I'm still a newbie in this game, but I've seen enough to feel like I'm able to offer ten tips I've learned SO FAR in my career as an event technician - by no means an exhaustive list and I still have MUCH to learn, but these are the things that I feel I have learned thus far:
1 - Don't over-think it - showing initiative can be great, but it can also be your downfall. If you've been told to do something a certain way, even if it seems counter-intuitive, there's probably a good reason for it. And if it turns out you've been told something in error, then at least no-one's going to blame you for following badly thought out instructions.
2 - Be early - this seems obvious but when you're freelancing it is of the utmost importance to be on time. I find the best way to do this is to be early. Even if it means 20-30 minutes less sleep, it'll pay dividends; people might not remember you for being early but they'll certainly remember you for being late. Drivers beware - always plan for traffic and the absence of stage-adjacent parking...
3 - Tool up - if you're going to do this for a living, may as well invest in some tools and gadgets that are going to help you perform tasks more efficiently and professionally. A good multi-tool is invaluable - this doesn't have to be a top of the range Leatherman, anything with a sharp blade/pliers/screwdriver head will quickly pay for itself. A small torch/headlamp can also make your life a lot easier, as can a decent pair of gloves/safety boots. I also find smartphone apps very useful, such as those that help out with projection and lighting focal distances, gel colours, DMX addresses and SPL/spectrum analysers. You don't need to turn up looking like Batman with a utility belt so full that you can't crawl under a stage, but try to find out about the job at hand and make an educated guess. Which reminds me…..
4 -PPPPPP (Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance) - Whenever possible, do your homework. Find out where the venue is, what the job is going to entail, what tasks you're likely to be asked to perform - use this information to plan your travel, pack necessary equipment, and most importantly find out how far you are from a bacon sandwich dispensary centre.
5 - Ask, but don't badger - You want to be as helpful as possible, which means completing tasks as given by whoever the gaffer is on that day. Ideally you'd ask for a few jobs to get on with and try to get all the information you'll require before you start - this is often easier said than done. It can become frustrating if the person in charge is very busy or struggling to meet a show schedule, so use your judgement, but try to keep your mouth shut if at all possible. If you don't know how to do something, best to ask rather than make a mistake that could slow things down further. There is a tricky balance between getting information from those in the know without talking their ears off but if you can strike it right you'll be an invaluable member of the team. And it should go without saying, when you're done with one thing, ask the boss what they'd like doing next.
6 - A tidy show is a happy show - this comes easily to those of us who, like me, suffer from an almost compulsive predilection towards neatness, but it really does pay off in the live event business. Obviously it's not always possible to run cables in straight lines, label inputs/outputs, keep gangways clear etc but these are the kind of things that make everyone's life easier. And this ethos doesn't just apply to the hours before doors - you can use so-called 'dead time' during shows to prepare for the next act's performance, or tomorrow night's show, or the out of that night's event. Always pay attention to local venue regulations, especially those regarding health & safety/fire exits etc. At the end of the day, if the venue manager is unhappy with anything then like Freddie Mercury famously didn't sing, "the show won't go on".
7 - Safety First (and second. And third.) - this is a short one but an important one. You are not invincible. RCDs fail. Safeties snap. Ladders slip. Lamps explode sending shards of glass into your open mouth. Of course, these things happen about as infrequently as world wars, but it's still worth keeping in the back of your mind. Nowadays the fear of litigation has forced most venues/companies to adhere to strict safety regulations which is good news for human beings with their soft fleshy bits that are susceptible to pointy metal bits. Every now and again you'll come across the roadie that was on tour with Hendrix in the 60s and climbed 70ft trusses in his bare feet, or the lampie who jury-rigged Floyd's temperamental 800 parcan rig with no earth terminals, and sure they may call you a nappy-wearing cloud dweller in your bright pink fall arrest harness but at the end of the day they'd beat you heads-down in a 'falling off a truss onto a concrete floor race', and trust me, that's not a race you want to win. Be safe.
8 - Respect the talent - They're an odd bunch. They're like the office boss's errant children that got a cushy top-floor job. You do all this work for them, then they turn up from a long nap and dance around on stage for an hour and then go home, and yet you're expected to kiss their ass and call it ice cream. In the words of Henry Rollins, '….they should get your pay and you should get theirs…'. But despite all of this, you're employed because they are the talent (this term can sometimes be somewhat of a misnomer, but you should keep any personal opinion on their 'talent', or lack thereof, to yourself). They are, unfortunately, the reason you are getting a paycheck at load-out, and so you probably don't want to piss them off. Don't ask them for autographs, photographs or phonographs; don't ask them if they'll listen to your band's demo; don't ask them if they know where to get weed. They will, but don't ask. Some can be as normal and friendly as anyone else on the tour, some can be suffering the emotional stress of 'performing' night after night, and some can just be downright dicks. You never can tell so it's probably best to avoid if at all possible. You'll speak when you're spoken to. This was one of the hardest things for me to grasp starting out, not that I ever really had the courage or interest to try and engage any of the performers in conversation, but I've slowly learned that it's just not worth the risk - which totally sucks in and of itself, that there would even be anyone with this level of fake importance in the business, but this is unfortunately the way of the world. Of course, if the talent is Norah Jones and she asks you back to her dressing room to 'jam' then by all means say yes.
9 - If it's not yours, don't touch it - obviously this doesn't apply to the equipment you've been tasked with setting up/operating/packing down, but for instance if a band leaves their guitar stand blocking a doorway, 99% of the time it's best to grab a guitar tech to move it for you. Accidents can and do happen, and if it's a choice between dropping a £20k projector that you're setting up and don't have to pay for, or scratching a £150 snare drum that you have no business touching, I know which I'd prefer. Obviously if you're crew tasked with loading in or setting up instruments etc. then be as careful as possible, but if a band have tasked you with setting their £2000 synthesiser on a £20 keyboard stand then they can't really moan at you when it collapses. Luckily.
10 - Use your words - try to learn industry terms with which you can effectively communicate. Most are internationally recognised, some obviously differ between countries, or depending on the age of the person using them. You might get laughed at depending on whether you call it a sound desk, mixing board or noise trolley, but at least people should know what you're talking about. When giving stage directions, try to get your head around things that have been the same since the theatrical productions of Shakespeare. You'll want to know what people mean when they ask you to move things upstage, downstage, fly things in and out, strike lamps or strike gear, shift monitor world to stage left (or your other stage left). If you, like me, have the propensity to call lamps 'bulbs' then make sure you have an effectively quippy comeback for any smart-arse lampies within earshot. They seem to like to say "…Bulbs grow in the ground!", to which I like to retort "…I'll put you in the ground…." (they're not all winners….). Always know what time doors are, stage times for third, second and main support, what time the headliners are on, curfew, encores and show calls.
These ideas are by no means a gospel, just a few tips on how to remain 'happy to be in showbusiness'.
Seeya in another life, brother....