Most of us working in live sound have, at one time or another, been asked to provide our services gratis. If you’re reasonably good at your craft, own a stash of gear, and carry a positive attitude, you undoubtedly know what I’m talking about.
When I first started out, I was cautioned by several people in the business: “Once everyone finds out you’ll do it for free, you’ll ‘free’ yourself to death.” While kind of drastic, there’s a degree of truth in that statement. After all, gratis gigs present the same stresses as the paid ones, right? And consoles, cables, amplifiers, loudspeakers and microphones roll in and out and need maintenance just the same when they get back to the shop.
Still, I’ve long believed that whether you’re an upstart with a thousand bucks worth of gear, or toting a million dollar rig, it’s our duty and responsibility as professionals (and as business owners) to dedicate a percentage of our time, equipment and expertise to the communities that support us. But when is it too much? Where do we draw that difficult line?
At my company, we’ve considered these questions carefully and have come up with what we call “sound decisions” - we try to do three to four benefits a year. Our first priority in this regard is the local community. Our business occupies space here, belongs to business associations here, and therefore is “on call” for sound services that local folks might need. For instance, someone gets ill in the neighborhood and a fundraiser is held to raise money. This is where we can do a lot of good.
We also try to do at least one county/regional event each year. Unfortunately, in this day and time, there are so many people struggling with economic problems of many stripes. For example, our services were recently sought to support a fundraiser organized by several area bands, to raise money to help a family who lost everything, including family members, in a tragic house fire. Supporting this was a no brainer. Whether we know the people or not is immaterial. We see our willingness to help our neighbor as a “sound decision.”
This manner of “paying it forward” doesn’t usually mean dedicating our entire warehouse to an event; rather, it can be something as little as providing a wireless microphone and a powered loudspeaker so folks can make simple announcements in the local park. They really appreciate the help, and often ask about our business and qualifications for future reference. I’ve met a lot of great new customers this way.
For many of you, this all goes without saying. You’ve done the above and then some. But particularly for those starting out, consider making it a part of your work/business practices. You won’t regret it. And I say this as a somewhat, oh, what’s that word again… “tight” (or so I’m told) business person who wasn’t always the most generous of individuals. But the path I’ve charted over 30 years of working in pro audio, combined with considerable encouragement from my business partner (who also happens to be my wife), have shown me the way.
As we age, we must humorously realize that one day some of us “old sound guys” might share the same nursing home. (Scary, isn’t it?) And heaven forbid, if tragedy strikes that home, we’ll all be grateful to the sound person or company that steps up to help, at no charge and with no questions asked.
Greg Stone has worked in live sound since 1976 and is the owner of Hill Country Ears Sound Company (www.hillcountryears.com) in south Texas.