When Austin, Texas, massage therapist Michelle Hittner opened her massage practice in 2010, athletes were her core clientele—but on the side, she bartered her services with local musicians who were friends of hers.
“I used to trade CDs for a massage because they don’t make a lot of money,” she said.
Then Hittner began offering sliding scale massage services to musician-members of the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians (HAAM), a nonprofit organization that provides low-income working musicians with access to affordable healthcare and wellness services.
Working with HAAM, which she still does today, introduced her to musicians outside her circle of friends and expanded her knowledge and experience of the types of repetitive motion injuries common to them.
Then, a chance encounter in a coffee shop with a massage therapist who worked national music festivals introduced her to that world.
The first time Hittner was able to work a music festival with her own crew, she approached it just as she would an athletic race: She and her crew of three massage therapists brought their own tents, signage, tables, mist fans (it was hot) and even their own extension cords.
“We impressed them,” she said. “And they keep asking us to come back.”
Hitnner’s work ethic and professional massage have made her an in-demand massage practitioner for music events all over Texas and nationally, including the Austin City Limits Festival, Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival and Lollapalooza.
A Professional Massage Approach
Hittner opened her business, Austin Massage Company, in 2010. Today she operates two locations and has a staff of 12 massage therapists.
Aaron Brown, owner of Austin-based video production company Onion Creek Productions and former director of UTOPiAfest, an annual music festival in the hill country of Texas, said Hittner’s professionalism and dedication are what set her apart—and are why he chooses her team of massage therapists to differentiate his business from the hundreds of other video production companies out there.
“They’re representing your company,” he said. “I would not have been able to offer this anywhere if it weren’t for … Michelle and her team. Because of who they are, I know that I don’t have to worry about some random massage therapist giving someone a bad experience or coming off the wrong way or not representing us.”
No Fan Girls Allowed
Working music festivals and other entertainment events isn’t all fun and excitement. It’s hard work and sometimes requires a lot of waiting around because you’re expected to accommodate the rapidly changing itineraries of the performers and production schedule.
“It can be a lot of sitting around and waiting, so you have to be really patient and professional and not harping and bothering the tour managers because you don’t have anybody on your table,” Hittner said.
However, it’s an industry that offers valuable opportunities for massage therapists.
There are musicians with their repetitive motion injuries and the roadies who lug large and heavy equipment, photographers and videographers who hoof it over miles of an event’s landscape carrying their equipment all day and there are harried and exhausted managers and crew.
Plus, no one who travels on the road from show to show gets enough restful sleep, healthy meals or exercise.
All of them—performers, managers, stagehands, photographers and roadies—can use massage.
But to be successful, massage therapists must be the ultimate professionals.
“It’s not just providing great massage,” she said. “It’s providing the whole professional image and the privacy and the respect for what they do in their industry and not crossing boundaries and not becoming a fan girl,” she explained.
That means no asking for autographs. No taking selfies with artists. No asking for free tickets to performances.
“I’ve worked on some really amazing people and it’s like, ‘Oh, my god. I just want to take a picture,’ but I don’t because that’s not what I’m there for,” she said.
“They hired me to provide this service, so I go in and provide my service. Then I leave and I’m like, ‘Oh my god!’”
They Want to Perform Better
Having knowledge of the types of injuries musicians, entertainers and events crews frequently incur is key to setting yourself apart as a professional massage therapist breaking into and staying in the music industry, Hittner added.
A lot of artists and crews get relaxation massage, she said, which is nice but doesn’t address their pain. Using advanced modalities to treat their repetitive motion injuries is what sets her apart doing backstage work, she said.
Hittner’s therapists are trained in clinical and sports massage, deep tissue techniques, myofascial release, trigger point therapy, manual lymphatic drainage and cupping, among other therapies.
“When therapists come, they kind of do their routine and think the artists just want to relax, but no,” she said. “They want to be healed. They want to feel better and perform better.”
Hittner said a “countless” number of artists have told her no one has ever addressed their pain the way she has.
“It just makes you sad,” she said. “[Massage therapists] have such an amazing opportunity to educate artists on body mechanics and what [clients] can do for self-care.”
About the Author
Stephanie Bouchard is a freelance writer and editor based on the coast of Maine. She frequently reports news and features for MASSAGE Magazine, and her articles include “Software Engineer Turned MT Shares the Secrets of Corporate Massage Success,” and “At Cirque Du Soleil, Acrobats, Contortionists and Clowns are All in a Day’s Massage Work.”
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