Finding your path in the music industry through being a stagehand is a very common route to getting on tour. It allows you to get a variety of knowledge, it gives you the ability to navigate the industry much more fluently, and it makes you understand what your peers are doing. In addition, it helps you figure out which area you want to specialize in.
What is a Stagehand?
A stagehand is a skilled laborer that specifically helps technicians for events. They are also called “neck down labor” for they are the extension of technicians.
Stagehand jobs are like a paid school or paid training. Notice that your path in the music industry is not the traditional route; meaning, the jobs do not require a degree. You can learn the skills as you go, and being a stagehand is a good start for learning these things. The entry point to being a stagehand is getting your hands on gear and doing events. As long as you get some experience, there is always the next level.
Skills Required to be a Stagehand
When you are a stagehand,
- Being consistent
- Being presentable
- Speaking well
- Always coming through
come a long way and helps you to be recognized by others.
Stagehand Entry Points
The first step to getting hired as a stagehand is asking people you know in the event industry if they know the local staging company. A referral will automatically validate you even if it’s a name that the other person on the other line does not necessarily know – they’ll know that there’s a connection.
If you have no connections and no experience whatsoever, Google “name of your area + event production stagehands” or “name of your area + local crew stagehands” – it does not matter where you live; if there are concerts happening in your area, there is a crew.
The next step is understanding who hires staging because it is different everywhere:
- Sometimes stagehand unions have the contract for the venue
- Sometimes it’s up to the promoters
- Sometimes they may be forced into union labor when they use that venue
- Sometimes they can hire out third-party stagehand vendors and companies
So, the stagehands come from different variety of sources and there is not just one place to find your entry-level opportunity. And as long as you can juggle your schedule, you can work with multiple companies.
Keep in mind that, for stagehand entry-level positions there is no experience necessary. Once you get the job, they will tell you what to do and you will start learning from day one – embrace that and start learning. This industry is in a labor shortage right now and at every level, everything is in demand. Therefore just get started on whatever you’re trying to do.
When you apply for a stagehand job, you might get what is called a “standby position”. Staging companies add anywhere from one to four extra stagehands to a call because people often don’t show up to work and they have to fill these positions. At the end of the day, the company has a client, and the client needs a certain amount of labor hands to fulfill the workload.
What Should You Do After You Get Hired?
- First of all, be grateful when you show up. This is a very cool thing that you get to do so be grateful – that will come across to everyone around you if you are enthusiastic about the position. There is going to be a lot of people that are just going to treat this like a job they are doing, so don’t jump on that train and show that you are genuinely interested.
- Secondly, never be late. They are going to give you a call time and a start time. Call time is always 30 minutes before and that’s when you should check-in. If they don’t give you a call time and they only give you the time you’re supposed to show up, then show up 30 minutes earlier.
- Show up wearing blacks so that you can be up for any opportunity to stay as long as you can. Your whole mission is to be involved in the event from start to finish. Stagehands need to be indiscreet, so they wear black on stage, and if they ask you to stay for the show, you’ll need black clothing to secure that.
- Be prepared with your tools. Bring a pair of work gloves to push cases, and to load and unload; a crescent wrench to use in the lighting section, and a blade of some sort to cut tape and stuff. Most stagehands are failing to bring this stuff to their gigs, and you will always stand out if you are prepared.
- Never be on your phone.
- Don’t leave without telling the person that you are assigned to.
- If you are assigned to do something by someone, make sure to tell them that you’re done once you finish and ask them what else can you do. If they don’t have anything else, just say that you’re there and don’t leave until they send you away.
- Always raise your hand when they need help with anything.
- If they ever say who can stay and who wants to leave – be the one that stays.
- Always say “Yes!” to stuff and always be present.
Notice that we didn’t say “learn audio, learn lighting cables, or learn how to build a screen” etc. You will learn these things in progress. However, if you bring these components mentioned above together, you will be asked to do every gig because everyone is going to want to work with you. And moreover, they will be happy to share their knowledge with you. The concept of just working your ass off and putting in the work is recognized by the people in this industry.
Working For Free and For Exposure
There is a big misconception about working for free and working for exposure because in reality, it is never for free. Yes, at some point you have got to say no to certain gigs but this is a big picture thing. When you are just starting out, you should make choices based on your potential and the possibilities out there. You are just getting warmed up and working for free and for exposure is just for getting started.
In this industry, you will notice that tours don’t hire generalists (general capable people). They hire specialists for specific roles. When you are first starting, you should focus on closing the skill gap – the more you understand and speak the language, the more likely that you’re getting the next-level opportunities. When you are the reliable person willing to do whatever consistently, you are going to be the one that gets the calls.
Therefore, if you are making growth choices and taking everything that you’re learning to the fullest… you are not wasting your time. You are getting that experience which will eventually help you move to the next level.
Tips For the People workıng in the Music Industry
Knowledge is not power; knowledge is only stored potential, and it is the action that is power. Stop being afraid to mentor, stop being afraid for your gig and help those people that are willing to learn and grow. If you see somebody that has the potential, push them towards their goal. Answer their questions as best as you can. Feed their curiosity, feed their lack of knowledge because we need them!
Find Your Next Step
Our dear guest Kenny Barnwell for the Stagehand 101 episode is helping people who want to work in the music industry with his Crew Coach project.