by Erica McQueen

Q&A: Gavin Downie

by Erica McQueen

Q&A: Gavin Downie

Before branching out into production management Aucklander Gavin Downie worked for a number of years as a guitar tech, a job that includes looking after and maintaining equipment for musicians at live events. Among other things he nowadays pulls together the logistics for bands, overseeing the technical side of music shows, locally and on tour.

The 2018 Official NZ Music Month Summit is on the theme of confronting issues in the music industry. Consideration for health and wellbeing is essential to music-making across the industry. Drawing from a wealth of experience touring across the globe, Gavin will be sharing during the wellbeing session at the Summit on Saturday 26 May.

The music industry has changed plenty in the two decades you’ve spent touring NZ and the world. What are some things we’re better at nowadays and what new challenges do production crews face today?

We are better at putting on world-class shows, we have the same equipment as any country on the planet and we have the skills to use it. We are no longer a backwoods No. 8 wire setup.

I think the biggest challenges for a lot of crew are dealing with a lot of big mergers that are being made between the few big touring agencies and the smaller local promoters. Trying to find your place in the bigger machine can be tough especially when some of the work is sometimes being sent offshore.

Where do you think does the biggest pressure for production crews come from? Research tells us it can be tough for some…

Time is always the biggest pressure by far, there are numerous promoters who happily make a crew work a full day then drive through the night to the accommodation – whilst tired – and you then try get a few hours sleep before they expect you back early the next morning.

A lot of promoters have gotten better at planning their tour routes and days to rest, but there’s still some cowboys I’ve had the displeasure of working for, watching them put us and others through ridiculous schedules and into danger to save a few bucks. It can feel pretty disheartening to hear a promoter brag about sell out shows when you’re being made to work 20 hour days and do those drives.

There’s always a focus on the musicians when it comes to wellbeing in music. What resources or support are in place to look for crew?

Aside from the amazing work that the NZ Music Foundation are doing, I think it’s become more of our own personal role to monitor each other and keep an eye on our touring brethren to look after them.

A lot of the time the musician is in the limelight for their struggles and we can get forgotten, but we are a very tight-knit bunch of friends and distant friends. Via social media and such we can all check in on each other when we aren’t on the road.

Production crews often work tirelessly and without the recognition artists receive. How can crew being given a sense of purpose when their goal isn’t success in the same way as artists?

I don’t know if I have the right or the time or place to speak for all crew, but – crew just want to be left to do what they do. We are detailed precise workers, we thrive on it. Our celebration is when the house lights come back up and the gig has gone well. Yes we don’t focus on the crowd’s roar or the screaming fans like the bands might do, but we do respect the fans and love them just the same. Our sense of purpose is to just keep touring, a lot of us would work every day of the year non-stop if we could!

How do you boost team morale at a gig or on a tour?

It’s important to never set too many hierarchies. Yes, there’s a time and place you put on your boss hat but there’s also a time when you just should hang out with the loaders, chat with the lighting guys, go to a movie with all the team on a day off, or if you’re lucky, borrow a band’s tour bus and all go to the amusement park.

It’s important to have that time away from the stage and the “in the zone” times where you can all just relax. And you have to try to keep people laughing.

Can you share the best piece of advice you’ve received that’s encouraged you to continue pursuing a career in the music industry, while still looking after yourself?

“Never tour with your idols, cos if you do and you have a bad night it’s gonna hurt you ten times more.”

I learned that the hard way but I also realised you have to stand up for yourself when things go wrong and are not your fault. Musicians are intense creatures, on stage they are in another headspace and if words are said in the heat of the moment don’t take it to heart like it’s a personal attack. Gear breaks down, musicians get angry, you just get the brunt of the heat for a second. But unless it’s your own monumental fuck up, they cool off and they’ll talk to you and you can explain. Don’t hate yourself for things you didn’t do cos some rockstars ego is a little crushed after a gig.

What message are you hoping to bring to people at the 2018 NZ Music Month Summit?

I want to just let people know we are all part of the big machine, yes we all tend to group together and have our own little groups of roadies, sound people, lighting people. But we are all part of the larger touring community so it’s important to keep an eye on each other and try to see the signs when we all have our bad days. I’m extremely proud to be part of this so I hope I bring something my fellow road dogs would want me to say on their behalf.

The 2018 Official NZ Music Month Summit. Saturday May 26, 10am – 4pm, Herald Theatre, Auckland. Tickets available from Ticketmaster.