Heading to a music festival this summer? While you're out front enjoying the plentiful supply of live music thrills, spare a thought for the hard-working, gear-laden tech crews who will be oiling the wheels of your favourite band's festival performance.
From in-ear monitor catastrophes, slippery drum risers and over-stretched stage managers, to impossible 20-minute changeovers, tuning-warping humidity, and dressing rooms the size of toilet cubicles, these incredible techs are practised in the fine art of getting the job done.
Professionals who have honed their trade with some of the biggest, hottest, and most influential acts in the world, these drum, guitar, bass and keys techs, plus backline wonders, tour managers, production managers, stage managers, lighting engineers, production directors and sound directors have decades of experience between them.
In an exclusive new series on MusicRadar, Access All Areas brings you an invaluable insight into what it takes to tech at festivals, how to survive one of the toughest days of your working life, and when to stand back and say, 'job well done'.
David Fidyrch aka Fiddy, bass tech
Like any newbie tech, David Fidyrch cut his teeth on a variety of instruments when starting out. Working with various bands for over 10 years, David now handles tech duties for The Killers bass guitarist Mark Stoermer. He has also leant his guitar and backline tech-ing skills to a variety of acts including MGMT (backline tech), Laura Marling (guitar tech), Louis XIV (guitar tech), and Stellastarr* (backline tech).
"I'm getting more involved with the production side of things now." Says David. "I worked with the The XX as the production manager last summer, and I'm about to start a tour with Kaiser Chiefs."
Tech-ing for The Killers at Hard Rock Calling among other summer festival dates, David lets us take a peek inside his tech kit bag while running us through his day on a festival site.
As a bass tech, what you do upon arriving at a festival?
"I check out the stage and gear, and see how much room we are going to have to work with. The real answer? Complain about how tired I am and make my way to catering to eat the same breakfast I had at the last festival!"
What problems might you encounter when tech-ing for Mark Stoermer at a festival?
"Most of the major festivals only give you 30 minutes for a changeover, which is only enough time to get a quick bass line in before the sound guy is telling you to shut up so that he can check the rest of the instruments. If there is a problem, you had better have the skills to figure it. Fast."
What does your day involve when tech-ing at a festival?
"The majority of the day is spent on-stage preparing the gear before the show: changing strings, tuning bass guitars, and doing some repairs if need be. Luckily I don't work for a band that throws gear around too much. During the show I'm tuning the bass guitars and passing them off between songs. After the show, I pack up the gear and make sure it gets on the truck."
When heading out to a festival, what essential items do you stock in your tech kit bag?
"My tech case is packed with everything you might need: tools, strings, cables, backup pedals, whiskey and a raincoat."
Matt Breunig aka Boombah, keyboard tech
As an audio engineer based in Sin City since 1998, Matt Breunig has only ever toured with one band, The Killers. Based in the same Nevada desert residence as the band, Matt had well-placed connections that landed him the gig in September 2008.
"Two of The Killers' crew have been my close friends for a long time, and when they needed another guy for the Day And Age tour in 2008, I got a call while I was in the studio mixing a record."
Thanks to his flexible day job, Matt can take time off to work with frontman and Killers keyboardist Brandon Flowers. "I pretty much work in the studio when I'm home and go when The Killers need me." He says. "They called me because, even though I'm a guitar player primarily, I'm very experienced with MIDI."
Even though Matt's main responsibility is Brandon's keyboards, he also handles a lot of other gear on stage along with the band's three other techs. With many Killers festival appearances under his belt, Matt gives us his unique take on festival tech-ing.
What is the first thing you do as a tech when you arrive at a new festival?
"When The Killers play festivals, we usually headline. That means our load-in is early morning. We crawl out of our bunks and get our bearings. Once we've found the production office, we find the stage and hopefully find that our truck is there.
"95 percent of the time we don't actually set upon-stagefor our early morning checks. Festival stages are usually pretty large with plenty of room side stage and behind the main backdrop. We pull out our risers, un-case our gear, set-up just like we would for a regular soundcheck, but our gear is just in a line backstage in the opposite position of how it will be on-stage when we push the gear there for the show.
"We run power and audio lines back to everything to do a line check. Once that's done, the snake and power runs are pulled back to monitor world and we cover the gear with tarpaulin - my least favourite part of the gig."
What do you focus on when setting up Brandon's keyboards?
"For keyboards or anything digital, just turning it on and hearing it in our in-ear mixes is the only thing you can really do. Once you hear the sound, and it sounds right with both left and right sides working, you can only hope that the humidity doesn't mess with them.
"During a couple of previous festival gigs we've been rained on, and our Nord Lead 2 keyboards in particular start to play wrong notes in the humidity. Other than that, I check to make sure keys aren't sticking or on the verge of breaking."
Have you ever had any disasters with gear at a festival performance?
"Yes, when some of my gear got damaged in shipping. After line check I had to solder up some connections and have our set carpenter help me put some of my set pieces/keyboard stand back together."
What gear do you take on the road?
"I help tech guitars for our touring musician [as well as Brandon's keys], so I've got strings, guitar polish, a large soft bristle brush to get the pyro dust of off the keyboards, plus all my soldering tools and extra MIDI cables. A good flashlight is important for a festival gig, plus lots of batteries and a razor blade for the tarps."
Do you enjoy tech-ing at festivals?
"I've always hated festivals. There's more pressure, a bigger audience and the stakes are higher, but because it's not your gig there's less available to you if you need stuff fixed. You have to wait to get meal tickets so you can so much as grab a cup of coffee, and the dressing rooms have rarely enough room for the crew so you're better off staying on the bus most of the day."
So what would you say to a new tech working their first festival this summer?
"I'm still not fond of working festivals, but if you're looking for solid advice, here it is: keep your head down, stay out of other people's way, do whatever is asked of you but do it fast and accurately the first time. Stay calm under pressure and be nice to everyone because being a jerk in the tense situations that occur during festivals will guarantee that you won't be there next year."