How Do I Get My “Big Break” In This Business?

Attitude is the key that will open the most doors

By M. Erik Matlock September 10, 2013

This article is provided by The Art Of The Soundcheck.

I recently received an email from a reader asking how to get started in the audio business. I had to think about it for a while, hope this helps someone.

I was drafted…several times. I wasn’t even trying to get into the business. I just found a world I wanted to be a part of. Someone told me once to “put your body where your calling is.” Basically, if everything within you craves working in live sound or a studio, do it.

If, however, you’re determined to be there and get paid for it…there might be a problem. Have you ever heard the old phrase “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know?” That’s pretty much it.

If I’m working a show and you walk up wanting to mix for me, not gonna happen. I don’t know you. Your word about your skills and your experience mean nothing. I’m not taking your word. Your word means nothing. Now, if someone I know and trust walks up with you, it might be a different story.

You have to know people, people have to know you. Nobody touches my gear unless I know them. You aren’t even rolling cable for me if I don’t know you. You’re definitely not touching my board during my show. Just asking tells me you’re a knucklehead and I should call security. So your fantasy world that lets you imagine walking out of tech school and getting handed a new console, big check and adoring fans is a joke. Exactly 99.9 percent of engineers didn’t start that way.

How did most of us get in? As volunteers. We found somewhere we had to be. We found people we wanted to be with. We wanted in so bad that we worked for free. Just to be there. Just to be with them. Not for cash or glory, because we just wanted it.

If you want to work in a studio, here’s your fantasy. Walk in, get the job, show everyone the RIGHT way to do everything, mix a perfect album, get rich, etc. Close? Here’s reality. Walk in, clean the bathroom, make coffee, clean the kitchen, make coffee, sweep the halls, make coffee, roll a hundred cables, make coffee, change a light bulb, make coffee, clean the bathroom again. If anything in you panics at the sound of that, go ahead and get over it.

When I first met one of my primary mentors, Larry Howard, I just wanted to hang out with him. I helped him move. I helped clean his house. I eventually moved up to cleaning the studio. Then I was promoted to coffee maker. Demoted after the first pot. Retrained. Re-promoted. After a while I got to roll cables and setup mics. I met a lot of great artists doing that. People who now know who I am. I ended up as second engineer to some legends. I worked with him in three different studios, including one we built together, over 15 years. I NEVER MIXED A SINGLE TRACK IN ANY OF THEM. Did you get that? Never.

I wasn’t there to show him what I could do. I was there to help him. I was there because I wanted to be there and learn. I already knew everything I knew. I needed to learn what he knew. Was it frustrating? Where there times I got mad about it? Did I ever want to just quit? Yes to all. But I got mad when I lost focus and forgot why I was there.

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About M. Erik

M. Erik Matlock
M. Erik Matlock

Senior Editor, ProSoundWeb
Erik worked in a wide range of roles in pro audio for more than 20 years in a dynamic career that encompasses system design and engineering in the live, install and recording markets. He also spent several years as a production staff member and team leader for the largest non-denominational church in central Georgia, and served as an author for several leading industry publications before joining the PSW team.


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