Nerds: The Gaff Tape of Festivals

You have to be kind of crazy to have a career in live entertainment.

Working double time, 3 or 4 days in a row. High voltage, high stress, big egos, big money, constant changes… it’s not for the sane and I ended up here pretty much by accident.

I started in Audio/Video club for 4 years in high school. Filming town meetings, documentaries for the city, skate videos for my friends, and other nerdy bored nonsense. I learned to shoot and edit, wire up systems, and get out of class to work on projects. I kind of forgot about those years, until I found myself back in it, working tech in event production, behind the scenes, surrounded by nerds.

There are so many moving parts that the more you know, the more useful you are.

I’m a vocalist, and my first band broke up in 2008. I needed to stay busy, so I started volunteering and interning, smartest thing I did for my career. Street promoting, radio promoting, selling merch… anything I could to stay active and get into shows for free. Through the friends I made, it eventually turned into stage managing, where my years around equipment came in really handy and I got sucked into the audio world. I currently work for Diversified Stage in Santa Rosa, specializing in lighting, audio, video, and staging. Our equipment and wiring is in almost every major music venue in Sonoma County.

Versatility is integral in event production.

There are so many moving parts that the more you know, the more useful you are. When I moved to Sonoma County from New England in 2012, I found that there are jobs here in the entertainment industry if you’re able to adapt and work hard.

Back home In Albany, NY in 2011, half the downtown shops were empty and boarded up. I couldn’t get a job making pizza. But here, on the edge of San Francisco, the economy is healthy, and demand for entertainment is high.

Producing shows is not easy

It’s risky and stressful. Always a gamble even if you’re established. For the first few years a promoter or venue can expect to lose a sizeable chunk of money or break even, if they’re lucky. Every part of this industry is made up of people, and people can be really unpredictable. The need for qualified, solution oriented, team minded, motivated people cannot be understated.

…when done right it’s like magic.

In a smaller community like Sonoma County, word travels fast, and over time people’s real intentions surface. I have three rules that apply to everyone who is employed or seeks employment in the performance industries. One: don’t be a Diva cuz no one person is the most important, without the cooperation of the entire team, all preparation will fall apart; and Two: If you say you will do something – DO IT – or find someone else to cover, cuz everyone is counting on you. And three; communicate. Answer emails, phone calls, and texts. Manage your calendar, and if you can’t stay on top of things, revisit your plans.

From an audience perspective, you would never know the amount of work that goes into some of these shows. It’s absurd sometimes, There must be some kind of masochism we all have in common. Bring an idea to life, even if it means working absurdly long days and being the first and last people on site. Golf carts, rental cars, networking, concert tickets and free travel are a bonus. This career is definitely not for the weak willed. The live entertainment environment has a unique offering of ominous disasters, but when done right it’s like magic. From backstage, it’s a machine of comradery, knowing that only team-work can bring the show to life.

Tech plays a critical role in nearly every aspect of this industry

It has become a necessary tool for sharing ideas and bringing people together all over the world. It allows people to reach huge audiences. For every wide eyed teenager seeing their favorite band for the first time, there’s ten nerds sitting behind cameras, sound boards and computers, making their dreams come true. From office, to planes, stages and semi’s… art, music, dance, theater, sports, politics…It seems like everyone plays a role in this industry. Or maybe it’s that in every industry, there is a place for us nerds, running things behind the scenes. Banded together by some weird compulsion to make magic happen.

About the author: Susanne Dugan

Susanne Dugan has been an active member of the Santa Rosa grassroots art and culture community since moving to Sonoma County in November 2011. As an organizing member of the Arlene Francis Center from 2012-2014, she was introduced to numerous aspects of local art and music. Introduced to community activism and volunteerism at a young age, Susy believes in fostering and supporting local arts and encouraging freedom of expression to help people and communities make positive, progressive changes. She works now as an audio engineer, equipment technician and events specialist at Diversified Stage in Santa Rosa.

2 comments to “Nerds: The Gaff Tape of Festivals”

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  1. Bruce - February 23, 2017 at 9:48 am Reply

    This is a great article and insight in the behind the scene of music production work. Ms Susanne Dugan is one of the hardest and dedicated worker around. She is to the point and gets (sh)it done.

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