True Story: I’m A Roadie

What's life like as a roadie? Is living on the road and touring with rock bands awesome? Hard? Both? One tour manager shares his story >> yesandyes.org

This is the story of William and his work as a tour manager otherwise known as ‘roadie.’

Tell us a bit about yourself!

My name is William Dietrich Pepple. Born in Kansas City, MO, raised in Lawrence, KS and currently living in Denver, CO. I love to travel and I have spent over ten years parlaying that love into a career as a “roadie.” More accurately, I am a Tour Manager and I often handle Front of House sound duties for the bands I tour with.
I currently tour with the bands Deer Tick, A Silent Film and Alkaline Trio and all of my vaccinations are current.
What are the biggest misconceptions about ‘roadies’? And how do you feel about that job title?
I have found that the biggest misconception about being a “roadie” is that most people outside of the live music world think that all we do is party and chase women. I mean, there is so much more to than that. What about all of the drugs?
Just kidding(-ish).
What really gets overlooked about this job the most is condition in which we live and travel. It isn’t like the movies at all. There aren’t a lot of first class flights or limo rides. Most bands travel in a passenger van with a trailer (for the gear and luggage) instead of a bus.

There is a lot of peeing into empty water bottles instead of pulling over. We all cram into one hotel room each night and most of us sleep on the floor. (Glamorous, right?) There isn’t a lot of privacy and shit gets real, real fast. If you’re considerate of other people and your surroundings then you’ll be just fine.

Do I have a problem with people using the term “roadie?” I don’t care. It was a funny movie starring Meatloaf. When I tell people it’s what I am/do it sounds a little more exciting than it really is and usually somebody will buy me a beer and ask me if I’ve heard of their cousin’s band.
How did you get into this line of work?
For as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to have a job in music. As my musical tastes shifted to punk rock as a teenager, I found that I was able to take part in that culture by way of going to shows and helping friends’ out by promoting or supporting their bands. Being a member of a scene was something that opened me to thinking of music paired with travel as a part of my identity and a possible career path.
After college, I went to work for some friends that produced concerts and I learned tons about the live music industry. I was able to get hands-on training in a lot of different jobs within the industry and I eventually was given the opportunity to join artists on the road as a crew member.
What are some of the craziest things you’ve encountered on the road?
I won’t admit to anything but I will say this: It’s amazing what you get used to seeing on a day-to-day basis. That goes for the good and bad.
Are you completely immune to being ‘star struck’?
It’s always cool to be around somebody that is a “super star.” Saying “wassup” to Dave Grohl as you pass him in a hall, shaking Cee-Lo Green’s hand as he walks off stage or watching Reggie Watts perform while standing side-stage next to the Deftones… all added bonuses to working a 18 hour day.
When I was in Japan, I sat down with some other of our crew guys and we realized Thom Yorke was at another table eating alone. When he got up after a few bites and left the table, I joked about going over and eating one of his sushi rolls before he came back. We got a laugh about that but then he never came back. I guess the table of six guys staring him down as he ate probably was weird. Either that or he hated the food.
What’s an average day like?
10AM – Wake up, wake up the band/crew
11AM – Find coffee and start driving to the show
12PM – Lunch
1PM – Keep driving
2PM – Pee break
3PM – Still driving
4PM – Almost there
5PM – Load gear in
6PM – Answer the following questions:
Is there wifi here?
What is the wifi password?
Is there a starbucks close by?
How far is the hotel from here?
Are we sound checking today?
What time is sound check?
What time do we go on?
7PM – Sound check
8PM – Doors
9PM – Local opener
10PM – Touring support band
11PM – Scheduled start time
1110PM – Actual start time
12PM – Still playing
1AM – Band finishes set/load out gear
2AM – Look for missing band member(s)
3AM – Find them, start driving to the next city
4AM – Check into hotel, do accounting, reply to emails
5AM – Go to sleep
What are the biggest challenges that come with the job? The biggest benefits?
By far, the biggest challenge is balancing work life with one’s personal life. Make no mistakes, this job is very much a lifestyle and to be good at it you must enjoy it. I’m not trying to sound like the lyrics to a cliche Bob Seger song but it’s real easy to get into “tour mode” and come out three months later having called home twice.
In the interest of full disclosure: I’m not the best at this myself. I get caught up in work and I’m not always able to pull me head out of the tour enough to talk about anything but work. What’s the point of having all of these stories and adventures if you don’t have friends and family to tell them to?
Now the benefits for me are travel, meeting babes and watching the sun rise and set on different continents. Walking around Sao Paulo, sitting poolside in Waikiki and exploring Victoria Market in Sydney… all amazing.
How do your friends and family feel about your career?
Everyone thinks I’m crazy to some degree. Most people find it unthinkable to travel as much as I do. When I tell somebody that I just spent 6 month out on tour they typically respond with:
“I just can’t imagine doing what you do. I just really like my bed/kids/dogs/power tools too much.”
Do you plan on doing this long-term? 
I’ll do this forever. I’m a lifer. They’ll bury me in a Ford E350 van if I don’t do it myself.
Seriously, I love this life.
What advice would you give to others who are interested in pursuing similar work?
Be an organized leader. Be a resource to people. Be an expert in your field. Take this advice in any career path and you will go far.
The single most important piece of advice I have to offer is this:

Get better at what you do and start getting good at what you want to do next.

Thanks so much for sharing, William!

P.S. Interviews with a Broadway performer and a working musician!

larger photo by nainoa shizuru, smaller photos from william’s instagram

10 Comments

Tamber

I love this! My uncle was a roadie/sound guy for years. He finally 'settled down' doing sound at a theatre in Ft Lauderdale. He has the best stories and is definitely an inspiration to me.

Reply
Erini

That schedule is fairly dead on, especially the find missing band members part. I work for and travel with a band… In fact, we just got back from a tour in LA. Two and half days driving out there and two and half back to Chicago… for 3 days (and 5 shows) actually spent in LA. If you have enough people able to drive, sometimes you drive straight through the night too. Totally not glamorous, we rarely stop for meals (best if you bring your own food), and you really do have to practice giving people (including yourself) personal space… But I absolutely love it. Wouldn't trade my big, stinky band family for anything. Bus for life.

(Also, Reggie Watts is a really cool dude. We just played with him a few weeks ago. /humblebrag.)

Reply
stacey*

love it! especially that he views himself as a 'lifer' – a clue that it's exactly where he's meant to be. thanks for sharing!

Reply
Anonymous

as grueling as his schedule is, this sounds like a life well-lived 🙂

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