Without them, the live music industry as we know it would collapse like a stage propped up on beer cans. The work they do is physically gruelling, mentally taxing, emotionally exhausting and vital to the success of any gig, and yet it so often goes unnoticed. But now, they need us to start noticing.
We’re being asked to back a new support fund for struggling roadies, following some very scary new stats about suicide rates in the profession.
Australian Road Crew Association (ARCA) spokesperson Ian Peel tells Music Feeds that, of all the Aussie roadies who’ve passed away over the years, a staggering one in five have died by their own hand.
“We’ve had 128 [deaths] and out of those we’ve had 27 suicides,” Peel says. “Friends of mine have taken their own lives.”
The music industry at large is being urged to throw its support behind the new fund, which takes the form of a 5-cent ticket levy, to help lend a hand to embattled road crew members in light of these shocking figures.
Susan Cooper, the General Manager of Aussie entertainment industry mental health support body Entertainment Assist, has told the ABC that two thirds of all roadies suffer from “moderate to severe depression”, adding that the rate of suicidal thoughts for roadies is a startling nine times higher than that of the average Aussie.
And she reckons one big reason why is the harsh lifestyle that these dudes and dudettes are forced to lead.
Giving us a glimpse into the daily life of an average roadie, she explains: “You are not going to be working all the time. You are going to have times where there’s no money and you’re working shift work and you’re not going to be sleeping. You’re going to be away or perhaps touring and not in contact with friends and family.”
While Peel adds: “You’re on the road so much, your family suffers… you don’t make enough money, you don’t get enough sleep, you don’t eat properly and no one’s looking after you. Eventually, it takes its toll. If we got more support and more recognition then maybe 27 of the guys who aren’t here would still be here.”
Sound technician Adam Kaye, who’s currently on tour with Aussie electro-pop heavyweights SAFIA, reckons the figures “don’t surprise him at all”.
“I’ve worked 18 hour days,” he confesses to Music Feeds. “It’s fuckin’ hard slog and it’s getting harder because work is getting more scarce.
“Especially in this country, I don’t feel like there are the support networks that we need. The guys do long, long hours. They’re away from home a lot. Sometimes the pay’s not great, and when you’re tired all the time it can really wear you down.”
And Kaye reckons one of the hardest things about the roadie lifestyle is maintaining relationships outside of work.
“It’s really really hard on wives and girlfriends,” he says, revealing that he’s seen more than just a couple of relationships break down over the years. “We can be away overseas touring for months on end.”
The professional sound tech adds that it’s not unusual for roadies to work for two days — i.e. 48 hours — straight (yep, as in ZERO sleep), and while he himself relies on a potent combo of coffee and Redbull to help him power on through, many of his peers have become dependent on illegal drugs just to stop themselves from conking out.
“Just because it has to be done, there isn’t really a choice,” he explains. “You know, the show must go on.”
Speaking about the new 5-cent levy scheme, ARCA’s Ian Peel says they “want to try to develop an income stream in perpetuity that can go into a fund to help crew,” adding that he hopes it will one day fund a dedicated retirement village specifically for veteran roadies.
“What we’re trying to do is get a bit of awareness and a bit of recognition out into the community,” he says.
Aussie promoters like Michael Chugg and bands like Air Supply have already backed the scheme, making donations equal to five cents per ticket.
“Jump on board. Five cents a ticket — it’s nothing in the scheme of things,” Peel urges.
While Kaye and many of his fellow roadies reckon the idea could do some real good.
“I think it’s a great idea,” the soundie says. “Because in my eyes, the general public doesn’t really know what it is we do. The roadie lifestyle is tough, and it’d be good just to have some funding to set up something, so that if someone’s feeling upset or depressed they’ve got somewhere to turn. And people understand. It’d be a really really good idea just to get the guys who need it some help.”
You can donate to the Roadies Fund by heading to the Australian Road Crew Association website right here.
For help or information regarding mental health, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636.