 or 4 hundred miles from my home. So what was the advantage? Why would I stick to the south of Spain and not move to London, or Manchester, or Barcelona even, surely there would be more work opportunities and more chances of networking with crew passing through town. Well, one of the advantages of living out of the loop is cash. We go on tours and earn our cash, spend our PD’s and hope that once we’re home the cash we made doesn’t disappear completely before the next show comes along. And living somewhere like this can be extremely cheap, which releases some of the pressure and stress from having to find another gig immediately, and even gives you time to enjoy while you’re at home.
When I started touring I couldn’t understand how people could “live” in LA, or NYC or London when they were spending very little time at home.
The price of accommodation in these cities is extremely high, and the cost of living the months that you were home seemed like your cash would just drip through your fingers the moment you set foot at home. But in later years I’ve come to figure that, apart from the obvious, family being close, or partners having permanent jobs in these cities, they are the best place to network while you’re not on a job. You will have a handful of shows coming through town every week, and you were likely to have colleagues working on those shows, so you could meet up with them in the hotel bar if they had a day off, or even pop into the arena and help with the load in to hang out with these fellow touring friends.
And perhaps this might be why in the US a lot of touring crew have moved to cities like Nashville, or Phoenix, where you have a guaranteed number of shows flowing through your city, while keeping the cost of living low enough and where the low season is still warmer than some of the spots up north, or so I can imagine.
Looking back, maybe the wisest thing for my career would’ve been to stay in Manchester working as local crew and in local venues and trying to network during my younger years. And moved back to the south of Spain once I had enough contacts and was better established in the industry, and networking was less urgent, however, I don’t regret the choices made.