I can’t believe this is already my 10th interview in the series of showcasing professionals in live music! I’ve really enjoyed doing the interviews and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading them too. I also hope these stories have offered support to the live music crews during the industry pandemic.
My next interview introduces Guitar Tech Claire Murphy. Besides working as a tech she also runs her own van, backline and storage rental business in London, UK. Claire represents the many badass women working in live music who aren’t afraid to do what they want and pursue their dreams in a man-dominated industry.
I connected with Claire through Soundgirls.org, a community that empowers women working in audio. She wants to help other women break into touring and offers them an opportunity to shadow her work to support them.
I recently read Claire’s new book Girl On The Road – How To Break InTo Touring From The Female Perspective and realized how much we have in common, even if she started her journey 20 years or so earlier than I did. I got inspired by her story and wanted to share it on my blog to spread the inspiration. She also writes her own blog about touring to complement the book, both of which are great resources for anyone (not just women) wanting to break into touring. I warmly recommend checking out both of them!
This is Claire’s story.
Hi Claire! What do you do in the music industry?
I am currently a guitar tech with the artist Vance Joy. I have also tour managed in the past, looked after merch and been a general all round backline tech.
Being a guitar tech usually involves looking after all the stringed instruments on stage. Sometimes you get to look after just one person, maybe the main artist, or you can be looking after multiple band members. My primary focus is looking after James (Vance Joy) and making sure all his instruments are working correctly, they are set up how he likes them each day, re-stringing them and anything else he needs on stage (setlist placement, water bottle etc.). I do the same for the electric guitarist and bassist, but they are more self contained and are happy to look after themselves for the most part.
During the day I will take out all the instruments and get them ready for soundcheck, along with setting up the stage (placing pedalboards and amps, sometimes mic placement). We will run through all the instruments to make sure they sound good before the band arrives for the soundcheck. During the show I carry out all the guitar changes, you will most likely see me walking on and off the stage, dressed in black, carrying a guitar! If anything goes wrong during the show, if it’s related to the guitars or something else I can help with, I will fix that. A good show is when nothing goes wrong! After the show we will pack everything down, and load the truck, ready to do it all again the next day.
How did you end up working as a Guitar Tech?
For an in depth read about how I got to where I’m at today, I would shamelessly recommend downloading my book! I go into great detail about how I got into touring, and give a plan for anyone to do the same thing.
I basically started out working at a rehearsal studio after being in a couple of bands that didn’t work out. I met a guitar tech at that studio and he got me my first tour. It definitely wasn’t as simple as it sounds, and it takes a lot of hard work and some luck, but mainly perseverance.
I then branched out into tour managing where I was also looking after merchandise and was driving the band in a splitter van. It’s important to try different roles and see which you like and then you can head down that path to specialisation.
After a couple of years of small to mid level touring, I decided to buy my own splitter van and start renting to the bands I was working for directly. After doing that for a while, I branched out into providing storage for them and also bought a couple more vans. It was a lot of fun running my own business, and I recommend it to anyone! I now mainly just guitar tech but I may go back to tour managing as it’s been long enough for me to forget just how stressful that role is!
What is the best thing about your work and on the other hand, the biggest challenge?
The best thing for me is the travel. You get to see the world and get paid for it. It’s really the best job.
The biggest challenge is probably being away from home for so long. It can be just a couple of weeks, to 6 months at a time. It can be really difficult keeping relationships, you definitely have to work hard at it.
How is the Coronavirus affecting you and your work?
It has completely halted the industry. All the shows I had this year have been cancelled. It also came at a time when most people were just starting to get going again after the quiet period in January/February.
In my book I talk about how important budgeting is, and to have 6 months of expenses saved so you can sit and wait for work to come in. I think that is so important even when you have a career, you never know when your job will be taken away from you, like now. The lucky people are those on retainers, but even then, I wouldn’t be too shocked if bands who pay retainers said they just can’t afford to keep paying it. You really have to look after yourself and make sure a situation like this, even if it’s a once in a lifetime event, doesn’t financially break you. If you can come out the other end intact, you will be ready to pick up the work again.
Your best survival tip for fellow people in the industry in this situation?
I would say don’t be afraid of branching out and taking other work, if it’s available, until touring resumes. Work will come back and there will be enough to go around, for those that want it. Don’t let this scare you off, just take it as a lesson. There are lots of resources to help people, look for grants you can apply for, and ask friends for help, even if it’s just for links or advice.
I just finished reading your book. Why did you decide to write it?
I decided to write it because it was so difficult for me to find my way into the industry and I wanted to make it a little more transparent for anyone looking to get into touring. It’s basically everything I did and everything I have learnt, put into a guide.
You can find it on Amazon, available as a kindle download or you can order a hard copy. There is a website along with it which will be updated more when I am on the road www.girlontheroad.org. I really want it to help women find their way into touring, we need more women on the road!
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