Fellow live-sound professionals, in recent weeks I’ve been enjoying a new podcast I found called ‘Starts With A Vision’ by Isiah Fowler. His talks and interviews, while not about professional-audio, are really interesting and informative. I specifically want to recommend listening to SWAV Episode #20 because the topic Isiah discusses (“Get more from your job than just a paycheck”) directly relates to an all too common problem that I see stifling careers every day (and not only in the world of professional audio!). This massive mistake I’ve seen a ton of people make over the years is not adequately preparing themselves for new opportunities to reach the next level in their career. Too many people hope that if they occupy a job long enough that someone higher up will eventually offer to open new doors for them despite the fact that they’re not taking any initiative or demonstrating they’re ready for that new role or responsibility. As if merely showing up and waiting long enough in one job entitles you at a shot for something bigger because it’s now “your turn” to advance. That is simply not the way the world works.
If you want to advance in your career you have to not only strive to be the best while doing your job but also spend a good amount of your free time studying, practicing, rehearsing and preparing yourself for that next level opportunity. Think about the performers we mix on our stages. Musicians repeatedly practice and study music far more hours per month than they actually spend performing. Comedians write and rehearse material for many more hours than the length of the final stand-up set they perform. Professional speech writers, motivational speakers, business coaches and spiritual leaders toil for countless hours to perfect the delivery of a pep-talk, speech, presentation or sermon that may last for 5-20 minutes. Yet I know VERY FEW audio engineers that invest time in becoming better at all things related to audio electronics when they are not “clocked in” on the job.
When that next-level opportunity comes how will anyone know or even suspect that you are the person that is ready for it? Most of my biggest opportunities were not simply the result of turning dials and pushing the faders up and down. My greatest opportunities came because of how many times people saw me come to a gig an hour early and take out a soldering iron and start fixing things that were broken. Or staying late to clean up the messes other engineers had ignored night after night. Or the times when someone else couldn’t figure out an issue with a piece of gear and I opened my laptop where I already had roughly 1000 pdf manuals and repair schematics of every kind of pro audio equipment you can imagine. All of which I’ve actually read in my spare time over the last 15+ years. Those are the qualities and traits that led me from mixing at my very first punk rock dive-bar show to mixing on tour for 20,000 a night in only 3 years.
The point here is that when you arrive at a gig you should be there not only to perform the minimum work required but to go above and beyond expectations, including fixing or improving those unexpected situations others failed to notice or anticipate. When you start doing that consistently, along with trying out new gear, investigating new mixing techniques, training your ears, reading technical manuals and learning the fundamentals of electronics and acoustics from textbooks (all in your own spare time, of course) then you’ll find that a lot more opportunities will not only present themselves but you’ll also have the necessary confidence to rise to that next level when they do. Quite simply, there is no “luck” in this business. Being in the “right place at the right time” is the end result of your intent and level of preparation for the next big move. Your studying, practicing and preparation are what will separate you from bitter losers that are stuck with lousy gigs in shitty venues because they won’t put in more than the bare minimum each day. Let them continue to think that by virtue of time or “seniority” they’re eventually owed a raise, promotion, tour offer or a gig at a bigger venue. Meanwhile you’re cruising past them by constantly improving your skills (both technical skills and “people skills”), increasing your knowledge and bettering yourself as a person.
If what I’m saying here resonates and makes sense or maybe even validates your own experiences and observations then please let me know. And if you enjoyed Isiah’s ‘Starts With a Vision’ podcast then I can highly recommend all of his preceding episodes as well. I really like what the dude is doing and recommend subscribing to his podcast and following him on your preferred social media platforms. As always, I thank you for checking in (and sharing) my Live Sound Tips!