Recently I was listening to this episode of Inside Strategic Coach -“One Thing Every Entrepreneur Needs: Community”, a podcast aimed at entrepreneurs. The discussion got me thinking about a particular phenomenon I’ve observed among struggling live sound engineers far, far too many times over the years. A common scenario that so many of us encounter early on, which can condition many people to remain confined to the lower rungs of the industry (the bar circuit and small clubs), is that nearly all of us start out working in isolation and seldom get to work side by side with other engineers. Most of us got our start mixing in bars, cafes, open-mic nights or in very small venues that only require one engineer to run both FOH and monitors for any given show. And, performers at these small venues don’t arrive with their own, exclusive engineers. So, why is that a problem?
I firmly believe that the biggest pitfall that can result from rollin’ solo in the very beginning is that when compared to the relatively inexperienced performers that we’re often working with at that level, we can be incorrectly perceived, much too soon, as an “expert” or “authority” in our field. It can become way too easy to believe we’re a lot better at the job than we really are. Expectations are set pretty low in this part of the biz and very few outsiders would ever know enough to seriously challenge or question our knowledge, abilities or methods. After all, at times we’re practically miracle workers in a high stress, trial-by-fire job that very few people want. Because of these conditions it’s entirely possible to slide by in the beginning with a pretty limited bag of tricks and even very little fundamental knowledge about the physics of sound while still believing we’re the smartest person (and the best ears) in the room.
Now, in all likelihood you’ve only come to Live Sound Tips because you want to go further in the world of live sound. So, with that in mind, I’m here to tell you that if you do want to get to the next level in live sound (or any business, for that matter) you simply cannot work in isolation any longer than necessary. The best way to avoid ending up frustrated and spinning your wheels is by not letting yourself get comfortable as that “big fish in a small pond”. Finding a peer group where you can compare notes, share ideas, acquire greater knowledge, learn new techniques and (IMPORTANT!) unlearn any bad habits is crucial for the advancement of your career. What Dan Sullivan refers to in his podcast as the stifling “rugged individualism” within entrepreneurism is the same thing in the live sound world that will keep you stranded at a very unsatisfying level that is likely to be way beneath your potential.
One observation Dan Sullivan makes about cooperation between highly successful entrepreneurs which also jives with my observations of successful live sound engineers is that there is more open and honest talk that’s intended to help advance everyone in that peer group. The right group of colleagues would gladly nerd-out and share information with you; they’re not trying to keep you in the dark and they want to learn from you as well. This gives you opportunities to fill in gaps in your knowledge base, acquire new skills, learn about gear (both new and vintage) that wasn’t previously on your radar and even clarify or shore up your existing knowledge by teaching and communicating it to others. And none of this feels like a competition where someone has to lose.
I do have one caveat about networking and trying to meet more live sound engineers. On the occasions where you do find yourself meeting them you need to be keenly observant about whether or not they are someone working toward a compelling and interesting future in the business or if they are simply someone whose only achievements (or attempts) are now behind them. I think we’ve all met that middle-aged guy that’s a failed, former-musician-turned-engineer who constantly mutters under their breath and bitterly glares at everyone on stage because they believe they are the one that should be up there performing, not mixing. That is a person that has operated in isolation far too long and lost all perspective. The successful engineers you’ll meet aren’t afraid to talk openly about challenging situations or strategies that didn’t work whereas the unsuccessful ones never admit any failures or wrongdoing of their own and frequently resort to shit-talking about others as the only way to try and make their self look good. And I know you do NOT want to become that person. So please listen to this Inside Strategic Coach episode, mull it over and let me know what you think and if you got anything useful out of it.
Thanks for checking in!