I’m starting a new series here on valuable audio engineering skills I’ve learned over the years running sound and recording music. I don’t consider myself an expert, just a student going through the ranks of the school of hard knocks…
I often find myself teaching others how to “run sound”. As the lead audio engineer working and volunteering in the church world, I have the privilege (and the curse) of working with all types of people with all types of backgrounds and personalities on a weekly basis.
When attempting to impart my audio knowledge on to others, I find it comes down to two genres of knowledge: technical and personal. Technical makes sense: “This is how gain works…. this is what a compressor is… this is a microphone…” etc etc. But personality? What does that even mean?
Have you ever heard, “That sound guy was a jerk.” No? Then you’ve either live under a rock or you found utopia where every one thinks highly of each other.
The fact is that there are all kinds of people out there (no, not just sound guys) who have less than desirable personalities. People can, quite frankly, suck. That is why I teach my students and teammates how not to be jerks, and how to deal with those who haven’t conquered that part of their personality.
Where did this mindset come from? It probably has to do a lot with the fact that I majored in Sociology in college (strange, right?). I found it less marketable so my free time was spent learning audio, but it did teach me some valuable life lessons. The other origin of this mindset is my own tendency to be introspective.
in·tro·spec·tion – noun – the examination or observation of one’s own mental and emotional processes.
Understanding yourself and others is as important as understanding gain structure, EQ techniques, or how to dial in the perfect effects. Why? Because if you can get the guitarist to trust you and listen to what you have to say, you’ll both be able to deliver a better result than if you just fought over who is right.
One of the contributing factors to me becoming a better sound engineer has been because of my relationship with the musicians I work with. When we’re on the same side of the fence we can work together towards getting the best sound possible.
So how is this accomplished? I believe following these steps is a great start. We’re all at different places with different obstacles, but work on each of these and you just might start seeing some change around you.
Are you smart? Quick witted? Extroverted or introverted? Do you smile or is your working face one that makes people wonder if you’re going to kill them? Study yourself and find out how other people see you. This is called the “looking glass self” in the sociology world.
In fact, you’ve been doing it all of your life, you just never harnessed the power of it.
The key is not to go asking acquaintances. Find a few trusted friends and ask them how you are perceived. This can be unnerving at first, but keep an open mind. What they have to say will teach you about yourself. You may find out that when you though you were being really friendly on stage or in the studio with the musicians you just met, you were really being a know-it-all show off that was seeking only to impress them. Maybe you’re in a position of authority over a team of people and you find out that your team thinks you’re a bit harsh and demanding when you want things done.
These conversations should lead to more productive introspection. Think about why they feel the way they do. It’s NOT because they hate you. They weren’t born with an innate distaste for you. They’ve learned that. Maybe it’s what you’ve said or did when you first met. Heck, maybe it’s got nothing to do with you. Maybe, like I’ve experienced first hand recently, that they’re having a rough time at work and that stress is compounding and they’re taking it out on you.
Once you learn things like that you can adapt your own behavior. In my case I learned to give that individual a little more space if he had just come from work. Then, when I knew he had calmed down, I could start in on what I had to say. If you understand how others perceive your behavior you can adapt it to get the results you want.