It’s a tough business with a wide variety of offenses waiting for you...
June 06, 2014, by M. Erik Matlock
I worked with a guy in my early days as a tech who we referred to as “the little Nazi.” He was an arrogant, obnoxious, argumentative, know-it-all pain in the butt. He aggravated us and went out of his way to make life difficult. He criticized me and singled me out. He got irritated with me over stuff that absolutely was not a big deal.
He also did more to prepare me for working as a tech than anyone.
About four years into my life as a tech, I ended up with a group of other young ones. We had a few older guys getting us up to speed on some studio work. Most of the older guys were easy going types. They enjoyed their work and didn’t mind telling stories and hanging out with us. Not this guy.
He was all business.
After one session, I had to zero out the mixer and get the room ready for the next client. He walks in behind me and does an inspection. The room was perfect. It looked like it was ready for a photo shoot. He wanders around and finds one auxiliary knob on the mixer that wasn’t completely at zero.
A 32-channel board with 8 aux sends per channel. It has almost 400 moving parts, knobs and faders. He finds one that’s slightly up and reams me over it.
Naturally, I wanted to argue and get offended. That’s what immature and arrogant youngsters do, right? We defend ourselves and justify our actions. We try to protect ourselves by reacting to the assault. Occasionally, we find insulting names to attach to these people who are trying to teach us things.
“How is that a big enough deal to blow up about?” My actual question.
“Do you know what that aux is routed to? Do you know what unwanted effect might show up in the next clients project? Are you willing to gamble with wasting studio time and losing a client over something that stupid? Are you going to do things the way I tell you or not? If you aren’t willing to do things properly and thoroughly, then you have no business working in the studio.” His response.
It took me a few days to get my head on straight. He wasn’t trying to upset me, he was trying to provoke me. He was pushing me to take this work seriously. He was preparing me for the high-dollar clients and studios that don’t tolerate stupidity. When there’s money at stake, there aren’t many acceptable excuses.
My days with the little Nazi were torturous. But once I figured out what he was doing, it got easier. It became a game. He played his part, I played mine. He gives an assignment or challenge, I make it happen. He critiques my work, I smirk when he can’t find a problem. He teaches, I learn. That game prepared me for a career.
A few years later, I ended up as second engineer on a project with a legend. He had produced several albums I owned. I knew his work. I also knew his personality. He hit the ground running on the first day, barking orders and demanding instant action. He drank expensive coffee and even demanded it was made a specific way. He refused to to drink the first pot because it wasn’t right.
He would literally snap his fingers when he wanted something done faster. He assumed that every problem that showed up that week was my fault. This went on for about five days. About 12 hours each day. Rude, difficult, obnoxious and demanding. Fun times.
I treated it like the game I played with the little Nazi. I didn’t get upset or react or snap back. I just kept moving and did my job. Whether he spoke or yelled, either way, I handled it. It didn’t even bother me. The sessions went well, the project came out really nice. Everyone was happy.
When he left, he thanked me for a good week and said he had enjoyed working with me. It would have been different if I hadn’t been prepared by my little buddy. I had been trained to do my job and disregard the irrelevant stuff. I was trained to be focused. My skin was thicker. I had survived my first real challenge with flying colors.
As I write these types of articles, I remember those days. Being the young guy with the attitude. Thinking I knew way more than I did. Wanting the spotlight position at the board. Getting offended and my feelings hurt when people said things I didn’t like. Defending myself or attacking others over stupid stuff.
I get emails and comments from guys like I was. Tripping over the details and getting offended. Calling me names. It’s amusing. A few have ticked me off to the point where I felt like I need to respond. Most don’t. Those responses tell me exactly where they are -0- and most likely where they are not going to be.
The thin-skinned and easily offended don’t survive in production. It’s a tough business with a wide variety of offenses waiting for you. Nobody out there really cares about your opinion unless you are the one signing the checks. The “employee” or “freelancer” just needs to keep making things happen and keep your mouth shut. Do your job or find another one.
It’s as ridiculous as a boxer getting upset because someone hit him. It’s part of the career you chose. Deal with it.
There will come a day when some of you will be well paid and very thankful for advice offered here. (In advance, you’re welcome.) Then there are the others who will spend their life in mediocrity because they have to defend themselves instead of learning. (In advance, I’m sorry. I tried.)
I write a lot about attitude. I had times when mine was great and times when it was awful. My career suffered for a very long time because of a lousy attitude. My family suffered more.
I hope you can spend the rest of your life with a teachable and humble attitude. It will pay off.
M. Erik Matlock is a 20-plus-year veteran of pro audio, working in live sound, install, and studios over the course of his career, as well as owning Soundmind Production Services. He provides advice for younger folks working in professional audio at The Art Of The Soundcheck. Read more of his random rants and tirades here.
Matlock is also the author of several books, including his latest, Basic Training for the Church Audio Technician, which is available here.