Interview: Rocky Rodrigues, Merch Manager

Interview & Photos by Yising Kao

Rocky is featured in our Music Industry issue and upcoming Photography issue! :

Rocky Rodrigues is a touring Merch Manager who has worked with bands such as As It Is, Cherry Pools, Unwritten Law, and The White Noise, over the past 4 years. She has also worked on Vans Warped Tour for 2 years.

What inspired you to want to work in the music industry? Have you always wanted to be a merch manager?

The gravitation towards the atmosphere of live music has been a part of me since I can remember. I've sung since I can speak and that went hand in hand with being involved in music every way I could since I was a kid. My dad raised me on 80's metal and rock, took me to some of my first thrash metal shows when I was in elementary school still, and fostered my own discovery of bands. I would watch live DVD's and go to shows and dream of being part of that world someday; here I am! Since I learned about the job of a Merch Manager through friends who were actually doing it, it peaked my interest. It's funny because I was working retail jobs (shoutout Hot Topic and Victoria's Secret) and I promised myself I would never do those jobs again, now I'm essentially just a glorified traveling retail worker! This is definitely a stepping stone for me in this industry, and although I truly love and enjoy what I do-connecting with people at shows and helping bands bring forth their music in a visual way through merch-it's not what I intend on doing forever. My next goal is to start tour managing and keep evolving from there, I'm eager to start my own merch company one day as well.

What was your experience like working on Warped Tour? What was one issue that you encountered and how did you resolve it?

My experience on Warped both years that I worked it were equal parts incredible and trying. There were times I'd be lugging a dolly with over 100 pounds of merch on it through gravel, exhausted in every way possible, and I'd want to break down. I'd force myself to remember how fortunate I was to be there learning so much and being in that environment, and it would push me to keep going. I learned so much about the social aspect of this industry at Warped, as well as a lot about my own work ethic and how far I was actually capable of pushing myself, and in turn, growing. Every hardship I encountered there, even the harshest ones, taught me so much more beyond the specific problem at hand. I stuck close to those around me that had showed me support and offered advice when trouble arose, learned to let my work speak for itself instead of my mouth, and focused on appreciating everything that came with the experience that is Warped Tour.

How do you stay organized on tour?

I can honestly say I just got on top of my organization game in my last 3 tours or so! It seems so easy to keep your belongings together, but you throw in the factor of living on a moving vehicle with a bunch of other humans and a new environment to adjust to every day and things can get chaotic really quickly. I was a merch assistant my first Warped to my friend Connor Larowe-I swear I hear his voice in my head to this day when I'm organizing my stock each day. His work ethic just taught me that's so much more efficient to stay organized, even if it means the extra hour or two to clean up your trailer, keep your stock clean and tidy, etc. I have anxiety nightmares on tour about running out of sharpies, my bins somehow exploding and all of my shirts getting messed up, even all of my merch disappearing right before doors open. Clearly, I take my organizing very seriously now haha! That work ethic just naturally bled into my own personal routine on the road too-now I take the time to get an outfit laid out for the next day, make sure all of my things are charged, put a bottle of water in my bunk for the morning. It all aids for a peace of mind and sense of pride with what I do on and off the clock while I'm on tour!

What’s your favorite part about your job?

My favorite part of my job is probably a tie between traveling the world and being around creative energy and excitement each night during the show. Even on my hardest days, it only takes me glancing over and seeing a person at the show having the time of their life to make all the hard work worth it. I hope as I tuck more years of touring under my belt, I never lose that giddy feeling of being able to do what I do and be part of live music as a career.

You just finished working on As It Is’ The Great Depression Tour. What's it like working with artists that you may have been a fan of before? Has it changed your perspective of attending concerts as a fan?

Funny enough, I had always heard of As It Is, but was never a fan of their music until The Great Depression came out. Although, I always admired how talented they were as a band and how damn good they sounded every day on Warped this last summer (before I ended up joining their team). Now that I'm an avid listener of theirs, seeing their show every night never got old for me. Hard to not enjoy good music, ya know. As far as touring impacting how I enjoy shows now...I've definitely left my barricade kid days behind me and I'm usually sipping on wine standing in the back at shows now. I still enjoy going to them (although I barely have time between tours to attend shows), but it's weird not working a show when I'm in a venue. I'd rather be helping make it all happen most of the time. If anything, touring has given me a stronger sense of adoration for how much work goes into putting on the show everyone is enjoying.

What advice do you want to give to aspiring merch managers?

Ah that's a hard one...I guess my advice would be to never take no for an answer-if you want to work in the industry, you'll make it happen. Take every hardship as a lesson instead of a setback, always be open to learning and growing, try new things, and remember to have fun. It's very easy to let frustrations ruin your day or chip away at your motivation to keep going for things you want, but it's an incredible opportunity to get to do this and you can't forget that. If I could finish my bachelor's degree on the road behind my university's back, anyone can get their foot in the door and become a merch manager!