10 Apr 2024


Stephen Askins still treads the (audio) boards at 67

Sydney’s Shellbourne Hotel is a planet away from the pubs of yore, where a young Stephen Askins played drums in his band forty years ago. By day he was an un-mild bank teller, his hands caressing more money than he would ever make flailing at his drumkit.

He got lucky and married Michelle who he’d known since the age of 12. They have three adult sons, (two of whom work in AV for MusicBox): James (40) David (32) and Kieran (29).


Settling into the first of many beers, I kick off proceedings with Stephen by asking him how he started out.

SA: A young drummer – me – got hooked into how our band’s PA ran, then I started mixing supports. Then I found a thing called the NEIS, New Enterprise Incentive Scheme, which back then paid you to start a business. That went well, after which I was offered a full-time job with The P.A. People doing design and AV. After some years there I went full-time touring, mixing FOH. Last year was the biggest, we did 105 shows with the Robertson Brothers. This year I’m staying home mainly doing corporate work, and there’s a hell of a lot of it. In 2024 I’m doing at least 50 shows around Australia.

JG: You’re forthright about rogue promoters and charlatans in the music industry…


SA: I was doing a lot of work at Evan Theatre in Penrith Panthers Club that, along with Twin Towns, are two of the best clubs in the land. Noticed neither venue or any crew were nominated for a Mo Award, which was a club entertainment award scheme. I looked into it, and now it’s gone. I started getting pissed off with promoters when, in 2017, I did a tour and the crew I’d hired weren’t paid for months. It all came to head when one of my kids helped us out at the last minute, and they took four months to pay him $400. There’s a bunch of these guys; they go broke, change the business name and are straight back at it.

JG: You seem to find more and more of them!

SA: Unfortunately, yeah. Touring with Robertson Brothers I heard about their experiences. The latest rogue promoter is an unpleasant individual, he got his fingers into a club I was working AV at and started booking in the wrong kind of shows. After I’d left, I started hearing that some of the bands hadn’t been paid. When I started talking about it to people, they found out and threatened me…

JG: I know! I saw him online openly threatening to come around to your house and sort you out! Looks to me like an open and shut public threat in his own name!

SA: Yeah, this had me a little rattled. They talk big. One of the other rogues is putting on shows that are flopping and he found me at the baggage carousel at Sydney airport. Needless to say, the crowd waiting for their bags got some brilliant entertainment!

JG: What wouldn’t you do again?

SA: Buy a flashy mixing console that kept breaking down. Ask industry people for advice; with social media it’s easy now! On that, I’m toying with buying a small-format mixer next year, so I know what I’m using rather than walking into a venue with a strange console. That’s stressful. With the Robbo Brothers I was touring with an 18-channel Behringer.

JG: Have things gotten easier over the decades?

SA: The vagaries of consoles are tough; but the sound systems in venues are better, and the crew are good at everything. We’re not carrying tonnes of gear anymore. Things are definitely easier.

JG: Biggest stuff-up?

SA: At the level I work at you can’t afford mistakes, especially doing corporate gigs. These days there’s more rehearsal time too. The rookie mistakes occur when people don’t check things; we come from an era of being thrown in the deep end. Today, for example, we both arrived early, meanwhile some young kids rolled up one minute to the call. I tell them: ‘double check everything’.

JG: Do you find a different level of humour amongst the young techs?

SA: They enjoy the experience because when they make a mistake, I don’t have a go at them. Lighten up! I still get nervous just before a show waiting for the first note. To deal with stress I try to lighten it up, make the day a bit of fun.

JG: Do you think this decade finds the venue people, crew and bands interacting differently?

SA: Good question. Back in the day it was whatever it takes to get the gig done, and it often wasn’t pretty. You took whatever drug you needed, and a lot of people died! We endured crazy hours. It’s far more professional now.

JG: How are you holding up?

SA: Ha! I’m starting to feel my age! Now I’m paid to walk in and walk out and I’m paid more. Rarely do I need to push cases, and people are happy to pay for my experience. 14-hour days aren’t physically hard but mentally they’re very taxing. These days I’m working smarter.

JG: What great shows have you worked lately?

SA: Right now, Joey Fimmano’s Music of the Night. We did 30 shows last year with 50 this year. It’s great that a lot of shows are starting to book themselves and are networking and backing themselves. Kudos!

We ate pub grub, a cheeseburger for Stephen and a pork chop for me. After about eight beers each we finished off with a glass of wine and took public transport home.

Julius Grafton and Stephen Askins

Why do I (still) do this? – About this series and Author

Julius Grafton left live production work for good on Australia Day, 2024. At the tender age of 66 he ran out of enthusiasm and started to live a Groundhog Day of live sound gigs. In this series, he does lunch with people who’ve outlasted him , and asks them the vital question: why do they still do this?


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