Canadian Musician - January/February 2023 | Page 42

PHOTO : MICHAEL RAINE different needs and preferences for how they support their mental health . There ’ s no right way or wrong way .” Tonic Rider is an organization that provides non-clinical mental health support to people in the music industry . Shenton says they help equip people with the skills to manage mental health concerns in various circumstances . They focus on preventative workshops , peer support , training , and the provision of clinical support when required .
Through my own current M . A . ( psychology ) studies , I have researched and written about diversity , equity , inclusion , organizational hierarchies , and workplace communities and how these dynamics can support or detract from a person ’ s health and well-being . Over the past five years , I have also investigated mental health in the music industry . These two perspectives have joined to create a better understanding of how various marginalized groups operate within the larger industry community , including the crews . Management is at the top , then the artist ( if it ’ s a superstar , possibly the other way around ), the audience , and then the dozens or hundreds of people who ensure the show goes on . They often have very little autonomy and agency . Feeling disempowered and working in a toxic culture contribute to low psychological and emotional well-being . This can lead to further tension and harmful interactions , even within crew teams , representing a compelling social science concept known as “ crabs in the barrel .” According to the research , this phenomenon is when individuals within a given status group create competition and hierarchy , often leading to negative interpersonal relationships and toxic work environments as they fight for dominance . Many roadies report that the worst behaviour and interpersonal treatment comes from supervisors within their ranks .
One of the organizations working to improve touring life and home life is The Roadie Clinic , based in Niles , MI . In 2019 , Paul and Courtney Klimson started the non-profit
42 CANADIAN MUSICIAN organization to support roadie peers and their families . Paul is one of the most sought-after veteran audio engineers in America , with a 20 + year background in touring , television , and recording . He has worked with The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon , Justin Timberlake , and Drake and provides one-on-one peer chat sessions with roadies in need . In a recent interview , he shared that since touring opened post-COVID-19 , gig planning has been erratic and inconsistent , with sudden bookings and cancellations becoming the norm .
Constant uncertainty leads to chronic stress . Recently , a roadie shared with Paul that “ life on the road is like being a cop , where you get a huge dopamine rush ( a brain chemical that makes you feel great ), and then nothing , the plunge . The ups and downs can be very destabilizing .” Many roadies report constant feelings of insecurity , imposter syndrome , paranoia , identity crises , isolation , and struggling to find balance in their lives . Another roadie shared , “ There are times when I feel like crying because I ’ m in these places of awesomeness or beauty , and it ’ s just me alone and no one I care about to share it with . And this is the crux of entertainment touring .” Roadies can both love and hate their jobs at the same time !
The employee shortage facing all industries is the same in live music right now . There is simply a need for more skilled and experienced technicians to put on the shows as expected . Experienced veterans are either retiring , exposing significant talent gaps in the system , or , staying , but realizing they want a better work-life balance . Younger workers must be trained , mentored , and supported as they learn the trades . Until these two realities are reconciled , this puts the health and safety of everyone involved at risk : the technicians , the artists , and the audience members . We can all remember news stories of stages and rigging collapsing : Indiana State Fair ( 2011 ), the Radiohead tour ( Toronto , 2012 ), Rolling Loud Festival in Miami ( 2001 ), and Spain ’ s Medusa Festival stage ( 2022 ), to name a few .
Without psychological safety , technicians can ’ t speak up when something is not right , ready , or safe ; a piece of equipment needs to be replaced , or someone is being bullied or harassed . These kinds of situations will continue to occur at an ever-increasing rate .
During a recent Zoom call , Peter Darwin gave me similar feedback . He is a seasoned tour and production manager based in Adelaide , Australia , who works with artists like Keith Urban and site manages stadium concerts at Adelaide Oval , among other venues . Darwin believes the lack of skilled workers is a genuine concern , also contributing to chronic adverse mental health . Fewer workers with less experience equal greater risk . This can lead to constant stress and distress . COVID-19 exposed the downsides of the casual “ gig ” work that crew and technicians have experienced for decades . Workers often come together for a few weeks , then disconnect again for periods . There is less opportunity for meaningful relationships to develop , with persistent uncertainty and low stability . This can lead to sub-optimal mental health on tour and at home .
After the abrupt halt of work in 2020 , some skilled workers have come back , but many decided to shift professions altogether and maintain a more balanced life with time for health , family , and friends , even if it meant a reduction in pay . Nonmonetary benefits are becoming more and more critical to workers . The break of COVID-19 illuminated the often-hostile work environment and cultural practices . In his view , many producers and promoters are in denial , and vendors and crew struggle . How can we take ownership of small , daily routines to support ourselves and each other within the broken industry infrastructure ?
Darwin cites the crew ’ s mental health as a critical concern . He believes that the primary barrier is institutional practices , and the most meaningful opportunity is at the crew level : to learn small , daily routines to support ourselves and each other . Darwin is the chair of Crew Care , a volunteer-based advocacy group that provides