Canadian Musician - January/February 2023 | Page 40

Tour Crew Mental H ealth :

There ’ s a Big Problem So Let ’ s Address It !

By Catherine Harrison

Music is magical . Live music can be awe-inspiring and spine-tingling , bringing us together as a community . It can bring us to tears , exhilarate us , and make us laugh , cry , howl , and move . It s no wonder that millions of people want to work in the music industry , and hundreds of thousands do . They want to be part of it and make it their life ’ s work .

Working in the music industry can be fulfilling , and unforgettable . It can also be debilitating , heartbreaking , stressful , and lonely . Neuroscience has proven the link between music and its positive impact on mental health . And numerous research studies have demonstrated the connection between a stressful job and adverse mental health .
For the massive population of behindthe-scenes crews ensuring the show always goes on , one of the most important things we can do is reconcile both sides and see that the good and the bad can be true simultaneously . The backstage crew are the voices often not heard , and the stories often untold .
For as long as humans have been discussing humans , hierarchies between een groups and within groups have been observed . Within the music industry ( a collective ctive ), there are artists , management , corporations ons , audiences , and technical , trade , and road crews . What is the experience of that interconnected working community ? How has COVID-19 shifted the already precarious nature of live music crew work ? How has it impacted mental and overall health ? What are the barriers and opportunities to optimal work / life balance and well-being for those in these functional teams ? What can we do ?
In her book Atlas of the Heart , Brené Brown says , “ When we ’ re in pain , it is easy to turn inward and collapse into our fear , anxiety , sadness , and stress .” To heal our universal human distress conditioning , we must turn outward , engage with our community , give and receive support and understanding , and learn how to
live a more healthful , balanced life at work and home .
A stagehand / technician / backstage crew / roadie is a person who works backstage or behind the scenes in theatres , live music , film , television , or location performance . The metaphor of a duck on the water is apt for a live music event : The audience sees only the smooth performers on the stage ; meanwhile , below the surface is controlled chaos . At what personal cost do these incredible shows go
on ? The working environment is generally not conducive to optimal health and well-being . Poor nutrition , chronic substance use , poor sleep habits , erratic exercise habits , and living in the dark most of the time all contribute to the daily reality of the crew . The livelihood of a backstage worker can be precarious , challenging , chaotic , underappreciated , and invisible . This is in combination with the rapidly changing music industry itself . For the majority of artists , relatively little money is being made from recording music anymore ; thus , the entire focus is on live performances . And we know that the show only goes on because of the technical proficiency of the backstage crew .
Live shows can employ hundreds of tour- ing and local workers . Yet , these people are invisible by design ( black shirt , anyone ?) and often under-appreciated and under-supported regarding health and well-being . In a 2014 paper called Living the Dream :
Precarious Labour in the Live Music Industry , University of Toronto Professor Adam Zendel shared these observations from interviewees working in the industry : People do not think about these roles at all . When you go to a show , it never even occurs to [ the audience ] that there is a crew of people , and it is not visible ; it is not supposed to be a visible thing . As a society , people assume that nobody is doing it . That it gets done on its own like black magic .” Everybody thinks it is just the artist . It ’ s not . Without us , your artist will sound like crap , and you re going to see a horrible show , which goes for all lighting , audio , and video .”
“... the last day we worked 24 hours . So that s crazy ! And a day rate does not end at midnight . It ends when the load out is done .”
I ve never been too sick to do the show . I ve never had a sick day . And as far as the injury , I ve been injured . I ’ ve had my hands smashed in a freight elevator ... I ’ d have my legs cut up ... it s dark .”
The long working hours , irregular sched- ules , seasonal variation , extended periods of unemployment , and extended periods of work ( travelling for weeks or months ) continue to have profound personal , familial , and social costs . Workers hold multiple jobs simultane- ously and change positions throughout their careers . The lack of job stability , combined with changing demands from employers , and the short life span of projects , means that workers have little opportunity for career growth and instead have to reinvent themselves throughout their careers .