We’ve all been there. The first day on a new crew feels like the first day of school. It’s generally a little chaotic, exciting, and nerve-racking. The one difference is that you often have to live on a bus with a whole new bunch of strangers. And while these people are likely going to be long-time friends who know the deep, dark, intimate secrets of your personality, getting through the first week can be a little intimidating. Here’s “How To Break The Ice With A New Crew”.
Let’s put aside the fact that your position or role on a tour will dictate how visible you need to be from minute one. When I’m on day 1 with a new crew as the TM, chances are I’ve talked to each of them a bunch, or at least by email, and I have to show up in a leadership position. If I’m starting a tour as the FOH Engineer in which no one answers to me, my visibility might be a lot less. This will ultimately change how I break the ice.
That being said, there are only 3 ways to do it.
- Come in Hot
- Come in Cold
- Come in Neutral
Come In Hot
Sometimes I do this. Like a wild-ass bull in a china shop. It works in my favor roughly half of the time. By rolling in over-caffeinated and ready to take on the world, you create one of two scenarios. People think you’re wild and love you for it. Or people think you’re wild and it throws them off. Regardless, you’re really setting a tone. Beware of the gravity of your actions. Here are some ways to come in strong.
Make Yourself Heard
Oftentimes it’s rumored that the loudest mouth in the room also has the smallest brain. This is not always the case in touring since it’s an actual loud environment. That being said, there are other ways to be heard without raising your voice. Direct eye contact, active listening, and asking clear and concise questions are 3 ways to make your presence feel loud, but at a moderate volume. You’re there to do a job and not yammer on after all.
Force The Team To Bond
You likely won’t know the group dynamics until you spend some time with them all together. Easy way to break the ice, get everyone together to find out. How people respond to the invitation will tell you a lot about them as a person. It doesn’t have to lead to a 4 am pub crawl that ends with everyone in the drunk tank together (Although I’m not recommending it, it’s a great icebreaker), it can be a simple “Hey I know of a good taco spot close by here, you guys wanna hit it quick after load out?”
Upset The Dynamic
This is not a green light to act toxic. Maybe don’t upset it, just influence it. Sometimes all a camp needs is a fresh new attitude and energy. This can be done on day 1 or day 100.
Keep in mind, if you’re getting the feeling that your presence is coming off a little too strong out of the gate, maybe pull back the reigns a little. This brings me to the next point.
Don’t Blow It
If you’re coming in hot, you need to have a spidey sense of intuition. You need to know if you’re ruffling feathers. If you’re coming in hot, you need to be aware of other alphas who can turn on you if threatened. Just don’t lose the gig before day 2 cuz you wanna live “All Gas, No Brake”.
Come In Cold
Not everyone is an extrovert. Not everyone has it in them to hold court. Although it’s a little less common in touring, it’s definitely not a bad thing. Lots of camps have their own strong dynamic and don’t have too much room for more personality. Not every boat needs to be rocked. Here are a few ways to seamlessly enter a camp and break the ice, ever so gently.
Prioritize Sleep and Downtime
Starting with a new crew is often physically, emotionally, and mentally draining. Sometimes I’ll break the ice by avoiding it entirely. “I’ve been burning the candle at both ends lately. I’m gonna lay low until we get settled.” Showing that you’re willing to put the job in front of your personal life can really earn you some respect early on.
Absorb and Assess
By entering the camp cold, you have the ability to absorb the group dynamic without having to be a part of it. This way you can assess and find your place in the spectrum of the tour’s personality.
Keep It Business
As mentioned in a couple of places above, you’re there to work. Deliver on the gig. If no one else is worried about you, that’s a great thing. You don’t have to be weaving friendship bracelets in the back lounge to be the right person for the gig. Keeping to yourself builds great mystique.
I toured with this dude a bunch of years ago that didn’t really talk too much. Well… maybe he did, but he was soft-spoken and I was mixing every day and couldn’t hear him. He stayed focussed on the gig, but we knew he had a mystical wild side. On days off, I’d see him ripping around out in public, but could never catch up to him. I knew he was up to something but could never prove it.
He used to get the local newspaper, (I’m old) and bring it onto the bus. He’d edit the articles and add captions to the pictures with content related to the bus or the tour with some subtle burns to each of us. Actually… now that I think of it, I gotta track him down. He was making memes before Instagram like a spooky-clever, analog influencer.
Come In Neutral
This is likely the most recommended way to break the ice. I’ve been on both sides. I’ve been in a camp while welcoming new crew members, and I’ve also been the new person. Being neutral is where I’ve had the most success.
Get To Know Your Team
Whether it’s exchanging a couple of stories while grabbing dinner at catering, or finding out where you have mutual friends/have crossed paths with each other before, get to know the people you’re working with. You not only potentially prove that you’re qualified to be there, but you’re at least getting everyone communicating. Boom… Ice broken. Remember, when making a first impression, you need to know which stories you decide to tell will speak louder than words.
Hang. It’s simple. You don’t have to sit in the front lounge of the bus with everyone all night. You also don’t have to hang in the greenroom long after the gig (when the venue staff wants you to gtfo anyways). Nor do you need to sacrifice hours of sleep for the sake of bonding. But, by showing the others that you’re genuinely interested in getting to know them, this metaphorical ice will break itself.
Be a Politician
I think the concept of being a politician had changed pretty drastically in the last few years. What I mean by it is, be Switzerland and gently appease the crowd. Getting vocal about your political views out of the gate might ruffle more feathers than not. Keeping it passive in heated topics can be a great way to stay neutral.
Let The Current Crew Break The Ice
You don’t have to be the one to break the ice. Being approachable is sometimes the best way to let it happen naturally. If you want to stay neutral, introduce yourself, smile, and stay cool, calm, and collected. Then sit back and let it come to you.
Look, Sometimes it’s a mess. Every time you try to break the ice, you get less than engaging reactions. Here are 8 things to say to break the ice.
- Where are you from?
- Have you been with this camp long?
- What were you doing before/how’d you get tied up with this camp?
- Do you know of any good spots to get tacos around here? (I love tacos… you’re learning this)
- Ask for an inside tip on your gig. “As a monitor engineer, what do I need to know about the artist?“
- Find common ground (Detroit Tigers hat – Are you a Tiger’s fan? Of course not, no one is. haha)
- Compliment someone on their gig. “Lights looked awesome tonight. This is a great design”.
- Have you been to tomorrow’s venue? Is it cool?
At the end of the day, just be who you are. That will always be the best way to break the ice.
Need any help? As always, hit me [email protected]