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Rock 'n' Roll Music Terms

A host of crew members help a rock band set up for a show.
Roger Kisby/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Rock 'n' roll is a cultural phenomenon and as such, it has developed its own vernacular. This broad lexicon of slang, abbreviations and metaphor was formed by the music, the musicians, the touring lifestyle and the tools of the music trade. Some rock 'n' roll terms are so well-used that they have entered common parlance.


“Roadie” is an informal term for a person whose job requires them to be near the stage during a performance. It is short for “road crew” and can refer to a rigger, a stage hand or a spotlight operator. Back-line technicians, or “techs” are often mistakenly called roadies, because they can often be seen back-stage. However, a back-line technician is responsible for maintaining the musical equipment and is typically higher in the touring hierarchy than a roadie.


A lot of work has to be finished before the doors open.
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Doors is a quick way of saying “opening time.” It refers to the latest possible time the main doors can be opened. Live rock 'n' roll shows run on tight schedules so it's important for all involved to know how long they have before the audience start arriving. Some jobs, such as rigging, must be completed before "doors" for safety reasons. Typically each member of the crew is issued an itinerary, telling them the latest possible time that each milestone can happen. For example “Sound check. 7.00, doors - 8.30, support band on - 8.45, support band off - 9.15, headliners on - 9.45, curfew - 11.00.”


This is a general term that refers to the skill of a musician. It can refer to a drummer’s ability to keep a beat, a guitarist’s ability to play a solo or a singer’s ability to work the stage. Whatever skill is being discussed is measured in chops. For example “he hasn’t toured for two years, but his chops are sharp.”


A riff is a short, repeated passage typically played on the guitar or bass. Riff is most frequently used as a noun, for example “walk on stage when I start the opening riff.” However, it can also be used as a verb, for example “I’ll keep riffing until you give me the cue.”

Front of House

Any area that isn’t on stage or back stage is referred as “front of house.” This is because the area receives the “front of house mix.” There are two sound mixes at a rock and roll show, one for the audience and one for the band. The monitor engineer is in charge of making sure the band can hear what they want to hear, while the front of house engineer makes sure the audience get the clearest, loudest sound possible. To distinguish between the two functions, front of house refers to equipment, staff and processes that are based off stage.


This is an abbreviation for "black out," the moment at which all stage-lights are off. Black-outs are essential because they act as a cue for the musicians and crew. The length of each B.O is written on lighting engineer's set list, so they know how long to keep the venue in darkness before the next song.

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